until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League


Tragedy and a ‘very hard’ dilemma – Gresini’s volatile year

by Simon Patterson
7 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

The Gresini Racing MotoGP team is a winner again for the first time since 2006, thanks to Enea Bastianini’s shock victory in the 2022 season-opening Qatar Grand Prix.

That victory comes in Gresini’s first race back as an independent team after its seven seasons running Aprilia’s works operation, and just over a year since the death of founder Fausto Gresini.

Just before Christmas last year, Simon Patterson got the inside line on how 2021 had been for everyone involved in Gresini as it mourned its leader and tried to create a new future for itself. Here’s another chance to read that article:

Much has changed for the Gresini Racing squad over the past few months, as the most venerable of MotoGP’s independent class teams faced challenges ranging from the tragic passing of team boss Fausto Gresini to the search for sponsorship required to relaunch the squad as a fully privateer team after over half a decade of partnering with Aprilia.

Yet with Fausto’s partner Nadia Padovani now at the head of the operation, 2022 is looking brighter than ever for the squad in purely sporting terms, thanks to a new hook-up with Ducati and two exciting riders on board in the shape of 2021 rookie sensation Enea Bastianini and newcomer and Moto2 race winner Fabio Di Giannantonio.

Dec 14 : Why KTM has made a key poach from Ducati's second team

That isn’t to say that it’s been a seamless transition, however, with the difficulties of the past 12 months since Fausto first contracted COVID-19 weighing heavily on the team, according to commercial and marketing director Carlo Merlini.

“Overall, it’s been a very difficult year besides Aprilia, Ducati and all this story,” the veteran team administrator admitted to The Race.

“In February we found ourselves having to handle and deal with a huge empty space created by Fausto passing away.

Fausto Gresini MotoGP Aprilia

“It was an emotional and also a professional gap that Fausto’s passing created. In February, to be honest, everything could have happened and nothing could have been taken for granted.

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

“So my job has been to stay close to the family and to tell them everything. To give them information on how things work in our world, in our business. What I didn’t want was for them to take too emotional a decision, because at the end of the day we are a company that needs to be managed.

“I know that it wasn’t easy for them to make a decision, right after Fausto passed away, to understand so many things that were going on. The emotional side was so strong, and it would have been easy to take the wrong decision at that specific time.

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

Fausto Gresini tribute

The decision was taken by Fausto’s family to continue, with partner Nadia now thrust into the role of shepherding the team forward and sons Luca and Lorenzo finding themselves in new roles within the squad – a decision that Merlini says kept the team afloat.

“It was their decision, of course,” he said of the family, “not mine or anyone else’s, and I think we must give Nadia and Fausto’s family a round of applause for the very brave decision to get onboard with the company and push things forward. To push Fausto’s legacy forward.

“Personally, I’ve been working side by side with Fausto for 21 years, and for the nature of my work we’ve always been very close. I miss him as a boss and as a friend, but I’m very happy to put my effort there and to help the family push the team forward.

“The most difficult thing was to secure the continuation of the team. Not for 2021, because the balls were already rolling, but the most challenging thing was to set up for 2022 with all the changes. It was an extremely difficult time, but I’m happy to be here.”

And yet, despite what looked like a monumental task to unravel the team from seven years as Aprilia’s partner in its MotoGP project, Merlini is adamant the challenge wasn’t all that arduous, in large part thanks to Gresini’s considerable experience in the past as a satellite outfit.

A Honda squad from its origins in 1997, the team managed a very respectable 14 wins in its time running Japanese machinery, with riders like Sete Gibernau, Marco Melandri, Toni Elias and Marco Simoncelli among those adding to its trophy cabinet from 2002 to 2014.

Sete Gibernau Gresini Honda MotoGP

“There’s not a big change,” Merlini explained of this trip back in time, “because the entire set-up in the paddock is Gresini’s.

“Even the entries to the championship that were used by the Aprilia Gresini project in the past seven years was our entry.

“The working trailers, Gresini. The hospitality unit, Gresini. The entire equipment, the flight cases, all Gresini’s.

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

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

“We’re basically back to what we were before the Aprilia times.

“If you look at the Aprilia team, I’d say that pretty much half were Aprilia staff and half were Gresini.

“As we dropped the Moto3 project, we could pick some of the best mechanics, promote them to MotoGP, and bring in a couple of new entries from Avintia.

“From that point of view, it hasn’t been a huge transition and it all looks good.”

Aleix Espargaro Aprilia Gresini MotoGP

And while there was a chance to continue with Aprilia as the satellite partner next season, Merlini also says that the decision to switch to rival Italian brand Ducati, where Gresini will receive a pair of 2021-spec Desmosedicis, was the right one in the end despite the growing success of Aprilia last season.

“Even though we spoke to a few, the actual options were Aprilia and Ducati,” he confirmed.

“There was a very hard decision to take. Normally it would have been Fausto’s, and we found ourselves running the discussion with both Aprilia and Ducati.

Feb 23 : Paying tribute to Fausto Gresini

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

“We evaluated all the options; sporting, technical, financial obviously, and when it was the point to put everything together we thought that overall the Ducati package was the best option.

“Probably the most challenging, for some aspects, but we wanted to take it, and we’re very happy with the decision we made. So far so good from that point.”

Enea Bastianini Gresini Ducati MotoGP

That wasn’t the end of the hurdles, though. Initial paddock speculation linked Gresini to long-term LCR Honda and Ducati partner Flex Box as a title sponsor – only for that deal to seemingly fall apart, prompting rumours that the team might be in jeopardy before it even got up and running.

But that’s something that Merlini was quick to downplay, confirming previous whispers that after an initially rocky start, things are now looking financially sound even if the team has still to announce a partner.

“That was another challenging aspect for us,” Merlini conceded. “For the MotoGP project, the commercial aspects are basically run by Aprilia. So we found ourselves building the MotoGP budget from scratch, which isn’t just peanuts.

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

“When I offered them the opportunity to step up to MotoGP, an opportunity that wasn’t available with Aprilia, they immediately wanted to take it.


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

And, with Gresini’s first test of its new era at Jerez already under their belts and the team locked in a busy preseason to prepare for Sepang in January, the commercial manager says that he’s confident that the 2022 season is now coming together nicely.

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

“From a technical perspective, a test is a test and you know as much as me what you can take out from it.

“But from an emotional side, it was the beginning of a new chapter for Gresini Racing without Fausto, with Ducati as a new manufacturer.”

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