Luca Marini joins the MotoGP class in 2021 in the Avintia team, but how did he get there?
Luca Marini was born in 1997 and shares the same mother as Valentino Rossi, Marini was born the same season Valentino Rossi won the 125cc championship with Aprilia. Thankfully, Marini is not referenced much as being ‘Rossi’s brother’ which I feel is a major positive given that for some people this can be a huge burden, Rossi is one of the greatest riders to ever grace a race track; therefore there are comparisons which will be made between the two at different stages of their career. To the relief of many, the link is not referenced too much and has allowed Marini to develop into his own rider and race as ‘Luca Marini’ without the weight of ‘Rossi’s brother’ weighing him down which can cause psychological problems for a rider who may not be able to reach the bar Valentino Rossi has set.
Marini races for the Sky VR46 Team in 2021 which is owned by Valentino Rossi and is part of the wider network which is the VR46 Riders Academy, an academy which gives Italian riders all the tools they need to race including English lessons, gym time with personal trainers and nutritionists, tarmac and dirt bike training sessions and also sponsorship and funding to race which means that the riders do not have to worry about the financial side of racing and can focus on getting the job done on track.
The academy has been hugely successful with Marini being the third VR46 Academy rider to join the MotoGP class for 2021 alongside Francesco Bagnaia and Franco Morbidelli, there is one major difference for Marini though, he will become the first VR46 MotoGP class rider in a VR46 team with Rossi following the footsteps of previous World Champions who have run premier class teams including Giacomo Agostini and Kenny Roberts. Rossi’s Sky VR46 team have given up on their Moto3 effort to put their money and focus into MotoGP, potentially running two bikes in 2022 with Suzuki Machinery. The team have a contract with Avintia to run within their setup and Marini is also contracted to the Ducati factory meaning that he will be on Ducati payroll and receive Ducati upgrades in a deal ironed out by Valentino Rossi himself, putting the ’46’ back on a Ducati, something we didn’t expect to see ever again!
For most riders looking to join MotoGP, the usual steps into the class are to join Moto3, race a few seasons in the lightweight class before moving to Moto2 and proving to the MotoGP teams you have what it takes to deserve a ride, then after much hard work and sacrifice, a MotoGP team will hire you and you will be a MotoGP rider, racing in the pinnacle of motorcycle racing on prototype machines. Failing this you can always buy a MotoGP seat despite not proving yourself in any of the previous classes, but that’s a story for another time…
The Italian rookie had a bit of an unconventional journey into the premier class spending most of his years in Moto2, he only made one Moto3 world championship appearance but completed a full Moto3 season in the Junior World Championship in 2014 where he finished in P16 overall with a best result of P8, his height was starting to cause problems with his riding and it was decided he would move to a bright yellow Pons Kalex in the CEV Moto2 Championship for 2015, the team sported huge ‘Pata’, ‘Monster Energy’ and VR46 Riders Academy logos instead of the traditional Pons livery.
The early stages of a Moto2 VR46 Team in 2015
He would instantly adapt to the Moto2 bike like a duck to water, he impressed with a P5 finish on his Moto2 debut, beating his best Moto3 result from the season before – it was an interesting season for the CEV Moto2 rookie as he finished in the top 5 for all but 4 races with 2 x DNF’s and a worst result of P7 which was majorly unexpected for his first season in such a competitive championship, he took home P5 overall showing what he was capable of and even stood on the podium at the race in Catalunya, this is not forgetting that he made his Moto2 World Championship debut at Misano finishing in P21.
The Forward Racing team were incredibly impressed and hired him for the 2016 and 2017 Moto2 seasons, pairing him up with fellow VR46 Academy Rider Lorenzo Baldassarri, the team formed close links to the riders academy and even ran VR46 Riders Academy logos on their fairings. The team was the perfect breeding ground for the young Italian to hone in on his talent, he was a full-time Moto2 rider in the most brutal championship in the world which added some pressure on his shoulders, as a rookie however he could relax a little knowing he was racing for a team which were capable of winning races and he was able to use advice from teammate Baldassarri who was a race winner at Misano 2016. Marini also had a major added advantage that the team are Italian with Italian mechanics and technicians, this can prove to be extremely helpful for a rider.
Often when riders race with a team of people who do not share the same first language, information gets lost in translation and sometimes this can be the difference between winning and losing, there are incredibly minute complexities in Moto2 which a rider may struggle to describe using their second language, therefore being able to speak to someone in your first language can really benefit the way your bike is set up.
