They say that there have been four pairs of brothers who have won Grand Prix races: Christian and Dominique Sarron, Nobuatsu and Haruchika Aoki, Marc and Alex Márquez, and since Darryn Binder won the Moto3 race at Barcelona this year, the Binder brothers Brad and Darryn. In reality, there have been five.
Most MotoGP fans got to see Luca Marini for the first time in those images of his (half-)brother's championship celebrations in 2007, 2008, and 2009. Marini and Valentino Rossi, who share the same mother, have an age gap of more than 18 years. When Marini was born, Rossi was well on the way to his first world championship. When Marini started racing Minimoto, Rossi was 23 years old and already a huge name in motorsports, and especially in Italy.
Marini was never afraid to mention his relationship to arguably the most important rider in MotoGP history and he has worked hard to find his way to shine under the umbrella of his older brother, his mentor, his idol and one of his best friends, as he describes their relationship.
More than just a brother
It is easy to start an interview with the Urbino-born rider talking about his brother, though it might not be fair for the rider who led the Moto2 championship up until his massive crash at Le Mans. Yes, he is the brother of the biggest name the sport has ever known, but Marini came for the ride neither behaving nor feeling entitled.
One of the first times Marini's name was mentioned was during his first season in the CEV Moto3 class, where he competed for one season. During the first race a crash which involved him and two other riders caused one of them to get trapped underneath his own bike. Marini, who was able to get back on the track, decided to stop and first assist before trying to finish the race. That season he ended up in only 16th place. The following year, when he moved up to the Moto2 category which fit his lanky frame better, he already finished fifth while riding for the CEV Pons team.
He did not get a leg up from his brother to enter the Grand Prix paddock. His international adventure started in the Forward Racing team, where he rode for one season with dismal results, finishing 23rd in Moto2 that season. For the 2017 season he got the chance to move to the Sky VR46 team and was a teammate to Pecco Bagnaia, but only managed to finish 15th overall. His best result was a fourth place in Brno, but more than 9 seconds from the winner. Like other VR46 Academy riders, Marini got another chance and proved he earned his seat when he finished seventh with five podiums and a win. In 2019 he finished sixth in the ranking with one podium less but two wins to his tally.
Almost every time Rossi is asked about his brother he is complimentary, admitting they are very different. "Luca is my brother, but from some point of view, he is very different from me. He has a different character. He is more closed or more cold, we say in Italian. He is always thinking about all the small details. He is very precise. This aspect is more similar to me, but from some points of view we are different. But I think that he has great potential to arrive to the MotoGP class. He’s very fast. He’s very brave. A lot of times he beats me. I’m not very happy about this, but I think he can have a good future." Worth noting, however, that almost every time Rossi is asked about Marini he quickly changes the subject and starts talking about his other VR46 Academy riders "Bez [Marco Bezzecchi] is more reactive, more hot. Sometimes we have to calm him down, but he has a great talent. He’s very fast. Also for him, he can win. He can arrive in MotoGP. So we are very proud of our riders” as if Rossi is trying to keep his brother grounded.
"He is a normal rider” explains SKY VR46 team manager Pablo Nieto , "a normal member of the team. It is really important to work like this, like any other person in the team. It's a lot easier than thinking that he is the brother of the boss of the team. In the end you cannot work in the right way if you have that in mind." Nieto also agrees that the brothers are similar in their work method. "He is very different from his brother. Completely different characters, I think Vale is more open, Luca is shy, more closed, but at the end the way they are working is the same. Luca likes to have everything under control, which is very difficult, and also Valentino likes that, he checks everything. Wants to know how to work with the bike, how everything is done and what is done with the bike and he wants to know it. On that side they are similar, different characters but their work method is similar."
"He matured a lot and I think he feels ready to fight” Nieto says and adds "I think he is very clever.. I hope so.” Marini is intelligent. He had thought about becoming an astronomer. He was once late to a race weekend because he had to take his science finals, and throughout the 2016 season he was spending every moment off the track to finish his final year’s exams. It is very notable to see what a good student he is by the way he explains his riding and the level of his English that he studies as part of his VR46 academy duties.
New engines, new opportunities
Marini came to the 2020 season as one of the favorites, with a new teammate, Marco Bezzecchi, who is one of his best friends. The Triumph-engined version of the Moto2 category suits him better, as does the new Dunlop tire, though he did suffer from tire issues in the first race where he crashed. After that disappointment, Marini, who spent the quarantine at his home with his girlfriend, has worked really hard according to his team boss, work that paid off with a win in Jerez.
"I don't know, I worked on many different things," Marini said. "I think In this period when I was not racing, in the beginning I was not even training at home. I thought about what I love to do, what motorbikes give to me and I think that I found the motivation more and to try to push more in the training and be more prepared. Because now the level is very high, so you have to work more if you want to stay in front."
