‘When I crossed the finish line I started to scream, really scream!’

MotoGP

MotoGP has just lost two of its best storytellers – Valentino Rossi and Danilo Petrucci – so let’s enjoy Petrucci telling us the story of his unforgettable 2019 Italian GP and much more

Danilo Petrucci celebrates 2019 Mugello MotoGP win wth crew

Unbridled joy – Petrucci and his crew celebrate their sensational victory at Mugello, June 2019

Ducati

Danilo Petrucci retired from MotoGP at the end of last season, after a decade of fighting his way from the very bottom to the very top, winning the 2019 Italian Grand Prix at Mugello aboard a factory Ducati.

That success didn’t win him a world title but, really, it doesn’t get any better than that.

When Petrucci is lying on his deathbed – hopefully many, many years from now – he will still hold onto that memory of beating team-mate Andrea Dovizioso and Marc Márquez in one of the greatest races of the modern era, when both his rivals were at the top of their game.

No, it really doesn’t get any better than that.

So, without further ado, let’s allow Petrucci’s very special memories of that race and the controversy that followed to wash over us, like a warm wave in a friendly sea…

“One of my nightmares was that Mugello would be the one day in my life when I made the top step”

“The fact is that Mugello 2019 was too big for me to really understand what was going on at that moment,” says the 31-year-old Italian.

“Sincerely I got the feeling that I’d tried many times in my career to control the race and have everything under control. I remember so well the first time I got this feeling. It was in corner nine in Assen in 2016, when I led a MotoGP race for the first time. I got this feeling just like when you’re riding the road between your house and where you work.

“At Mugello in 2019 I felt really, really great during the race and I was incredibly good at braking and acceleration. I was just riding my bike but my problem was always the straights. After the start I was in the front group but everyone passed me on the straight.

“That was one of the last races with that type of tyre which forced us to go slow, not really slow, through all the race until the last ten laps. Dovi was doing that at Mugello – trying to slow down the race to manage his tyres better and also his body.

“But after seven or eight laps there was too much mess, with riders from eighth or ninth position coming into the front group, so it was a big casino braking into the first corner, where everything is so critical because you’re braking from 350 kays [217mph].

Danilo Petrucci leads at Mugello in 2019

The early stages of Mugello 2019, Petrucci leads Márquez, Dovizioso, Jack Miller, Álex Rins and Cal Crutchlow

Ducati

“So when there were nine or ten laps to go I said, now I will try to make one really fast lap, and in that lap I started to make some gap between me and the others, so in the last few laps there were only four of us [Petrucci, Dovizioso, Márquez and Alex Rins].

“I was there and I was especially trying to manage my body because I was ill. I’d arrived at Mugello with a strong fever because in the middle of the weekend I’d cut a cycle of antibiotics, so I wasn’t feeling so strong.

“At seven laps to go I said, OK, now I’ll start to really push, but then I decided that was too early, so I started to push with five laps to go, which is still a long way to the finish!

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“Me and Rins were faster all around the track but the problem was that the other two were catching us on the straight. All through the race I was trying to make moves at the last corner, so I could see if I was able to reach the finish line in first position, but Marc and Dovi were too smart – they just closed the throttle because they didn’t want to be in front.

“When it came to four laps to go Dovi passed me but I passed him back immediately because I felt I was faster, especially out of Arrabiatta 2, so I was able to pass him into the next corner. With three laps to go he passed me on the straight again, but I was good on the brakes into Turn 1 and stayed in front.

“I remember very well the feeling I got approaching the last lap: OK, this is one of the most important laps of your life, so just ride, just ride. Then when I crossed the finish line to start the last lap Dovi and Marc passed me – zoom! – and I said, OK, I still have a chance to win because I was really a lot faster out of Arrabiatta 2, but I knew it would be difficult, or maybe even I could win from third if they made a mess in front of me.

Danilo Petrucci crosses the line to win at Mugello in 2019 MotoGP race

Petrucci is five metres away from achieving his lifetime dream

Ducati

“While I was thinking this I braked for Turn 1. They braked very late, so I just stayed tight to the kerb and I was able to get past both of them. After that I just rode as fast as possible and when I crossed the finish line I started to scream, really scream!

“And from that moment I’ve got very few memories. I had already been on the podium at Mugello, when I was third in 2017. Just seeing all the people down there was incredible.

“When I won I realised I couldn’t see the end of the crowd. I don’t know how many thousands of them were there, but I said, f**k, I won at Mugello! I was just in another world.

