'This is all for Fausto' - Gresini's bittersweet return to the top - The Race
MotoGP

‘This is all for Fausto’ – Gresini’s bittersweet return to the top

Mar 6 2022
By Simon Patterson

The opening race of the 2022 MotoGP season was always going to be a momentous occasion for the Gresini Racing squad as it returned to life as an independent team – now representing Ducati – after seven years running Aprilia’s factory project.

Then Enea Bastianini’s impressive efforts in Saturday’s qualifying session at the Lusail International Circuit made it all the more significant still with a strong front row starting position.

But while it was clear that the 2020 Moto2 world champion would be determined to stay up front when the lights went out, few expected the spectacular performance delivered by him in the end.

Gresini marked its return to fully independent status with its first victory since Toni Elias won the famously dramatic penultimate race of the 2006 season at Estoril.

And of course, things were even more emotional for the team because of the dramatic changes it’s endured in the past year following the tragic death of team principal Fausto Gresini to COVID-19 early in 2021.

Feb 23 : Paying tribute to Fausto Gresini

Gresini Racing was taken over afterwards by Fausto’s partner Nadia Padovani, who continued Fausto’s plans to split from Aprilia in the hope the team could reassert itself in its old role as MotoGP’s premier satellite squad.

It was quite the gamble – but Bastianini’s textbook victory in the Qatar Grand Prix has firmly put Gresini on the road to achieving its goal.

Yet despite the incredible challenges faced to get to this point, it’s far from the first time that the Gresini Racing team has faced heartache and adversity.

When senior Gresini figure Carlo Merlini spoke exclusively to The Race after the chequered flag, previous tragedies and victories were very much on his mind.

Gresini has lost two of its greatest riders to crashes – Daijiro Kato in 2003 and Marco Simoncelli in 2011.

Gibernau South African Motogp 2003

Only a week after Kato’s death from injuries he’d sustained in the Japanese GP, his team-mate Sete Gibernau took Gresini to victory in South Africa. A fortnight after Simoncelli lost his life, Michele Pirro won for Gresini’s Moto2 team in the next round at Valencia.

Merlini said Qatar 2022 felt like another poignant chapter in the team’s unique and bittersweet history.

“This reminds me of Welkom 2003, it reminds me of Valencia 2011 when Michele Pirro won the Moto2 race,” he told The Race.

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“Beside the technical and the sporting perspective, it is an emotional thing.

“Thinking that, returning to MotoGP as a fully independent Gresini Racing team, we wrote a beautiful page of the MotoGP history.

“The rest, 25 points and a beautiful win, is kind of a secondary thing.

“This reaction is the story of our team. I remember those two milestones of Welkom and Valencia, and we don’t like this.

“We hope that we can continue to win now throughout the season. But when things like this happen, then the emotional side becomes huge.

“This is all for Fausto. What could he say if he could see what the guys are doing down here for him?”

While the result was very much a team effort, Merlini was quick to single out the incredible contribution made by Padovani.

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Thrust into the role of MotoGP’s first ever female team principal in the hardest of circumstances imaginable, she’s done an exceptional job of bringing the team together.

“Today is just the emotion of putting the Gresini name on top, after all we went through last year,” Merlini added.

“Again, a round of applause to Nadia for the brave move of taking over, pushing things over. That is the achievement that she deserves.

“Nadia was in tears afterwards, I was in tears, everyone was in tears. It’s not like any other win.

“But it’s the first season, it’s the first race and we have another 20 in front of us, and the emotion helps but these guys have to keep working from a technical point of view.

“Enea and Diggia [Fabio Di Giannantonio] too, because we want him to grow, and we look forward to a very good season.”

Merlini is adamant Gresini will not rest on its laurels for long, especially with the next race at the new Mandalika circuit a key one for the Indonesian-backed squad.

“The next race will be a different story,” he admitted, “and we’re not going to start from the front row just because we won this race.

“We need to keep working hard, and let’s see what the season brings for us.

“Enea is probably in the right place, with the right technical support, with the right hardware, with a good team and good sponsors.

“There is everything, and the atmosphere is very fruitful.

“It’s an environment where you can really build something good, and it’s our job to protect this balance, to grab momentum, and to look forward to going to Indonesia.”

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