Whither Valentino? Just Where Will Rossi End Up Racing In 2013 And Beyond?

It has been an intense week or so for speculation about the next and biggest cog in MotoGP's Silly Season merry-go-round. The question of Valentino Rossi's future has filled the media, with multiple sometimes conflicting stories appearing in the international press. That Rossi should dominate the headlines is logical. After all, with Casey Stoner retiring, and the futures of Jorge Lorenzo, Dani Pedrosa and Marc Marquez all settled, Rossi's decision will determine not just where he lands, but to a massive degree who will fill the rest of the seats in MotoGP next year.

Rossi's choice is fairly straightforward: he can elect to stay at Ducati and hope that Filippo Preziosi can provide him with a competitive bike soon; he can take up the offer he is believed to have from Yamaha to join the factory team; or he can accept a ride with a satellite Honda team aboard a full-factory RC213V. During his daily briefing with the press at each race weekend, Rossi has suggested that his primary focus is to stay with Ducati and make the Desmosedici competitive. Yet all of the news stories in the past 10 days have been suggesting that Rossi is close to signing a deal with Yamaha, with the sponsors backing the deal varying depending on the source.

So what is the truth? Just where will Valentino Rossi end up next season? Is it possible to make any sense of the rumors and conjecture that surround the future of the nine-times World Champion? Let us examine each possibility, and see what we can piece together.

First, the offer of a factory Honda in a satellite team. There is no doubt that HRC Vice President made the offer to Rossi, but there is good reason to expect that it is an offer which the Italian will decline. His reasons would be very much the same as those given by Cal Crutchlow, who is still waiting for the paperwork to materialize on the offer he has to join the factory Ducati squad. It is impossible to win a title on a satellite bike, as the factory simply won't let you. Repsol is reported to pay HRC between 5 and 10 million euros a year to sponsor the factory Honda team, money which the Spanish oil giant may regard as wasted if they were to be beaten by another Honda team. Even though the bike Rossi would be offered would be to the highest factory spec, the HRC electronics specialist who comes with the bike has the final say over engine revs and power delivery. It would be in Honda's best interests for a satellite bike ridden by Rossi to be in a conservative state of tune, to ensure that he can make it through the season with the engines provided. If that should impact negatively on Rossi's chance of the title, that is a risk Honda would be willing to take. Rossi knows this, and so this option is probably at the bottom of his list.

Much of the recent news regarding Rossi's future has linked the Italian to a move back to Yamaha, the factory he left behind when he embarked on the adventure with Ducati. Though it is widely accepted that this is the most realistic opportunity for the Italian, there is much in the reports which raises more questions than it answers.

The longest and most comprehensive news story on Rossi's future was on the Spanish website Motocuatro.com. That site reported that various meetings had been held at Mugello involving Rossi, Marlboro representative Maurizio Arrivabene, and Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta. The reported outcome of those meetings was that Rossi convinced Arrivabene of his concerns over the ability of Ducati Corse to build a competitive MotoGP bike, and that Ezpeleta had persuaded Arrivabene that Philip Morris (owner of the Marlboro brand) should fund Rossi's move to Yamaha. Without a sponsor, Yamaha would simply not be able to afford the Italian, not just because of his salary demands, but also because of his entourage. Rossi would undoubtedly want to bring his crew back with him, but though the salary demands of Jeremy Burgess, Alex Briggs, Brent Stephens et al are in line with market expectations, the cost of flying them to and from the races from their home bases in the Antipodes is much higher than for the Europe-based mechanics on, say, Jorge Lorenzo's side of the garage.

If Carmelo Ezpeleta has tried to persuade Philip Morris to sponsor Rossi at Yamaha, the Dorna boss would be taking a massive risk. Without the money provided by Marlboro's deep pockets, Ducati simply cannot afford to go racing in MotoGP. Even now that the company has been taken over by Audi, the loss of both Marlboro and Valentino Rossi would probably make the return on investment of MotoGP look highly unfavorable for Ducati. With Suzuki and Kawasaki already having left, and a return to MotoGP by Suzuki and BMW at the earliest by 2014, Ezpeleta simply cannot afford to risk losing Ducati. A series with two factories and eight factory prototypes would look very thin indeed, and risk losing even more talent to World Superbikes. That is a risk Ezpeleta will not countenance.

