Max Biaggi is a complex man. He has an enormous fan base, yet he seems to be unpopular. He has prodigious talent yet he's in a secondary class after a fairly ignominious departure from MotoGP. He's regarded as mercurial and taciturn, yet comes across on a personal level as a really genuine, nice bloke. We got a little bit of quality time with him at Monza in an attempt to see what makes him tick.
It seems in MotoGP that you are rather protected from the fans. How are you finding the SBK paddock, where everyone seems to have far more access to you?
You know, having the fans so close is a good thing. If there is a big rivalry then there always has to be the man in white and the man in black. Unfortunately in GP I was the man in black. Now here people can see what I'm really like. They can see I work with the team, I eat with the team, I am part of the team. Not the prima donna that people used to think.
What's the story with the new leathers? Is it just something special for Monza?
Ah, this is a test for Dainese. They have a coating that makes them very slippery and aerodynamic, but it's all about safety. Really, safety is the most important thing for me and I wouldn't wear anything else. This suit has sensors to measure speed, acceleration, braking and so on, and it sends all the data to a satellite. Everything is in the hump. They are very expensive!
You seem to be really enjoying yourself again. Do you look at SBK as a second level series? Do you want to get back into MotoGP?
I really wish I had come to this series a few years ago. I should have done. It's a lot of fun and the racing is far better than in MotoGP. The machinery and the tyres are so much better matched, so it's really down to the rider. In MotoGP it's a fight of technology as much as anything else. I have things I need to improve here. For example, I need to work on my braking. I find I want to be more aggressive on the brakes but then I keep locking the front and having to let off which slows me down. But you know, it doesn't take much. Look at Toseland. He's been very fast all weekend but in Superpole he made one tiny mistake - in too hot at Prima Variante - and boom, He's in fifth place. That's what this racing is like and it is very good.
So who's going to win tomorrow?
There are three or four riders who have a real chance. Tomorrow will be all about groups. Monza always is about slipstreaming and last minute overtakes. If you are on your own then you are lost. But certainly Toseland and Bayliss will be fast, though my Suzuki is also fast.
All the while this interview was going on, a baying mob of fans was hanging over the wall of the Alstare hospitality suite. Max looked slightly apologetic when they got really loud but he was patient and courteous throughout. Totally unlike the prima donna that he referred to and that one might reasonably have expected to meet. Indeed, Max was the exact opposite of the other MotoGP rider who came to SBK last year in that he seems happy to make himself available for interviews whenever he can. It's a pleasure to have him in the championship and personally I think that SBK, and Max Biaggi, are both benefiting greatly from his presence.
Oh, and on the day he did a third and a fifth, yielding second place in the title hunt to Nori Haga who did the double but remaining in close contention, just three points adrift of the Japanese rider.