You had to sit 4 months on the Qatar race result at home?
"Yes it was difficult, I wanted to have a race the next Sunday, not months later, so it was really tough at the beginning. But I found a new motivation also from that result to try to get to Jerez and take the 25 points that I lost there and not for my own fault."
I noticed all the tracks that you were strong last season are not on the calendar?
"In this year's championship the tracks that I like do not appear, so there are so many tracks I don't like this year. So you have to do this because also I think it wasn't possible to set another calendar. But what I see here in Jerez which is a track that I was never fast at. I never achieved a good result and my best result was fifth. I understand that if you feel comfortable with the bike and you can ride like you want you can be fast in every track. Also I think this year I can be strong in other tracks that are not easy or friendly with my riding style."
I heard you made changes in your own staff in the team?
"I felt confident in myself and I was searching, looking for something that give me a bit more, that I can learn from, can help me reach my target sooner or in a better way. So we tried to change a part of the team, telemetry, data analyzer, and crew chief, and the feeling from the beginning was really good. Now I think we are improving and working very well together and I trust them a lot, and I think that's very important."
What made you choose Jairo Carriles as your crew chief?
"I was looking for someone who would push me to take another step, to be stronger and better prepared to fight for the win every race, so I was talking with my brother and with Pablo Nieto to try to do that step. Because if I wanted to try and fight for the victory every race, I needed something more."
Nieto was supportive of the change and bringing on Jairo Carriles, who used to work with Alex Rins, Fabio Quartararo, Lorenzo Baldassarri, and Luis Salom, as his new crew chief, but also a second data technician that both riders share, allowing the team to analyze the data faster and more efficiently, and for a thinker like Marini this seems a great assistance. "We decided to make the change in his side of the garage together” Nieto explains, "It's important to make these kind of decisions as a team. We thought it was important to change something on that side of the team so made the decision and it was up to me to find a good solution for him. So at the moment we feel really good with the new guys who are working in the team. It was important to make this decision together while trusting him and supporting him as much as we can."
Another change in the team was Marini’s new teammate, with Marco Bezzecchi joining the team "Marco is a really good guy, really clever and he knows that if he has a really good relationship with Luca he can improve much more, and they are friends”, Nieto explains.
"We have a good, even very good partnership, Bezzecchi and I,” says Marini. "I think it's very important because I want a fast teammate as it is helpful. To see his data and how he rides the bike, to compare the data to him. This is nice, also to speak about the track, conditions, corners. We can share advice which is nice. Also the atmosphere in the garage is fantastic and that is nice, it is very, very free. We are friends out of the track, we speak normally. Also the Moto3 riders are really easy in the garage, so this is very nice."
Who do you see as your main competitors this season?
"Lots of riders, many riders. Moto2 is so competitive, so it's not always even the same riders who are strong every weekend. In my opinion the strongest and fastest are [Jorge] Martin, [Enea] Bastianini. Bez [Marco Bezzecchi] is so fast this year. Balda [Lorenzo Baldassarri], [Marcel] Schrotter, [Tom] Luthi, [Tetsuta] Nagashima, who are all struggling a bit, but will be there. We are many riders who can fight for the victory in every race."
Marini actually predicted the success of many of his rivals, when after the first round in Jerez he pointed out a few riders who were not on the short list of many experts. "There are many riders. So many, because Moto2 is very, very competitive, the level is high and every rider is very fast. Also, it's strange because in some tracks maybe another rider will appear, I don't know, maybe [Remy] Gardner can be fast in one track, or maybe in another track Bezzecchi for the victory or the podium. So we are around 10 riders very fast that can win every race, so it's very important to stay there in every race to fight for victory or the podium and try to collect as many points as possible. Maybe one time it's not at a track where I feel as comfortable, for example, so I need to stay calm and do what I can do."
After his first win of the season at the first round of Jerez, Marini was very grounded, while also anticipating how difficult the second round would be "It's very strange to be at a track we just won at for another race, and I think it will be a different race because after a race you get so much information as a rider and you can also give a lot of feedback to your crew chief and also to the mechanics. So I think everybody now can improve and it would be more difficult to win this race, I think."
"So we have to do a great job also this weekend and try to improve the bike a little bit and also my riding style," Marini said. "I think that I can be a little bit faster compared to race pace last Sunday and maybe it would be a different race , maybe everybody will be closer and it will be a group race with five or six riders till the end. I think the gap would be closer and also for qualifying the gap would be more difficult. My goal is to start from the first two rows but this time would be tough, I think, I need to understand if I want to stay in front."
Marini would achieve that goal, starting from fifth, and finishing second behind Enea Bastianini.
What do you want to improve in yourself?