Motocuatro.com suggests that Ezpeleta's tactic is to try to persuade Marlboro to back both the factory Yamaha team and the factory Ducati squad, to allow Rossi to switch to Yamaha while still keeping Ducati in the series. Yet this itself would be difficult, mainly because of the obstacles faced by accepting any form of new tobacco sponsorship in MotoGP without falling foul of the ban on tobacco advertising in place throughout large parts of the world, but especially in MotoGP's target markets in the EU, Italy and Spain. Motorsports are a high-profile target for the EU regulators, and Ducati has already massively scaled back on the prominence which Philip Morris and the Marlboro brand is given in their public statements. Where in 2010, Ducati's factory squad was officially named the Ducati Marlboro team, since last year they have been known solely as Ducati Team. The visual allusions to Marlboro - the bar code on the livery, and the mixture of red and white - have been made less obvious every year, in the hope of deflecting accusations from EU regulators.

If Ducati are already facing such massive challenges, how hard would it be for Yamaha to create a livery linking their brand to Marlboro without falling foul of the ban on tobacco advertising? Though Yamaha's traditional corporate colors are white and red, to suddenly drop the blue they have been carrying for many years now would immediately get the attention of the regulators. The added value of Ducati is that their own colors are so close, and still so closely linked to Marlboro that no direct association is needed any more: ask any MotoGP fan who sponsors Ducati, and 99% of them will answer 'Marlboro'. At Yamaha, that link would need to be recreated - Marlboro backed the factory Yamaha team through much of the '80s and '90s - something that the EU regulators would almost certainly put an immediate stop to. Philip Morris is stuck with Ducati, as the legal complications of a switch elsewhere are simply too great to overcome.

The other brand being linked to a Rossi move to Yamaha is Monster, a much more realistic option. Monster is already a personal sponsor for the Italian, and expanding their backing to include the Yamaha team is not beyond the realms of possibility. Yet even the stories linking Monster and Rossi to Yamaha give reason to doubt them. The report in the Italian daily Il Messaggero, where this story surfaced, states two curious things as fact. The first is that Monster was recently taken over by Coca Cola, a statement that thirty seconds of fact checking will reveal to be completely false. Though Coca Cola and Monster have a distribution agreement, Monster Beverage Corporation is an independent company traded on the NASDAQ stock exchange. Such an error does not inspire much confidence in the story, especially when added to the second part of the story.

Il Messaggero writes that the decision not to extend Ben Spies' contract is to be announced at Laguna Seca. Though it is entirely possible that Yamaha may decide not to extend Spies' contract, that it would be announced at Laguna Seca would be a form of PR suicide. Laguna Seca is one of the biggest events of the year for Yamaha, because of the pivotal role which Yamaha USA plays in the Japanese company's sales and marketing plans. Dumping an American rider at their biggest American event would be a faux pas of epic proportions. If Spies were to be dropped, it is unlikely that a statement would be issued at all. Instead, what would be announced is the signing of the rider to replace Spies, if he were to be replaced.

The noise coming out of the Spies camp suggests that he is close to extending his contract with Yamaha, however. Yesterday, on his Twitter page, Ben Spies first made a couple of jokes at the expense of internet sites reporting on his future, suggesting a change in his situation was imminent. He then followed it up with a statement that he was just "being dramatic" the same way that the media has been, and suggesting that he is likely to end up back in Yamaha, "where we're meant to be." With Yamaha USA providing strong financial backing for Spies, dropping the American would have a significant effect on the Factory Yamaha team's already strained budget.

