The news that Andrea Iannone will manage Romano Fenati had the paddock agog at Misano. So what to expect from MotoGP’s latest soap opera?
Iannone & Fenati plot twist in the MotoGP soap opera Photo: Motorsport Images, BBC
To slightly misquote William Shakespeare: “all the world championship’s a stage”.
Or to directly quote Jeremy Burgess, the occasionally cantankerous crew chief to Valentino Rossi and Mick Doohan: “I get pissed off that the people making the rules are quite happy to put on a pantomime or soap opera at two o’clock every other Sunday.”
This was JB talking some years ago when MotoGP went through its post-global-economic-meltdown spasm: CRT bikes, Open bikes, reduced practice time and so on. The category has moved on since then, creating the tightest grid in history, but there’s no doubt there’s always an element of soap opera in racing because wherever there are people, there’s soap.
Indeed, you could argue that many of the 20 million MotoGP fans who turn on their TVs every other Sunday want to see a soap opera as much as they want to see a motorcycle race.
Social media will back me up on this. When a top MotoGP star takes to Instagram to show himself lounging on the beach with his girlfriend, the post gets a thousand times more likes than a photo of his bike’s new carbon-fibre swingarm. Because people are more interesting than machines.
Which is why the news that Andrea Iannone is soon to be Romano Fenati’s manager was what everyone was talking about at Misano, proving that in reality all the world championship really is a stage.
If we were to imagine for a moment that MotoGP was notorious British soap-opera EastEnders, which characters would Iannone and Fenati inhabit? Probably Phil Mitchell and Danny Dyer – an old geezer teaching a younger geezer how to get into all kinds of trouble, all over the place, all of the time.
And what about if they were sportsmen from a different sport? Perhaps they’d be Diego Maradona and Paul Gascoigne: towering talents tormented by tantrums and torrid passions.
Iannone (left) and Fenati Photo: Motorsport Images
Iannone is a 13-times Grand Prix winner and Fenati has won 11 GPs, but both are better known for other stuff: Iannone for his Love Island lifestyle, Fenati for last year’s Misano brake-gate. They are MotoGP’s bad boys, and everyone loves a bad boy.
What will Iannone and his brother Angelo do for their 23-year-old protégé, who returned from exile to win last month’s Austrian Moto3 race? During the Misano weekend, the paddock was full of people imagining lurid outcomes for this interesting new partnership. I make no fun whatsoever of these men’s talents to ride motorcycles, but it is simply impossible not to have a wee giggle at this latest turn of events.
Valentino Rossi has his VR46 Riders Academy and Moto Ranch, so presumably, Iannone will model his new project on Rossi’s, but with some crucial differences.
First and foremost Fenati will join the AI29 Riders Academy’s brand-new social-media training course: how to get the most out of Instagram and Twitter.
Iannone is an Instagram king. Andrea Dovizioso and Fabio Quartararo may have scored ten times more MotoGP points than the 30-year-old, but he’s got more Instagram followers than the two put together. The Insta accounts of Iannone and his girlfriend Giulia De Lellis (a VIP Big Brother contestant and Insta influencer with 4.2 million followers, which makes her almost three times more popular than her boyfriend) are a joy to scroll through.
Iannone and Giulia De Lellis are Instagram royalty
There they are, boating through Venice’s Grand Canal on their way to join the glitterati at the Venice Film Festival, with Iannone wearing what appears to be an haute couture dressing gown. There’s no doubt what look he’s after: it’s 007 does Dolce & Gabbana.
And there they are in another loving embrace, with Giulia’s right hand tugging suggestively at her man’s T-shirt, revealing his chest tattoo which tells us, “The Maniac Inc: Risk always since 1989”.
Wherever you look there’s lots of flesh, lots of muscle and lots of ink, with the two lovers riding the zeitgeist just as hard as they can.
You may laugh, but don’t, because this is the new world, whether you like it or not. And the numbers are out of this world. And numbers mean money. How many people will read this Motor Sport blog compared to the number of people who watch Giulia’s Instagram video of Iannone kissing her toes? I can tell you: a few thousand against 4,199,725. (In fact 4,199,726, since I watched it.)
Once Fenati has completed his social media course – with 24/7 online backup from maniacmanagement.com – he will undergo intense sessions at the AI29 Image Factory, where he will be guided in other vital areas of 21st-century comportment. First, how to look one’s best at dinner, on the beach and in the nightclub. Second, how to conduct oneself in elevated company, while avoiding fisticuffs at all times. Thirdly, how to woo the heart of a young TV starlet who will help boost your Insta ratings
Overall, these AI29 projects will use to the best effect the lessons learned from Zoolander, Pygmalion and Gilbert and George, the London-based artists who live their entire lives as an artwork, so their each and every move is a work of art. I think this is the nirvana that Iannone and De Lellis are chasing. And good luck to them.
However, I do have my concerns. Iannone may be an expert in various arenas of modern celebrity existence, but it seems to me that his face wears a permanent look of sadness. I’m not sure why: is this the fault of his Aprilia RS-GP or of his cosmetic surgeon?
Who knows how far Andrea and Angelo can take Fenati? Will the youngster one day launch his own fragrance #Fenati55 to rival his mentor’s limited-edition Xerkoff Amber & Musk, still available to purchase at £500 for a 50-millilitre bottle?
Or might the guidance of the Iannone brothers take Fenati to the heights of Moto2 world championship success next year, or (why not reach for the stars?) to victory in the 2021 edition of Love Island?
Whatever happens, I wish them both the best. Seriously.