“Tuesday will be one of the best days of my life,” grins Franco Morbidelli and offers proof that motorcycle grand prix racers – especially world champions – rarely like to stay still. The 22 year old Italian is sitting stationary on this occasion, and, as ever, looks very at home in his own skin. The 2017 Moto2 World Champ is facing some members of the press in the bright confines of his Estrella Galicia Marc VDS team hospitality on the eve of the Gran Premi de Comunitat Valenciana and the final round of the MotoGP term. He deals with questions in his calm and considered English (indeed, transcribing his words later that day there is barely need to pause the Dictaphone) and manner that reveals an intensely thoughtful and competitive man but also one that could easily find some inner peace. Mention his impending move to the MotoGP class with the same Marc VDS set-up in ’18 though (the initial test on Tuesday at the Ricardo Tormo circuit the reason for his excitement) and the very first champion graduate from Valentino Rossi’s VR46 Academy unabashedly smiles and shuffles in his chair.
Franco Morbidelli is something of a contradiction. His make-up is half Italian and half Brazilian, and as an athlete there is also a detectable divide: the laconic and even slightly timid person found around the paddock offset against the rapier force of speed and focus on the racetrack. In 2017 MotoGP fans and Moto2 rivals have seen plenty of the latter. 8 wins and 12 podiums from 18 races in what was just his second season with Marc VDS crew laid waste to arguably the most competitive division in Grand Prix.
“He is difficult to understand,” confesses Team Manager Michael Bartholemy. “You never know how much effort he puts into his riding. I still remember Qatar and the first year we were together in 2016 and in the hotel lobby I recall saying to him that my feeling was that he didn't want to be a world champion because he always looked like he wasn’t giving everything. But I have to say that this is just the way Franco is. He looks very easy and relaxed and is not the guy to spend hours in the gym to have a nice body. His approach is different. But when he is on the bike he is much more closer to Valentino. He gives 150%, especially on Sunday when he gives everything to try and win the race; it is this aspect where he is closer to Valentino. Even after two years I still have this feeling ‘where is his limit?’ But the thing with Franco is that he has enormous talent.”
“This year was about fine-tuning from 2016 – where he was already not to bad from the middle of the season – and then from Jerez this year I thought ‘we can win the championship’ because I saw a different Frankie. His mind was clearer and at ease.”
Morbidelli sauntered into Moto2 in 2014 and within three seasons was the dominant force of a category where 600cc Honda engines are standard and seven riders from the final top ten of the standings were using the same Kalex frames. “Moto2 is a tough category and especially in the last three years everybody has had the same bike with the Kalex,” he says. “The only thing that was really changing was the suspension and the way to work. I think Moto2 develops a rider a lot in terms of riding style and also their method. Also tyre preservation…but MotoGP will be a completely different story and what worked here might not work there. I don't know anything about electronics but maybe that is a good thing!”
The daunting grid of Marquez’, Rossis, Viñales’, Lorenzos, Doviziosos, Pedrosas and more sits on an ever-nearing horizon with only four months until the series howls into life again. “I am very optimistic about Franco,” says Rossi. “He is arriving to MotoGP at the good moment and is quite ready to ride this bike at the limit. I think he can be competitive next year.”
With ‘Morbido’ – as some of his VR46 peers like to call him – holding court in the sunny Valencia paddock it was an appropriate moment to get some opinions and insight on a remarkable championship campaign and the growing spark of another vibrant star.