In short, though Yamaha is certainly an option for Valentino Rossi, he would only be welcome if he could bring a sponsor capable of paying both his salary and the extra expenses he incurs along the way. No doubt he would be able to attract such a sponsor, but the candidates being bandied about in the media seem unlikely at best. And looking at the situation from Yamaha's point of view, they have no real need to hire Rossi unless he did bring a substantial sponsorship sum with him. With Casey Stoner leaving, Jorge Lorenzo will be the hot favorite to win the next few MotoGP championships. Though Dani Pedrosa has won races with some regularity, somehow circumstances always seem to conspire against him mounting a serious challenge for the title. Marc Marquez will have a lot to learn in his first year, and will not pose a real threat until 2014 at the earliest. And as long as the Ducati remains uncompetitive, Yamaha face no real challenge from Valentino Rossi either. There are good reasons for Yamaha to sign Valentino Rossi - not least because he should be able to challenge for wins once he climbs back on board a Yamaha - but there are at least as many reasons for them not to sign the Italian. Yamaha don't need Valentino Rossi to win title, as they already have Jorge Lorenzo.

That leaves Ducati. After meetings with very senior Audi staff at both the Sachsenring and Mugello, Rossi was optimistic when talking to the press. At Mugello, he spoke of the positive effects he expected from Audi's involvement, but he added a very important proviso. "I have to trust that with the help of Audi we can fix the problem of the bike," Rossi said. "But it's just a bet. I don't have any insurance about the future and whether we will be able to fix the bike, because in one and a half years, we have not been able to."

That, in a nutshell, is Rossi's dilemma. His reputation of being able to ride around problems and still win on an inferior bike has already been damaged irreparably by his tribulations at Ducati. Seeing Casey Stoner win on the Ducati gave Rossi and his crew the impression that it was already a competitive bike. It took him just a few laps at Valencia to realize just how wrong they had been, and how much of Ducati's success had been down to the ability of Casey Stoner - something which Alex Barros told Ducati way back in 2007. If Rossi walks away from Ducati, then another part of his legend - of being able to develop a bike, and turn an uncompetitive machine into a winner - will also fall by the wayside, deservedly or undeservedly. Rossi is facing the same problems that prompted Casey Stoner to leave the Italian factory, a resistance to make the changes necessary to keep the bike competitive, as witnessed in a fascinating piece very recently by Mat Oxley over on the website of Motorsport Magazine. Yet if he leaves Ducati, history will not record the reasons for his failure, merely that he tried at Ducati and failed.

Rossi's hope is that Audi can exert sufficient pressure on Ducati to make the changes necessary - both organizational and mechanical - to turn the bike into something which Rossi is able to fight for wins on. Some progress is already visible: part of the rideability improvement package tested at Mugello was a revised weight distribution, while changes to the inlet system - either new injectors, or possibly the addition of secondary injectors to the inlet tract, Ducati currently the only factory using a single set of injectors - should improve throttle response. Just how much of that package will be available at Laguna Seca remains to be seen, though the original plan was to have most of the parts ready to be used in the US. Rossi has consistently told the press that he will only make a decision over the summer, before making an official announcement at Brno. Signs of progress - and signs of support from Audi - will be a key part of that decision.

The million dollar question is, of course, just what Valentino Rossi will do. Will he jump ship to Yamaha, with the backing of a big-money sponsor, in an attempt to get back to his winning ways, or will he stick it out with Ducati, and hope that help from Audi will turn that project around and allow him to secure an unrivaled place in history, as the only rider to win races - and perhaps even championships - with three different manufacturers in MotoGP. It is a test of Rossi's patience, and of his optimism. It pits his desire to win - which still burns feverishly within him, visible for all to see whenever it rains - against his sense of his place in motorcycle racing history.

And the answer to the million dollar question? I honestly have no idea. I have heard and read so many conflicting reports on Rossi's future that I am not sure what to think. What is clear is that there are leaks emanating from within Rossi's circle, though just how reliable those leaks are - is the public being softened up for an imminent switch to Yamaha, or are the leaks aimed at putting pressure on Ducati and Audi by suggesting that Rossi is prepared to leave at any moment? - remains to be seen. The most curious thing about the Rossi/Yamaha rumors is the deafening silence emanating from the Italian racing media. The sources I trust most, those closest to Rossi and his entourage, have remained quiet on his future. Prior to news breaking of Rossi's move to Ducati, there were stories leaking out in the Italian media that Rossi was ready to make the jump. So far, there has been little or nothing on an imminent move to Yamaha in the Italian motorcycle racing press. That, in itself, is reason enough to doubt that any decision has been made. Yet.