“We tried to get into McDonalds but there were so many people wanting to say ‘ciao’”

“When I stepped off the podium I had one of the deepest and saddest feelings. I said, f**k now it will be a long time before I’m back on the podium again. For this reason my win at Le Mans in May 2020 was a big, big relief because one of my nightmares was that Mugello would be the one day in my life when I made the top step, so I wanted to prove, especially to myself, that I could do it again, that I wasn’t a one-day hero.

“I was scared about my celebrations at Mugello! But there were so many people that it wasn’t possible to do anything. After the race people were telling me: we have to go there, we have to go here, we have to go there…

“The only feeling I had was wanting to close myself into a dark room and stay silent for a while, with no light, no sound, no nothing, but that wasn’t possible.

“On the drive home I remember stopping at a gas station on the highway. We tried to get into McDonalds but there were so many people wanting to say ‘ciao’ that it was impossible for me to go in, so they brought me a bag with a McDonalds inside and we went home.

Danilo Petrucci celebrates Le Mans MotoGP win

Petrucci’s second MotoGP victory, at Le Mans 2020, proved he wasn’t a “one-day hero”

Ducati

“It was a little bit the same after I won at Le Mans the next year. After the race we drove to my home in Terni [Italy]. Where we came off the highway into the city there’s a steel factory and I said, f**k, the workers are on strike – they are protesting even on a Sunday night – they were waving flags and everything. Then we got closer and I saw them holding Petrucci flags!

“It was 11 o’clock at night, or something like that. I had the feeling that I wanted to stop for a while to see what was going on and to understand what was going on, but I just wanted to get home and have dinner with my mum and dad.

“That day at Mugello was really a strange day, because everyone in our garage expected Dovi to win, including him. So for some people it was like a disaster for the championship – we won but we won with the wrong rider! I got this feeling seeing Dovi’s face and all of his mechanics. The team was happy, but it was like, f**k we made a disaster.

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“I have the picture in my head, especially of the people who were happy about my win. One of them was Paolo Ciabatti [Ducati Corse’s sporting director]. We’ve known each other a long time and he always cared about me and my crew.

“And I remember seeing my father and the feeling I got of reaching a sport target, after coming from Superstock into MotoGP, where nobody knew me and I didn’t know anyone. I started my first season in 2012 at the first race in Qatar, because my team didn’t have any money to do any pre-season testing. I didn’t even know which way to exit from the box!

“I was really fast in 2019 but I suffered a lot because there was clearly a first and second rider in the team. Even when I was fast I was not always taken in consideration. And instead of thinking about myself, I said to myself, I’ll show you who I am and then I started making mistakes and lost third place in the championship.

“In some races I wanted to pass Dovi, but sometimes I was too careful, like at Assen, where I didn’t pass him on the last lap and for this reason [Franky] Morbidelli passed me at the final chicane. I was really, really angry about that.

Danilo Petrucci and Andrea Dovizioso celebrate MotoGP podium finishes at Mugello in 2019

Petrucci first and Dovizioso third at Mugello 2019: “It was like, f**k we made a disaster”

Ducati

“At that time I still didn’t have a deal for 2020, so I really, really needed to push to get a deal and I really struggled to get it.

“There was like a crack when we got to Assen, a fight in the garage, between what I had to do and what I had to for the team. I said, you are putting the finger on me – I’ve got no bike for next year but Ducati wants me to perform better and better and better.

“In the end they were obliged to renew my contract [due to his Mugello win] but they renewed it because they were obliged, not because they wanted to.

“Now I don’t think MotoGP will see a rider of my size ever again. I don’t think there will be another rider with 1m 80cm and 83 kilos naked.

“And I think I’m one of the last people to make it without being a phenomenon, something ultra-natural, like the young guys coming up from Moto2 and Moto3.

“When I was young I was just a good rider – fast but there were people faster than me. At the end of 2011, before I went to MotoGP, my friends asked me if I had ever imagined racing in MotoGP. I answered, yes, because it was always a dream of mine. But it’s one thing talking about the sea – crossing the sea is another thing.

“When I started my MotoGP adventure in 2012 I didn’t know if I was lost, but at many races until 2014 I was last in practice, last in qualifying and last in the race. I think I was the only one still believing. I never quit. One day the dream came true. It was really, really nice.

“I always gave my best, I always tried and I’m really happy with what I’ve done.”