Duncan Bishop

Italy’s shallow talent pool for 2012

Duncan Bishop

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Valentino Rossi

Italy does Christmas a little differently to the British Isles: There is a similar tradition of overindulgence, extravagance and consumerism, but they celebrate the 'Corteo dei Re Magi' (Three Kings Procession) and don't have the Eastenders special to look forward to.

Perhaps to fill the void left by Phil Mitchell and his merry band of cockney troublemakers, Italy's top MotoGP riders have been having a verbal tussle of sorts via that most dignified of mediums: Twitter.

"You only see people's true character when they win. The problem is, he hasn't won yet," was Valentino Rossi's stinging riposte to Andrea Dovizioso's predictions for 2012, in which the new Tech 3 Yamaha rider made clear that he expected no big changes for his fellow countryman in 2012.

Yes, it was a little petty and ever so slightly trivial, but it reminds us that there won't be too many times in which we will see Italians sparring on track in 2012.

The Italian national anthem was a regularly featured tune on the circuit announcers' premier class decks from 2000 onwards -a track so popular with American audiences that the Laguna Seca sound engineers even decided to give it an airing to celebrate Jorge Lorenzo's win in 2010. All jokes aside, the racewinners to have taken the tricolour to the middle pole above the podium will in all likelihood be their countries' last top group for the immediate future.

Of course, Italian motorsport's fortunes depend largely on how Rossi is doing. In the past, the likes of Loris Capirossi and Marco Melandri (on his more reliable days) could disguise any shallow talent pool by occupying some of the top race positions. Now we have Capirossi in retirement, Marco Simoncelli sadly no longer with us, Max Biaggi and Marco Melandri over in the 'other series' and only Dovizioso as a regular podium finisher from last year. He is now on a satellite bike, albeit with the slim disparity in machinery present with the move to a new class.

MotoGP is still huge in Italy, with extensive media coverage that is almost unthinkable in any other country besides Spain. When Rossi rose to fame, he took over seamlessly from Biaggi as a racewinner and character. Who is going to step into the void that 'The Doctor' leaves when he retires?

We've seen a few candidates come and go. He never truly clicked with the 800cc bikes, but for my money Melandri is still the best talent to come out of Italy since Rossi. Under perfect conditions, I'd even go as far as to rate him ahead of current factory riders Ben Spies and Dani Pedrosa, but he never managed to get the job done after another solid season in 2006. He also has shown no desire to come back to MotoGP any time soon, which is hopefully merely a case of knowing on which side his bread is buttered.

Simoncelli was fast and a media favourite in his homeland, plus the last top Italian talent present in the lower cylinder categories. Riders like Mattia Pasini, Simone Corsi and Gresini's new CRT rider Michele Pirro have won in 250cc/Moto2, but have never challenged for the intermediate title.

Looking most likely to move up to MotoGP but eventually rejected for 2012, Andrea Iannone is still to fully convince. 'Crazy Joe' is a decent rider, but again hasn't really proven to be anything more than the Simone Corsi 2008 of Moto2. His test on the Pramac Ducati in 2011 had him running ragged on the corners and showing some insane braking and slides, but Randy de Puniet looked slightly more in control on the same bike and clocked faster times. He might be the next to move to 1000cc competition, but I've yet to see a sure sign that he could have the impact of Simoncelli or Dovizioso upon his ascension.

The strength of the Spanish national series has shown in those who have come up through almost a second level World Championship. The Italian equivalent, the CIV, has produced few riders to watch out for who have yet to come through to Grand Prix Moto2: Luca Scassa or Lorenzo Savadori, for example. The inclusion of a Moto2 class at grass roots level may be the answer —if we find out whether 600cc success is transferable to 1000cc prototypes.

Or maybe Rossi can hold on until Luca Marini is ready to step into his shoes. Now that would be all Italian motorcycling's Christmases coming at once.

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