If you really want to know where Valentino Rossi will be racing in 2013, there is only one thing you can do. Along with the rest of the motorcycling media - with the exception of one or two outlets, who will be granted early access to the news - you will have to wait.

~~~~ UPDATE ~~~~

The news that Ben Spies is to leave Yamaha adds an extra twist to this story. The news comes as a shock: Yamaha was not expected to make any announcement this weekend, to allow the many PR events the factory has planned in one of their most important markets to run smoothly. However, Spies' timing, on the eve of Yamaha's big events, was not taken into account in the above analysis. There was very little to indicate that Spies might decide to leave, rather than Yamaha making the call. It is clear from Spies' statements that he is unhappy with Yamaha, and the timing of the announcement fits in with that pattern. 

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I finished the article having no more answers than I had at the start, but plenty more questions. And, yet, I am glad I read it.

It's like watching an episode of Lost.

With Stoner out, Rossi will only have to deal with Lorenzo for the next couple years. The problem is that Rossi will not beat Lorenzo on an inferior bike. Does he want to win the title or fight for podiums? Yamaha offers him the best opportunity to take the fight to Jorge. He should accept his failure at Ducati and try to finish his career on a positive note, fighting for the title on the M1. He may even come out on top.

ducatis best option to save their image would be in my opinion to can rossi/JB duo and put PM dollars to work on persuading Stoner to come back and show the bike is a proper racing bike ... it just needs a proper racer sitting on it ... well probably not ducatis best option but for sure it would make an interesting thing to watch if casey can still go fast on the duc ...

David, what an article. Reading your words about the same stories is like eating at your grandmother's. She makes the same as everyone else but you just know it's going to taste better. The dream of course, would be to win on the Ducati, but I've given up hope. Let's hope he does what is best for himself, now, because that's when he is at his best; happy. My only doubt is time; long term and short term, I don't think he has enough of it.

Great write-up David, this gives so many answers and insights. If only more people checked this site regularly. I wonder about one thing though:
'Ask any MotoGP fan who sponsors Ducati, and 99% of them will answer 'Marlboro'.
I think this is pretty optimistic. I guess it depends on whom you consider a MotoGP fan, but if you ask the average MotoGP attendant I wonder if 50% knows which brand is behind Ducati.

Pedantry: A few riders have done this in the 500cc class. Hailwood (he won the '61 Senior TT on a Norton), Mamola, Capirossi... If you meant post-2002 relaunch, well, there's no history worthy of the name yet. ;)

No champions on three different bikes for the senior class though.

And a great article. As usual!

The only rider to win on three manufacters is Eddie Lawson! He won on Yamaha, Honda and Cagiva. All in the 500cc class.

Finally. I've been waiting for days to read this article. Thank you David.

A great article, thanks for posting it. I had the opposite impression of Ben Spies' very vague tweets, thinking "back where we were meant to be" means somewhere different from where he is now. But who knows, could mean just about anything. I hope we will know at least by Brno. I'm sure that if Yamaha is to retain Spies, they would prefer to announce that at Laguna Seca or Indy, but they have to wait like the rest of us for Rossi to decide, I suppose.

Thanks David, interesting insight you shared about the reliability of press info and separating the wheat from the chaff.

Also interesting were Jeremy Burgess' comments in that MotoSport article you cite. Sounds like Jeremy is picking up Casey's torch when he said:

'You’d think we would’ve had new ’cases by Le Mans, but here we are at the ninth race with the same bike we had at the first tests.'

Well I admit I wanted Rossi to move back to Yamaha, but maybe it'll be more interesting if he stays at Ducati and we see what Audi brings to the table.

As long as Ducati keep improving, I don't really care if they win the championship this year or next. They just have to show a positive trend.