"We check the data also comparing with Bez, comparing with him I lose something in turning, so I started working there from FP1, and try to do a little bit different things with the brakes and the throttle. I think maybe I can improve in one or two tenths and I think the bike can help me turn in the corners."
The fact that you can compare two races this season is that helpful?
"It is helpful for everybody, so I think that maybe I will start a little bit in front if I did well in the first round. But for sure from FP1 everybody will be there and maybe also in front of me. So I need to restart this weekend like nothing happened the Sunday before. I forget the last race and only focus on this weekend because it's another race."
You will need to compete against yourself first?
"If it was a Monday maybe yes, but with three days where you can think about the race and work on the bike and prepare better, I think my competitors are stronger and Nagashima and Martin would be closer. But I think Bez would be there because if he did not crash for sure he took the second place last Sunday. This weekend it would not be only me, there are so many riders very fast."
New Dunlop front tires and adapting to them quickly. Was that just an immediate thing for your riding style?
"The tires in Jerez were different. In Qatar we had one tire specific for Qatar and it was not produced again. The new tire we got for Jerez is normal, softer and harder tire. I chose the harder one from the beginning and I worked on that tire for the rest of the weekend. I think I maybe adapted my riding style as I understand the front tire better. Also I changed a bit the bike so I could use the hard tire, as I wanted to use that tire for the race, while I saw other riders choose the softer ones and have a little bit of problems, like Martin for example. I don't know if they will change their choice or go for the harder one because the temperature might be higher. It feels like the real Dunlop tire, like the one we had for years in Moto2. The soft one is different, though not Dunlop style."
It does not feel strange to ask him about Valentino Rossi, he doesn't get defensive or annoyed when he is asked about his brother taking the limelight and coming to congratulate him on his wins. "When I crossed the finish line at the end of the race, I was looking for the fans and nobody was there, so I was feeling alone. Happy for the race but with nobody that made some noise, so I did the victory lap very fast to arrive at the pit lane, parc ferme where the party was. It was great to see the guys of the team, Luca (Locatelli the VR46 academy rider coach) who was laying down on the ground, and when I saw my brother it was a big surprise because he never comes because he needs to prepare for his own race."
This season was the first he started healthy and in good shape following the injured shoulder from Le Mans 2017 and then the surgery he had to have before the start of 2019 season.
How much is that an advantage that your shoulder now seems to be better and you are in a good physical condition?
"This is also another very important thing that I have this year. I feel 100% physically and I can train better at home and feel better on the bike. I have more strength, so I can ride the bike better. Also I remember that there was one year that every race of the championship I took painkillers for the pain in the shoulder, now I can take nothing and feel good on the bike. It is fantastic, the level is high and it was never like this in the motorcycle world. I think Moto3, Moto2, MotoGP the riders are athletes, they are fantastic, they are prepared 100%, so also not to have injuries is a very important part of our training."
You had similar surgery to the ones Marc Marquez had. After you saw him come back from his 1st one did it give you confidence to go for it as a long healing is needed for that surgery?
"I don't know if it is the same operation as me, because the year I did mine he did his on the left shoulder, but he recovered faster than me. But I learned something from him: when he has a surgery he never stops training. I remember while he was recovering he was training with his bicycle a lot while I was still laying down in bed, doing nothing, watching races. But when I started training again to prepare for the championship, I was not ready, while he was a step forward even if he may have done different surgery. So now I also have this knowledge in my mind that can be useful for the future."
It was a bit surprising to hear Marini talk about the nemesis of his brother like that, but Nieto was not surprised and explained "You have to see who is the best rider to learn from, and now it is Márquez, so I understand that Luca and all the riders say that they learn something from Marc. It's something that is normal. If I am in his position I will also look at how Marc Márquez is working, riding. It's important to see how Marc Marquez is making the fastest laps, how he works. You need to learn from the best, and now Marc Márquez is the best. He is the world champion."
With Luca Marini having led the championship for most of the season, and now sitting in third, his future in MotoGP seems closer than ever before (as an Avintia Ducati rider instead of Tito Rabat). Marini insisted at first that he is concentrating on the here and now following the impressive win in Barcelona, his third of the season. As his brother described it, he rode that race in perfection. Now, Nieto and the rest of the team admit Marini is ready.
Marini won't talk about it, however, and would only admit this: "For sure MotoGP is my dream, it's my goal but I have to do a great job in Moto2. I like this category because the bike is very easy and nice to ride, and I enjoy it a lot. I will try to do many races like Jerez, try to win again and we will see in the future."
Tammy Gorali conducted this interview with Luca Marini during the Andalusia round of MotoGP, the third race for the Moto2 class. Though the state of the championship has changed considerably since then, the interview still stands as an insight into the character of Marini, and what has changed.
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