Max Biaggi has announced he is to retire from motorcycle racing. The 2012 World Superbike Champion will not defend his title in 2013, and has ceased racing with immediate effect. At the age of 41, after some 20 years of racing at the very top level, the six-time World Champion has decided to call it a day.
"It all started here and it all ends here," Biaggi told a press conference at the Vallelunga circuit just outside Rome. The decision had been taken with great difficulty, he said, but finally, the desire to spend more time with his wife and family had prevailed over his hunger to race. The night before the press conference had been "my longest night," Biaggi told the press, "but I am happy with this decision." It had been a decision taken freely. He had a contract ready to sign from Aprilia, and he still felt competitive, but he felt it was the right time to leave. Many riders had been forced by injury to retire, but being able to leave while still healthy was an important factor, Biaggi said.
Biaggi's career was both remarkable and memorable, for the right reasons as well as the wrong reasons. Biaggi started racing late, only taking up the sport at the age of eighteen, an age at which many racers have already been racing for ten years or more. The Italian learned quickly, winning the Italian Sport Production class, then finishing as runner-up in the European 250cc Championship, before entering Grand Prix in the 250cc class in 1992. He won his first race in his first season, winning his first 250cc title in 1994, then going on to win four championships in a row in the intermediate class.
His entry into the 500cc class was equally dramatic, taking pole position, fastest lap and the win in his first race in the premier class, and ending that year second in the championship behind Mick Doohan. But Biaggi never managed to improve on that result, despite winning a total of 13 races in 500cc and MotoGP. The arrival of Valentino Rossi, who had declared Biaggi to be his arch enemy, sparked a fascinating and intense rivalry in which Biaggi never managed to triumph. His career in MotoGP was cut short after a difficult year with the factory Honda team in 2005, during which Biaggi offered frequent and trenchant criticism of the bike, and after an incident deemed unacceptable by HRC management, his contract was not renewed. A deal to continue with Sito Pons fell through when Honda refused to supply a bike to Pons' team for Biaggi to ride.
After a year in the wilderness, Max Biaggi made a return to racing in the style which his fans had come to expect, winning his first ever World Superbike race aboard the Alstare Suzuki. Biaggi was always competitive in the World Superbike series, but only found championship form again when he was reunited with Aprilia, who were racing their RSV4 in the class. Biaggi won the 2010 championship convincingly, in Aprilia's second year in the championship. The Italian was unable to defend his title in 2011, losing out to Carlos Checa, but his second WSBK title came after a long and thrilling season, in which he finished ahead of Kawasaki's Tom Sykes by the tightest margin ever, just half a point, half points having been awarded at the rain-hit Monza round.
Biaggi was cagey on his future, but he did tell the press conference that though he may not be racing any more, he would not be leaving the motorcycling world altogether. "I am thinking about a collaboration with Aprilia, but it will not be in racing," Biaggi told the press conference.
For more details, see the story over on GPOne.com.