As I told the chaps last week on another site, Marlboro backing Rossi made no sense and the Motocuatro article was a fanciful rumor at best. David has pretty much hit everything I thought about the rumor. The financial numbers to back both Yamaha and Ducati along with paying Rossi and crew wouldn't produce enough of a return to justify or make any financial sense what so ever even in the best of financial times. There aren't enough bar code stickers and patches to justify such an extreme amount of money that would be required. Marlboro wouldn't be increasing the number of eye balls - they would just be advertising to the people who already watch MotoGP and already see their branding with Ducati. Ducati on the other hand wouldn't be able to stay in MotoGP without Marlboro backing. I'm sure they have a contract in place with Phillip Morris to ensure this backing so I doubt PM could just jump shit to Yamaha. And if PM could just jump to Yamaha why would they not just go and back Jorge (who has a strong possibility of winning the title this year and even stronger one next year with Casey gone - with or without Val next door) instead of taking Rossi and his 14 million that they pay him and paying for his crew too?

Why hasn't anyone shown the EU Gestapo the state of the economy, slapped them in the face, and told them to relax on the tobacco advertising? According to the World Health Organization ( http://www.who.int/substance_abuse/facts/global_burden/en/ ) alcohol takes just as many years off a life as tobacco. So alcohol gets free advertising rights, why not tobacco? Yes I understand much (if not all) of Europe has state-healthcare and must cover these costs, but I'd really like to see just how much difference has been made by curtailing tobacco ads in both health and economic senses.

The ban on tobacco sponsorship has been estimated to reduce smoking by nearly 7% (Source). Your point on alcohol is well made. Expect to see clampdowns on alcohol advertising soon.

I read that Rossi wants to win the 24 hours du Mans and Audi is offering their best for him to fulfill that dream.

The article says "His reputation of being able to ride around problems and still win on an inferior bike has already been damaged irreparably". Yes, Rossi has this reputation but what was it built on? Fans saying it on message boards so it must be so? Rossi is a great rider yes, but let's not act like he's been winning on Suzukis and Kawasakis during his career. He came into GP's on the NSR 500 Honda which just had won the previous 6 titles. He then went to one of the greatest bikes in GP history on the RC211V. Even the Yamaha he went to wasn't a shopping trolley or "worst bike on the grid" as some have said. The Kawasaki, Aprilia, Illmor, Suzuki, KR Roberts, etc were the worst bikes - not the Yamaha.
And then the articles says "then another part of his legend - of being able to develop a bike, and turn an uncompetitive machine into a winner - will also fall by the wayside, deservedly or undeservedly". He's "turn an uncompetitive machine into a winner" exactly how many times? Once at best? And I can argue that the M1 (which was winning races in the 935cc carburetted form and finished 2nd in the title with Biaggi) that was "turn around" was done by Furusawa (not Rossi) who was working on the bike before Rossi even tossed a leg over it. Any rider is only as good as his factory support and designers and engineers around him. At Yamaha and Honda, Rossi had the best support and the factories who wrote blank checks to get things done. At Ducati we have learn that even if Preziosi was as brilliant as Furusawa he can't be Furusawa- he doesn't have the funds or the man power at his disposal to be Furusawa. This Ducati episode has made people realize Rossi like every other rider on the grid is dependent on others. He's not the one crunching the data and coming up with solutions and he doesn't design anything or fabricate any parts. So yes, this part of his "legend" should deservedly go away like the "win on inferior machine" myth. Not because of anything Rossi has or hasn't done but because just like the other myth it was just fanboy talk on the message boards in the first place.

but the Yamaha was in the same boat as Suzuki & Kawasaki. I believe it was Furusawa who made the biggest difference. And most of the story is about the change, why would you do it, your on a winning bike, why take the risk? It's what retires riders, he was willing to take the risk - that takes big balls, if it didn't work Rossi would of looked like an idiot and so would of Yamaha, Yamaha trusted Valentino & vice versa. Also, I doubt any other rider on that grid at that time could of done it. Furusawa is a lot more understanding with engineering / feel in my opinion & he LISTENS to the riders. He prepared two bikes, with two engines and asked Valentino which he prefers. Rossi gave the correct feedback (look at Yamaha's bike now, but they work in an constant evolution, not revolution) - if he went the other way, would of they been successful? Rossi elected to go for a slower, smoother package - which is all he wants now. I agree a lot of people overstate Rossi legend status and understate a rider like Stoner. But in the end, I think the Yamaha / Rossi story is a great one, one could of not done it with out the other. Period.

