Instantly recognisable as Valentino Rossi’s friend and confidante, Alessio Salucci – otherwise known as “Uccio” in the MotoGP Paddock – discusses his relationship with the nine-time World Champion in a special interview.
Q. How did the friendship with Valentino begin?
Uccio says: “It’s been a long time, it’s hard to remember! Vale’s been there since my earliest memories, our parents were friends and we practically grew up together. We’re from a little village and went to the same nursery, schools… we’ve always been very close.”
Q. What are your earliest memories of Valentino?
Uccio says: “I have plenty! I remember that in nursery our friends often played football, but we would go to a downhill slope we knew and ride a tricycle down it! A group of us would go, me and three friends, one of whom was Valentino. It’s a memory that is well fixed in my mind, even at that age we were taking big risks – there was a big turn to the left!”
Q. How did the passion for bikes start?
Uccio says: “I was born around motorbikes, I have always loved them since I was a child. I didn’t like football, I liked (Kevin) Schwantz. It’s thanks to my father. In Pesaro everybody was a fan of Graziano (Rossi, father of Valentino) and because of this two-wheeled sport was more important than any other. I did like F1, but I chose bikes because that was the path Vale took.”
Q. What do you do during a GP weekend?
Uccio says: “My main role is to drive the motorhome to the races, even if this year it isn’t a motorhome but a truck used as a home as the old motorhome became too small. Over the winter we worked a lot on this new truck and I take care of it. It’s a big job as it’s more or less like a hospitality suite. I also take care of the leathers, gloves, boots, helmet… every detail so that Valentino can concentrate fully on racing.”
Q. What’s paddock life like?
Uccio says: “My experience of the paddock is a very positive one. When I was a kid it was my dream to enter the paddock just once. I remember one time, with Valentino, we waited for four hours outside Mugello for two passes from Maurizio Vitali. Now life is perfect, I couldn’t live in another way. I get along well with everyone.”
Q. What’s changed in the past year, following the switch to Ducati in 2011?
Uccio says: “My role hasn’t changed too much because I work for Valentino. Some of the personnel has changed in the team, but not too much because 15 people followed from Yamaha. The atmosphere in Ducati is amazing. I have met a lot of people with a great passion here, Italians with a fantastic spirit of victory and with racing firmly in their hearts, perhaps more so than at Yamaha because the Japanese have a different approach.”
Q. Valentino’s partnership with Jeremy Burgess has been a long and successful one…
Uccio says: “Jeremy doesn’t speak a word of Italian, which annoys me a bit! I had to adapt myself to learn English and we speak in English. He’s known me since I was 20 and now I’m 32, and he’s seen me grow up. He’s given me a lot of advice and I have always listened because I admire him greatly. To me he is a legend.”
Q. And what about the future?
Uccio says: “I hope to be here for another 10 years with Valentino. Without him here my motivation would be zero. I’m here thanks to him, and also for him. Having said that, I would like to remain here for the rest of my life, until the age of 60. That’s why I’ve started to look around, and I’ve had the chance to take part in this project with Andrea (Iannone, Moto2 rider). Perhaps in the future I’ll continue with him, but I hope it’s in the distant future because apart from the shoulder I see Valentino in great shape, both physically and mentally, and with this challenge here at Ducati the motivation is even higher.”
Q. Were there ever any doubts that Valentino had made the right decision to go to Ducati?
Uccio says: “Honestly yes, most of all when he tried the bike in Valencia and said: ‘Crikey, this bike is complicated’. Then, in my opinion, he quickly understood that that shoulder was the real problem because he still hadn’t had the surgery, so I’d say the injury more than the decision to switch was what the issue was. Now he is thinking: ‘It’s not a bad bike, we can do it!’, but yes, you could say he was a bit concerned after the first test.”
Q. And what about the injury at Mugello last season?
Uccio says: “This was a terrible moment, a difficult one. We had just gotten through a shoulder injury and then that happened. They were terrible days, especially the first two. When you see a friend suffering you almost want to put yourself in their place to take the pain off them. Vale is a legend because even on the Saturday evening he was already making jokes to try and relax everybody. It was him calming us down!”
q. When do you think Valentino will be capable of winning his first race on the Ducati?
Uccio says: “I think after the Sachsenring round. After that race there will be a big step up. I’m a realistic guy, he is not at 100% and to win you must be. He will be after Sachsenring, and I think then it will be possible to win.”