Over his two seasons with the Forward Racing Team team Marini would go from strength to strength, taking points in his first race in Qatar with a best result of P6 in Sachsenring, the problem was that he suffered many crashes with 6 DNF’s during the season but was able to come away with a 34 point haul which placed him in P23 overall with 3 x top 10 finishes, 2017 would prove to be better overall but the crashing got even worse with 7 DNF’s, despite dropping some incredibly important points Marini finished in P15 overall with 59 points and a best result of P4 in Brno with 5 x top 10 finishes, it was clear the talent was there but he just needed to unlock this talent and use it consistently. Sky VR46 had the key to this lock.
Marini on the very visible Forward Racing Kalex
Marini moved to the prestigious Sky VR46 Team for 2018, 2019 and 2020, being a part of a team which was only in their second season but already had proven a point in 2017 with Francesco Bagnaia finishing in P5 overall with 4 podiums as a rookie, Marini would join Bagnaia in the team for 2018 and would watch Bagnaia turn into a World champion, fiercely battling with Miguel Oliveira for the top spot. During this season Marini was able to learn a lot from his counterpart across the garage with the duo sharing data and information about the tracks, working in unity to improve and this paid off tenfold for Marini. He had an incredible first season with the team and was even able to take his first win in the intermediate class in Malaysia along with 5 podiums across the season, he finished the season with 147 points overall in P7 in the championship, nearly tripling his tally from the previous year, he clicked into the team and learned how they worked and it showed.
2019 was the year he was supposed to set the world on fire but sadly it did not happen, the level of talent in Moto2 stepped up a gear and although Marini improved it was not enough for him to fight for the title, finishing the season with 190 points and P6 overall he absolutely made a step in the right direction but by the time he won his first race of the year it was too late, winning in Thailand then Japan the following race in the closing rounds of the season, he also didn’t take as many podiums as he did in 2018 but finally broke the crashing duck and ended the season with just 2 DNF’s which was a major improvement showing how far he came, he may not have shown his cards in the standings but his improvements carried him into 2020 when it all came to fruition.
Celebrating his first race win with Valentino Rossi
Marini had the best year of his career in 2020, finishing as the Moto2 runner up by just 9 points after leading the championship for most of the shortened season – he was unstoppable in the first half of 2020 but a monumental hi-side at Le Mans derailed what would’ve been his championship, the crash saw him catapulted from a great height before crashing down and damaging his ankle. Before this crash, Marini took 5 podiums and 3 race wins in 9 races which firmly planted him in the championship lead but fate was cruel to him during the qualifying session in Le Mans with a crash which would make any racing fan wince. This was not going to stop him though, after a lengthy stay in the medical centre it was confirmed he was able to race which he did in fine style, taking home P17 in the race which was the first time in over a calendar year which he had finished outside of the top 10.
Click here to watch the horrific crash.
Aragon also proved to be tough, battling for the championship lead Marini crashed out of the race and was demoted down the championship order after losing a potential 50 points from Le Mans and Aragon, Sam Lowes decided to add salt to the wounds winning three races in a row with Enea Bastianini’s consistency proving to be too much for Marini, taking the championship lead with Marini dropping down the championship standings.
The awful Le Mans crash was the catalyst in his season, he was heroic up until that fateful crash and was not able to find the same form or rhythm again until the final race of the season when he would take his 6th podium of 2020 in his 87th Moto2 start, finishing behind race winner Remy Gardner whilst his 2021 Avintia teammate Enea Bastianini was crowned the champion of the class. This podium was enough to solidify the runner up spot in the class. Marini once again only took 2 DNF’s all season and has well and truly fixed his crashing problems with the help of the Sky VR46 Team which have a setup any team would dream to have with teammates working in harmony in every single session without failure to ensure the best results possible.
Winner winner chicken dinner
2021 will be a decisive season for the team and for Marini, the team have a lot of racing experience but have never raced in the premier MotoGP class, however their merge with the Avintia squad will be majorly insightful into the team and how they can run a MotoGP team with Avintia’s experience in the class. The difference is that Avintia have historically been a team at the back of the grid, but if we can see Marini fighting closer to the front of the grid this will further back up the point of how strong and impressive the Sky VR46 Squad are and their capabilities, Marini has proven to be faster on bigger bikes which accommodate his huge 1.84m (6ft) height and the Avintia Ducati team are no strangers to taller riders with Loris Baz racing for them in the past.
We are looking forward to seeing what Marini can do within the team on the Ducati Desmosedici, flying the banner for Ducati in his debut MotoGP season, Ducati has hired three rookies for 2021 and intend to work with them closely to enable them to extract the most out of their motorcycle, offering support and technicians, this support will be the difference between a backmarker and a potential podium finisher.
Featured image – www.motogp.com