The Yamaha was never in the same boat as the Suzuki & Kawasaki. Never. Ever. Anyone who watched MotoGP during that time would tell you. For reference, Biaggi finished 2nd in the title the first year of the M1 in 2002. 2nd - not 12th and not 22nd. In 2003 the year before Rossi went to Yamaha Checa (factory bike) and Barros (satellite bike) both finished in the top 10 on the Yamaha. Nakano finished 10th but I think he only had the M1 for a couple of races (which he placed in the well in the top 10 in 2 out of 3 races). Where was the top Suzuki? 17th. And that was with Hopkins. World Champion Roberts was 19th. And where was the Kawasaki's? Lower than that in dead stinking last place in 22nd and 23rd place. There isn't even 23 bikes on the grid anymore! They both worst then the Aprilias who finished 13th and 14th. And we are talking about the Aprilia that burst into flames and set Colin's balls on fire. So how can you say a bike that had 3 riders in the top 10 be in the same boat as a bike that both riders finished side by side DEAD LAST? To say that the Yamaha was anywhere near the Suzuki or Kawasaki or remotely close to the worst bike on the grid is just a flat out lie that for some reason has been repeated and repeated and repeated over and over again. But just because it's been said multiple times doesn't make it true. Anyone that says that is just repeating what they have read because surely they weren't watching MotoGP at that time. And even if someone wasn't watching GP's then all they have to do is look at the record books to see that couldn't remotely be true.
Oh, and Rossi picking an engine that has better throttle control doesn't make him a development genius. Riders and drivers (especially F1 and LeMans) have been going with usable power since the beginning of motor racing. Rossi didn't do anything revolutionary or even out of the ordinary.

Shouldn't you be on crash.net or mcn? If you hate Rossi, fine - keep it to yourself, make a statement on crash-net, we are smarter around here - leave us to our world. I never belittle any rider, I respect them all. My point was, none of them could touch the Honda. Suzuki & Kawasaki are both huge brands with lots of cash backing. Your almost contradicting yourself by stating all you need is resources / money. Kawasaki and Suzuki have access to great resources - but you need the right engineering team & the right riders at the top to sink the 8 ball. My point is, I believe with the right brain at the top of Ducati's Engineering Department, with the right plan / strategy will turn Ducati's fortune. I really admire Prezisoi's work at Ducati, but I believe they need a new direction. And I've watched moto gp for the last 20 years. And what Valentino done was special, otherwise we would of all read Max Biaggi's "what if I never tried it", or we might of even read my book since I can ride a bike :). There are 4 or 5 people known in the world who can handle a bike at Rossi's & co's ability and you cast a hate session, please move back to crash.

Has something been deleted? Because RDawg's post seems quite reasonable.

Anyway, this talk of support and listening to riders reminded me of this article from 2010:


'The chassis was already good when Rossi moved from Honda. The Japanese engineers told Biaggi Rossi uses "almost the same of what [I] used." In '03, the Yamaha's main problem was its engine characteristic, and from the first test in '02, that's what Biaggi wanted to change. "We ask and ask and ask. When Rossi got there, he have the [revised firing order] engine to test and he said was much better. He had four chassis to test. We ask them so much, but we couldn't get what we ask them." When he follows Rossi, which is often, Biaggi sees that Rossi can pick up the throttle early in the corner while still leaned over. "It's very smooth, very easy to open earlier than the previous Yamaha."'

But now at Ducati its Rossi and Burgess who ask and ask and ask.

Actually, its you that belong on crash. Rdawg's argument was far more lucid and less biased than someone who signs their name with 46 at the end of it.

