What's Next for Rossi?
by staff
Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Rossi--not matter what he does, he'll always have the popular vote.
image thanks, Ducati

Jorge Lorenzo's decision to stay with Yamaha ensures that the Crossed Tuning Forks keep their cornerstone rider through at least the 2014 season, maintaining a relationship that has existed since Lorenzo broke into MotoGP with the team in 2008.

Lorenzo's contract extension also is the second domino to fall in the 2012 MotoGP "Silly Season" that started with every factory rider out of contract after this year. While Lorenzo's choice creates more stability at Yamaha, it may have complicated the future path for one Valentino Rossi.

The first tile to topple in Silly Season was Casey Stoner's announcement last May that he is retiring after this season. Many paddock observers and media expected Honda to make a strong run at Lorenzo, armed with a chest full of cash. If Lorenzo swallowed that Euro-laden bait from Honda, then a logical path would be created for Rossi to escape Ducati and return to Yamaha, with which he won four of his seven premier-class world titles.

That escape hatch appears to be closed, for two reasons.

One of the reasons Rossi left Yamaha - besides Ducati's money - was because he found it very difficult to beat Lorenzo on and off track. The Doctor's legendary mind games never seemed to dent the insouciant Lorenzo during their three years as teammates, especially during Lorenzo's world title-winning year in 2010.

It's unlikely that Rossi is any more willing to take on the challenge of Lorenzo as a teammate now than he was two years ago. Yamaha is clearly Lorenzoland in 2012, and the return of Rossi will do little to change that. Plus Lorenzo has dropped just 10 points so far in five races this season, using the latest M1 to devastating effect.

There's no way Rossi wants to risk being stung repeatedly by living in that wasp's nest.

It's also unlikely that Yamaha has the cash to afford both Lorenzo and Rossi. With Stoner's departure, they're almost certainly the two most expensive riders in the sport. Yamaha may be the best bike on the track this season, but its marketing arm isn't as adept at pulling in major sponsors, proven by the M1's relatively barren bodywork in 2012.

Rossi attracts sponsors like mosquitoes to a porch light, but anyone who views global headlines these days has noticed that the European economy is in a free fall without a parachute. Especially in bike-crazy Spain.

So where does Rossi go next season?

Rossi could stay with Ducati, hoping to replicate his success in converting Yamaha to a powerhouse in 2004 and become the ultimate phoenix in recent Grand Prix motorcycle racing history. But it took Rossi and crew chief Jeremy Burgess less than a season—a lot less—to transform Yamaha, while the Ducati experiment is fruitless after 18 months.

So an extended stay with the Boys from Bologna seems unlikely unless a big leap in dry-weather competitiveness comes after Ducati's promised major technical upgrade in July at Laguna Seca.

Honda remains a remote option, as Rossi made it clear in his autobiography that he was no fan of "the bike wins races, the rider loses races" racing philosophy. Plus it's believed Dorna may relax or eliminate the "rookie rule" preventing first-year MotoGP riders from competing for factory teams in 2013, which would part the Red Sea for Moto2 wunderkind Marc Marquez to jump right to Repsol Honda.

Repsol Honda marketing and communications boss Livio Suppo recently told Italian media that a return by Rossi to the Repsol Honda factory team remains unlikely.

A more plausible destination for Rossi could be a ride for a satellite team aboard a factory bike. And Suppo indicated this could happen, in the same Italian media report.

Honda and Rossi both could swallow some pride and come to terms to put The Doctor aboard a factory Honda for Fausto Gresini. That pairing would keep the Italian vibe going for Rossi and possibly create a good feeling for The Doctor, as his close friend Marco Simoncelli emerged as a budding MotoGP superstar on a factory Gresini Honda in 2011 before his tragic death.

Longtime Gresini sponsor Italian snack food giant San Carlo also would welcome the chance to align itself with Rossi and probably would pony up extra money to cultivate the potential marketing bonanza.

Plus there's history between Rossi and a Honda satellite team. He rode his first two premier-class seasons on a factory team for the Nastro Azzuro team, winning the 500cc world title in 2001, before jumping to the Repsol Honda factory team in 2002.


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