Tragedy and a “very difficult” dilemma – The volatile year of a MotoGP team

A lot has changed for the Gresini Racing squad in the past few months as the most venerable team in the independent MotoGP class faced challenges ranging from the tragic death of team principal Fausto Gresini to finding the sponsors it needed to support the Reviving team as a fully private team after over half a decade of partnership with Aprilia.

But with Fausto’s partner Nadia Padovani at the helm of the company, 2022 looks rosier than ever for the team in purely sporty terms, thanks to a new connection with Ducati and two exciting drivers on board in the form of the rookie sensation 2021 Enea Bastianini and newcomer and Moto2 race winner Fabio Di Giannantonio.

However, that’s not to say it was a seamless transition as the troubles of the past 12 months since Fausto first became infected with COVID-19 have weighed heavily on the team, according to Commerce and Marketing Director Carlo Merlini.

“Overall, it was a very difficult year, apart from Aprilia, Ducati and all that history,” the seasoned team administrator admitted to The Race.

“In February we had to deal with a huge empty room created by the death of Fausto.

“It was an emotional and also a professional void that Fausto’s death created. To be honest, anything could have happened in February and nothing was taken for granted.

“Either the continuation of the project, or the family had the right to say ‘this is not my job’ and give it away, give up. That would have been very sad, but understandable.

“So my job was to stay close to the family and tell them everything. To give them information about how things work in our world, in our business. What I didn’t want them to make too emotional a decision because ultimately we are a company that needs to be run.

“I know it was not easy for her to make a decision right after Fausto’s death in order to understand so many things that were going on. The emotional side was so strong that it would have been easy to make the wrong decision at that point.

“We wanted to make it more rational. The emotional side was important because I wouldn’t have been here without it, but at the same time we wanted them to have the information, everything they need to make the decision. “

Fausto Gresini tribute

The decision was made by Fausto’s family to move on, with partner Nadia now taking on the role of team leader and sons Luca and Lorenzo taking on new roles within the squad – a decision that Merini said kept the team afloat.

“Of course it was their decision,” he said of the family, “not mine or someone else’s, and I think we have to give Nadia and Fausto’s family an applause for the very brave decision to join the company and move forward.” Things forward. To advance Fausto’s legacy.

“Personally, I’ve been working side by side with Fausto for 21 years and we’ve always been very close for the nature of my work. I miss him as a boss and as a friend, but I’m really looking forward to being there and helping the family move the team forward.

“The most difficult thing was to ensure the continued existence of the team. Not for 2021, because the balls were already rolling, but the biggest challenge was preparing for 2022 with all the changes. It was an extremely difficult time, but I’m happy to be here. “

And yet, despite the seemingly monumental task of untangling the team of seven years as Aprilia’s partner in his MotoGP project, Merlini firmly believes the challenge wasn’t too arduous, largely thanks to Gresini’s considerable past experience as satellites -Outfit.

A Honda team since its origins in 1997, the team achieved a very respectable 14 victories in its time with Japanese machines, including riders like Sete Gibernau, Marco Melandri, Toni Elias and Marco Simoncelli, who were among their trophies from 2002 to 2014.

Sete Gibernau Gresini Honda MotoGP

“There is no big change,” explained Merlini of this journey through time, “because the entire setup in the paddock belongs to Gresini.

“Even the championship entries that the Aprilia Gresini project has used over the past seven years were our entries.

“The working trailers, Gresini. The Gresini restaurant. All the equipment, the flight cases, all the Gresinis.

“And we still found the time to have two new functioning trailers delivered for next year – there will be two brand new double-decker trailers that you will see in Portimao for the first European round.

“Let me remind you that before Aprilia we were a Honda satellite company for a very long time.

“We are basically back to what we were before the Aprilia period.

“If you look at the Aprilia team, I would say that almost half of Aprilia employees and the other half were Gresini.

“When we closed the Moto3 project, we were able to select some of the best mechanics, promote them to MotoGP and bring in a few new additions from Avintia.

“From this point of view, it wasn’t a big change and everything looks good.”

Aleix Espargaro Aprilia Gresini MotoGP

And while there was an opportunity to continue with Aprilia as a satellite partner for the next season, Merlini also said that the decision to switch to rival Italian brand Ducati, where Gresini will receive a pair of Desmosedicis of the 2021 specification, was ultimately the right one despite Aprilia’s growing success last season.

“Although we’ve spoken to a few, the real options were Aprilia and Ducati,” he affirmed.

“It was a very difficult decision. Ordinarily it would have been Faustos and we have had the discussion with both Aprilia and Ducati.

“Aprilia was definitely an option. They asked us to stay with them in order to continue our relationship as a satellite operation. Ducati was an option too.

“We evaluated all options; sporty, technical, financial of course, and when it came to putting it all together we thought the Ducati package was the best option overall.

“Probably the biggest challenge in some ways, but we wanted to take it on and are very happy with our decision. From this point on, so far, so good. “

Enea Bastianini Gresini Ducati MotoGP

The hurdles did not end there, however. Initial speculation in the paddock linked Gresini with longtime LCR Honda and Ducati partner Flex Box as title sponsor – only so that this deal would seemingly fail, which led to rumors that the team could be in danger before it was even put into operation.

But Merlini quickly downplayed that and confirmed earlier rumors that things are looking financially good after an initially bumpy start, even if the team has yet to announce a partner.

“That was another challenge for us,” admitted Merlini. “For the MotoGP project, the commercial aspects are largely managed by Aprilia. So we rebuilt the MotoGP budget from the ground up, which isn’t just peanuts.

“We were lucky enough, or good enough, to have some very loyal long-term sponsors in Moto2, all of them Indonesian sponsors.

“When I gave them the opportunity to move up to MotoGP, an opportunity that Aprilia didn’t have, they wanted to take it right away.


“We have a few new sponsors, but we started very early because we knew the task was very difficult. A lot of commitment, a lot of dedication and today I can say that the budget is very well set up and the stability of the team is not endangered. “

And with Gresini’s first test of his new era in Jerez already in the starting blocks and the team having had a busy preseason in January preparing for Sepang, the commercial manager is confident that the 2022 season is now coming together well.

“It was a very emotional test at first,” admitted Merlini.

“From a technical point of view, a test is a test and you know just as much as I do what you can take away from it.

“But emotionally it was the beginning of a new chapter for Gresini Racing without Fausto with Ducati as the new manufacturer.”