Biaggi branded ‘primadonna’ by ex-boss; Biaggi responds with Ducati revelations

Max Biaggi claims Ducati hampered most of its riders during the 2008 WorldSBK season to allow Troy Bayliss a run at the title on controversial new 1098R

Max Biaggi - Sterilgarda Ducati

Max Biaggi has revealed he was effectively denied the chance to compete for the 2008 WorldSBK Championship after Ducati deliberately slowed his 1098R so as not to arouse unwanted suspicion that the controversial new sportsbike was too quick.

According to the Italian, by clipping the performance of its other leading contenders, Ducati could focus on giving primary rider Troy Bayliss the best possible shot at winning the title without fear of the larger capacity 1098R having its performance reined in.

New-for-2008, Ducati came into the WorldSBK season under close scrutiny after successfully lobbying the FIM to allow its new sportsbike to compete despite it exceeding the 1000cc cap to meet homologation. 

Amid threats to quit WorldSBK, Ducati eventually got its way and the 1098R was permitted to compete while ceding some concessions. However, with rivals also expressing dissatisfaction at the decision, it meant Ducati’s performance during the initial rounds would be closely monitored, with Biaggi claiming his title bid was therefore sacrificed so Bayliss could race unimpeded.

“Max Biaggi was a primadonna”

The revelations came as part of a lengthy post on Max Biaggi’s Facebook page in direct response to criticism from Matteo Borciani - team manager of BRC Racing (Sterilgarda Ducati) - who described the Italian as ‘impossible to manage’.

Speaking in an interview with Corsedimoto, Borciani - who turned to managing his own team after his WorldSBK racing career was curtailed by illness - says allowing Ducati to place Biaggi on the Sterilgarda-backed machine was a ‘mistake’.

“It was difficult for me to be both a rider and team manager but in the CIV (Italian Superbikes) I was doing very well and I won two Italian titles. But then I made a very big mistake: to allow Max Biaggi to race.”

“Our team was young and Biaggi was impossible to manage as a character. He was a primadonna and had disproportionate demands. After the first 4 races he had an official bike, while Xaus always rode a customer bike. But Ruben won a race, so the team was there, he [Biaggi] couldn't say that the problem was the team. I felt very sick with him, it was a nightmare that year.”

In response, while Biaggi doesn’t expressly deny he wasn’t demanding of the BRC team, he counters by saying ‘non-winners’ (Borciani) cannot understand the sacrifices and ruthlessness required to win multiple world championships.

“I keep saying that non-winners in sport struggle to understand the mentality that encourages a multi-world champion,” Biaggi writes.

“On their part there is no envy, just an inability to see further, to understand who has pushed further. A champion wants to win at all costs and so sacrifices his life, in all aspects, in order to achieve that goal. Don’t believe anyone who says otherwise! 

“A champion must respect everyone, but on the track he must be ruthless! Just as on the track it is difficult to create friendships, especially when fighting for the same goal, in the same way a champion must expect the maximum from everyone around him. 

“I don't claim and I don't want to be nice to everyone, but it's not right to omit what happened that year, transforming the truth into the alleged whims of a rider.”

"I was overtaken by riders I've never seen... Absurd!"

Having cultivated a reputation as something of a ‘diva’ while competing in GP, Biaggi found himself out-of-favour and out-of-MotoGP come the end of the 2005 season. After a planned deal to join Suzuki for the 2006 WorldSBK fell through, Biaggi eventually made his debut with the Alstare-run team in 2007 following a sabbatical.

However, when the loss of title backer Corona prevented Suzuki from meeting Biaggi’s wage demands for 2008, he penned a deal directly with Ducati on the premise that he’d spend a season on a satellite bike before being promoted to the factory squad for 2009 in place of the soon-to-retire Bayliss.

Getting his first touch on the 1098R - which replaced the 999 - during a test in Australia, Biaggi was convinced he had a title-winning machine beneath him, adding his pace was immediately superior to that of Bayliss.

“We did a simulation race, which we finished with a time of four seconds quicker than the race won in 2017 by Bayliss using the old official motorcycle. Even on the best lap I was faster than Bayliss’ pole position by four tenths.”

Come the first round in Qatar, his bike had already been subject to changes with 500rpm cut from the limiter, so as to assure reliability. Despite this, Biaggi enjoyed a successful start to the year with a pair of podiums, before a crash during the next event in Australia sidelined him with a broken wrist.

Upon his return to action during Round 3 in Valencia, however, Biaggi discovered his Ducati was not performing as it had been, a concern engineers initially attempted to dismiss.

However, when Biaggi threatened to walk out mid-way through free practice, it was confirmed Ducati bosses had ordered the bike to run with a new engine map that was restricting performance by around 15-18bhp.

“I returned to Valencia, after 21 days of being in a cast and in the first days I realised that something was wrong with the motorcycle. I stopped by the pits to talk to my head tech. The problem remained undefined and the session ended with many doubts. 

“At the start of the second round of free, I noticed the same exact problem, so I immediately go back to the box. I told my head engineer I'd finish my practice there! 

“In fact, I was coming back from a bad hand injury and to run I had to infiltrate painkillers on my wrist, so it was pointless to continue, with a motorcycle that had an obvious drop in performance (I was overtaken by riders I've never seen! Absurd). 

“My head technician, after several ups and downs, finally admitted that the then General Director of Ducati Corse Filippo Preziosi, had ordered him to insert a specific map, which removed between 15 and 18 HP across the entire range. 

"It was necessary only one Ducati rider won"

According to Biaggi, the motivation behind the move was a tactical one in that it essentially prevented the 1098R from appearing too quick in customer trim while under close scrutiny from FIM regulators, who were in turn under pressure from rivals (Suzuki, Honda and Yamaha) unhappy at the rules being changed to suit the Italian firm.

Indeed, with Bayliss winning three of the opening four races and Biaggi on the podium in Qatar, the Italian claims Ducati opted to focus on Bayliss’ title bid with an unimpeded bike at the expense of its other entries.

However, Biaggi feels the decision casts a shadow over Bayliss’ third title because it suggests his relative dominance that year had as much to do with his two-cylinder ‘advantage’, as it was his skills.

“It was necessary that only one [Ducati] rider won [Bayliss], otherwise the regulation would have penalised the bike.”

“If only one rider had won, the victory would have been attributed to his skill and not to a two-cylinder technical advantage over the four-cylinder.”

“Through it all my team manager, who should have been defending the interests of his team, his sponsors to stop his rider's bike from [being held back], didn't say a word! Actually, even today he pretends not to know the truth.”

Biaggi - who didn’t achieve another podium until Round 8 - goes on to say his claims are proven by his upturn in results during the second-half of the year.

Scoring five podiums during the lattermost events, Biaggi says it was made possible by Ducati removing the restrictions once Bayliss had accrued a significant lead in the standings.

“A few races later, when Bayliss' lead in the standings was consolidated and when it was certain that I would ride on the official Ducati [in 2019], the limiter was moved to 12250 rpm, all without any structural modifications!”

Despite his clause with Ducati to replace Bayliss in the factory team for 2009, relations between the two parties frayed during the course of the 2008 season, prompting the manufacturer to hire Noriyuki Haga instead.

Biaggi, meanwhile, joined Aprilia for its series return to WorldSBK in 2009, going on to clinch the world title in 2010 and 2012 with the manufacturer.