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Max Biaggi loses the plot . . and very nearly his teeth !

Tue, 29 Mar 2011

I’ve just got back from Donington Park and the second round of the World Superbike championship. The racing was exciting, going off without a hitch, and the weather was unseasonably kind, but the meeting will be remembered by those in the fairly close knit WSB paddock for reasons other than the temperature or the race results. It’ll be remembered by most, especially those who witnessed it, as the meeting where Max Biaggi finally lost his already feeble grip on reality.

For a man with as much talent, experience and success behind him as he has, it made the whole pantomime, and his apparent meltdown even more difficult to understand. His weekend long diva-strop started on Friday when, after being held up by fellow Roman Michel Fabrizio on an out-lap, got into such a rage over it he followed his countryman for a bit before diving up the inside of him into Coppice corner, clipping his front wheel, and sending the hapless Suzuki rider cart-wheeling into the gravel-trap . . . Doing 30 grands worth of damage to the factory GSX-R, but fortunately not to Fabrizio. For this he was hauled up in front of the race director and, like a petulant child, made to apologise for the incident.

He awoke even more hormonal on Saturday and lined himself up for another trip to the naughty step. In the third superpole session he wandered into the path of Marco Melandri, holding him up on what was Marco’s fastest lap to that point. A disciplinary panel deemed his actions “unintentional” . . but he’d just looked behind and should’ve easily seen Melandri coming . . . Like his team mate Leon Camier, who was only 20 yards ahead did, keeping out of the way no problem. They continued the bad tempered tussling for the rest of the lap, but it was his behaviour after the session had finished that really got the paddock talking.

As soon as his mechanic had relieved him of his bike, emperor Max set off towards the Yamaha garage where Melandri was just taking his helmet off. You could tell something was kicking off by Max’s red face and the way he was striding out. Melandri seamed to suss something was afoot and met him at the door whereupon Max launched into him with a tirade of Italian abuse accompanied by the customary Latin arm flailing. I couldn’t understand what he was saying, but you could tell from the reaction of the Italians in the crowd that he wasn‘t asking him where he was going for his holidays. After a minute or so of this ranting he raised his hand and slapped Melandri in the face . . . . . twice ! . . . and then walked off. They weren’t by any stretch hard slaps . . . . more like two taps . . . . but the utter contempt he showed for Melandri was obvious.

It was quite a shocking episode really. The one thing I thought motorcyclists had, especially those who race, is respect for each other. I asked an Italian colleague of mine what Max had said, and he explained that he was going on about it being payback for something that’d happened in Moto GP four years ago, talk about holding a grudge ! But more importantly, the gesture of slapping someone the way Max did has more significance than you might think. In Italy there are recognised levels of insult . . . and this one is about a number nine on the scale. . . .

Melandri is one of the nicest, and definitely one of the smallest blokes in the paddock, and the dignity, not to mention restraint with which he handled the situation was commendable. I’m sure Max knew he could get away with throwing his, all be it puny weight about with him. It’d be interesting to see how Biaggi would react if he had a problem with any of the other, normal sized riders . . . very differently would be my guess.

Remember how scared he looked when he made the mistake of picking a fight with cal Crutchlow on the podium at Magny Cours last year? I asked all the Brits what they’d have done if they were Melandri after being slapped in the face, I won’t tell you exactly who said what, but all the answers were variations on a common theme, ranging from “knock his teeth out” to “put him on his arse” . . . . I don’t condone violence but you’d have to do something if a rival bitch- slapped you outside your own garage in front of the whole pit lane.

Ron Haslam’s reaction to it all was the best . . . . here’s a fifty-odd year old man of few words, with the nicest, easy-going disposition you can imagine, but also a man with an old fashioned, heart-warming, black and white view on what is acceptable and what isn’t . . . he was getting so wound up when we were talking about it I thought he was going to sort Max out himself.

In the end Melandri did the best thing he could . . . let his riding do the talking . . . leaving Donington as highest points scorer. Max on the other hand had his worst days racing for ages, managing only a seventh in race one after missing more apex’ than a novice group track day-er, and then getting black flagged in race two after the worst jump start in the history of starts !

On track shenanigans spilling over into the paddock are nothing new of course. I remember rolling about the pit lane with Fabien Foret at Brands after a 130mph difference of opinion over the correct line into paddock hill bend, to be fair he gave a surprisingly good account of himself . . . for a Frenchman ! And who could forget the time Pier Francesco Chilli squared up to our Carl at Assen, wearing only a bath robe and a pair of flip-flops. Over the years I’ve seen loads of confrontations . . . . but they’re normally right in the heat of the moment and the protagonists kiss and make up as soon as the adrenalin levels return to normal. With Biaggi though there’s something much more calculated, sinister and disrespectful about it somehow.

Max has been, and is, fantastically talented on a bike, and for my money will still be the man to beat in the championship this year, and you have to respect him for that . . But if he keeps this kind of behaviour up much longer that’s all I’ll respect him for ! The whole thing was captured on camera by several people, so it’s bound to be all over Youtube already . . . . Have a look and see what you think . . and bear in mind the on-track incident was, in my opinion, Max‘s fault !

Read Niall Mackenzie's take on Biaggi's Donington Park tantrum here

By James Whitham

See also: New ÍHLINS products for GSX-R600 & GSX-R750, Behind the scenes in Qatar, Behind the scenes in Qatar.