Blowing it

A rational view of an irrational situation

As far as bad days go, Romano Fenati’s Monday will take some beating. The dust had barely settled after a senseless move to warn rival Stefano Manzi in Sunday’s Moto2 outing at Misano when the 22-year old’s world began to come tumbling down. An immediate disqualification from the race was almost immediate. So was race direction’s notice it would ban him from the next two outings. But not even Fenati, grand prix’s bad boy, could have foreseen the fallout that awaited.

First his contract with current outfit Marinelli Snipers Team was cancelled. Giovanni Castiglioni, president of MV Agusta, made sure the same happened to his deal with Forward Racing for the following year. There was a litany of comments from Italy’s racing figures. His actions were “attempted homicide,” according to Carlo Pernat in his column for Spanish publication Motociclismo. Team owner Lucio Cecchinello feels he possesses “psychological problems.” And Cal Crutchlow’s comments – “He should never compete on a motorcycle again” – were greeted with collective nods of approval.

Perhaps what was most surprising was the reach of this latest contretemps. That ugly screenshot of his left arm reaching across and applying “20-bar” of pressure to Manzi’s front brake at 134mph has popped up on media outlets the world over. Be it in the UK, Spain or New Zealand, Fenati’s castigation has been as swift as it has been complete – and not just around on the periphery of the media, where – a select group of countries aside – MotoGP’s coverage usually lies. This is front and centre, a topic of debate on mainstream news.

‘So what?’ you might ask. And, to an extent, you’re right. His actions were rash. They were stupid (Manzi is riding for his future team, remember). Not to mention straight up dangerous. The potentially disastrous consequences of such a loss of cool are so obvious they barely need stating. It was yet another example of Fenati failing to control a temper, or “impulsive character” as he says, that has always bordered on the explosive. Race Direction was right in banning him for two races. It should have been more, if I’m being honest. Yet it’s still an unprecedented amount.

But to brand him an attempted murderer is going too far. The same can be said of calls for lifetime bans. Only Fenati knows his true intentions in that brainless moment, between turns seven and eight, when he chased Manzi down with his vision blurred, clouded by rage. I seriously doubt he had intended Manzi to crash. I’m sure his countryman would have been on the floor if he had.

There was history here, of course. Not just with Fenati, who once kicked Niklas Ajo on a slow-down lap in 2015 before flicking the Finn’s kill-switch. But Manzi is one of eleven members of the VR46 Academy, Italy’s centre of excellence for young talent that trains and learns alongside the extended paternal wing of Valentino Rossi. Once a member, Fenati never embraced its methods and his sacking from Sky Team VR46 in 2016 left a bitter taste. Manzi’s wayward riding, which pushed both men off track, was the proverbial red rag that drove Fenati to madness.

This is not to excuse him, you see – more to understand the origin of those brainless actions. The Italian finds himself in a situation akin to just over two years ago after that infamous fallout in Austria: no ride, no reputation worth speaking about and no hope. His immediate future is in tatters. I’d say that’s punishment enough. Let’s leave it at that.

This can’t be an easy time for a young man facing months of uncertainty. Fenati had a spell on the sidelines in the second half of 2016, he felt, portrayed him in the wrong light. “For sure, I hated this sport for what happened in Austria, and all the rest,” he told me last September. “But after I felt this is my sport, my life. I started when I was four years [old] and I understood I had to continue – but only for me. For this I restarted with the bikes.”

It’s telling that two former rivals with whom Fenati shared a track have come out to show support. Joan Mir, the Italian’s main title rival in 2017, wrote on Instagram: “we had a thousand battles, but you always behaved like a great rider and rival on track.” Former Moto3 podium finisher Juanfran Guevara pointed to a Karel Hanika’s inexplicable barge into him at Jerez, 2015, which broke his collarbone. The Czech rider’s sanction on that occasion? Five penalty points on his license. It’s entirely right Fenati is suffering the consequences of his actions, wrote Guevara. But to vilify him to the extent his career is now in question is not.

Personally, my outrage-o-metre subsided not long after the race was finished and the punishment was handed out. Now just disappointment lingers. Probably as, through the turbulence of his stay in grand prix, it seemed Fenati had turned a corner after his misdemeanours of the past. His comments in Austin last year, in the wake of a dominant comeback win, hinted his time in the wilderness had offered some much-needed perspective.

Hailing from Ascoli, he witnessed the devastation of the earthquake in central Italy first hand. “In Austria [2016] it was not a big problem,” he said of the disaster that claimed 299 lives. “After, the earthquake destroyed all my city. This is a [real] problem in the life. My life changed because [now] I understand it is important [to live your] life day-by-day.”

He was rough around the edges, sure. In a world of pre-prepared soundbites and saccharine ‘on-to-the-next-one’ hand gestures, Fenati was genuinely unique and he appeared indifferent as to whether he was liked or not. Take his podium at Brno last year, for example. In the press conference that followed, he was asked if he had revised his training methods to improve his wet weather riding. After all, he was lapped in the rain at the Sachsenring the year before. His response? “Nothing. I never train with the bike in my life. I go to the gym. And then Saturday and Sunday with my friends, it’s only one day because we don’t sleep.”

Or how about at Aragon last year – remember Rossi’s comeback from a training injury was in the offing – when he questioned the need to constantly train with motorbikes between races. “It’s an obsession to always be on the bike. For me is stupid. Always breaking the leg, the arm… Why? One week yes with the bike, one week no is enough. I think it’s stupid. It’s stupid of you make this for training and you push at the maximum, always, you break your body.” Not always clever, but it’s rare to hear young Italian talent calling out the grandmaster. One of the sport’s great strengths is diversity in character. Fenati was different for sure. And proud of it.

That’s before we even begin to talk about that deep well of talent that you feel he only occasionally unlocked. In his time this guy has, on occasion, comprehensively beaten Maverick Viñales, Jack Miller and Alex Rins. Look where they all are now. I remember watching his first two races in Moto3 in the spring of 2012 and feeling genuine excitement. This was a rider that, on ability at least, appeared destined for the very top.

So much has passed since then, and so many flaws were exposed, but it’s never pleasant watching a cautionary tale of the future play out in the present. His issues are less pronounced than Anthony Gobert, another ‘bad boy’ of the racing scene. But nothing short of a character overhaul and an act of forgiveness will bring him back from here. For now it seems ‘Romano Fenati’ will be nothing more than a buzzword to sharpen the focus of any teenage talent with premature thoughts of making it.

But it isn’t too late. As veteran Spanish journalist Juan Pedro de la Torre pointed out in Spanish publication El Confidencial, Loris Capirossi’s actions in Argentina, 1998, were widely condemned. His one-race ban for a preposterously dangerous move on former team-mate Marcellino Lucchi five seconds into the Italian Grand Prix was commended. Loris was 26 at the time. And his comeback from there earned him the affection of millions (and an official place in Race Direction, where he represents Dorna no less). At 22, Fenati is still a young man, with the ability to change his ways.

Yet who’s to say he will ever return. Fenati has already announced his retirement from the sport to Sky Italia. Unsurprising really, as he claimed he was already sick of it a year ago. It was the racing scene he lived for, not the rest. “I’m like [Casey] Stoner,” he told me last September. “Stoner also hated all [the MotoGP environment]. For me, it’s important to close the visor and go on track. The rest is not important.” If that same environment appears intent on chewing him up, we might not see him again. For one senseless action, for which he has already dearly paid, that would be a great shame.

Blog by Neil Morrison @NeilMorrison87

Photos by CormacGP @cormacGP