If you prove something wrong about what's being said about Rossi by his fans someone with "46" in their tag will call you a hater - even if they are 100% wrong. They continue to say the same thing over and over again even when it's proven wrong. Incredible. Sorry if the actual results and facts of the matter doesn't support your "Yamaha was in the same boat as Suzuki & Kawasaki" statement because it doesn't. There is really no need to get upset about it. Just look at the results - they don't support your statement. So the fact that you were wrong and have nothing to back up your statement makes me a "hater"? That's rich. And if you have been watching MotoGP for the past 20 years you would know that even though Suzuki and Kawasaki are huge brands they never allotted the amount of resources to MotoGP as either Honda or Yamaha. How many premier class titles has Kawasaki won? How many dry races has Suzuki won in the 4 stroke era? If you consider yourself "smarter around here" then when presented with actual facts and results that doesn't support your statement you would have retorted with something substantial to support your argument instead of spouting about "hate session".

A couple of things here. When someone is winning then most people are behind him and when he is losing the tide turns. That is the nature of fandom and not much can be done about that. Irrespective of who created the legend around Rossi and if he actually deserves it, the fact of the matter is that the legend was in circulation for long enough for most people to believe that it was true. Now the last one and a half years Rossi's performance on the Ducati is good enough reason to believe that the legend created was not true. Irrespective of our opinions, what remains a mystery is the real ability of Rossi. I do not think that Stoner should be dragged into the picture. But I do have one point to make and that is about Suzuki and Kawasaki. I think they made pretty decent GP bikes, but never had the rider talent that was capable of pushing those bikes to greater heights. While the rider is not necessarily the most important variable, one cannot discount the inputs given by a rider into the direction that makes a motorcycle a winning proposition. A couple of second places for the Kawasaki in the hands of Olivier Jacque and Randy De Puniet are good instances of how the motorcycle could be turned into a winner in the hands of riders such as Stoner, Rossi and maybe even Jorge Lorenzo. But they never had those riders. Kawasaki has never been a GP regular and so the mountain they had was much more difficult to climb and retaining Anthony West though laudable as an act of support to the rider, actually saw the situation going backwards. Suzuki have been GP regulars but suffered from the lack of great riders. Good riders can get the occasional podium or win but it is the great ones who make the difference in terms of winning regularly. And there is no doubt that Rossi is among those great riders. With Biaggi the bike was good only for a second place in the championship but with Rossi it became a championship winner. No amount of arguing will change that. Same with Stoner. Nothing will change the fact that he was winning on a bike that destroyed the careers of his teammates. So Stoner and Rossi are greats. It is not necessary to answer the question who is better. And I think it is in that context that these arguments come out. Frankly for me it is the Anglophone world versus the Italians in this case, and I believe that need not be the case. As spectators we inevitably turn fans (I cannot explain why) but we could consciously learn to respect riders where they deserve to be respected.

Just more comments trying to strip the man of his accomplishments. When he left for Yamaha at the end of 2003 it was a feat. The 2004 M1 had cam chains a la streetbikes and just wasn't the bike that the 211v was. For reference sake, the 211v had gear driven cams, the same type of cams that WSBK told Aprilia they could no longer run.

I'll counter your opinion and say that both of Rossi's championships with Yamaha during the 990cc era were won on an inferior bike. Add to that, that Burgess's and Rossi's development, he gave to his rivals, with a great big bow wrapped around it.

Honda is NASA in the motorcycling world. No motorcycle mfr. has deeper pockets. They are always the #1 in the series, no matter the year. Their pockets are so deep they brought brand new complete 2013 bikes to Mugello for the Repsol riders to test as well as new bits for the 2012 bikes. Meanwhile, Yamaha had little and Ducati moved some parts around.

Rossi has earned his accomplishments. He never had to even get a podium on the Ducati or any other bike.

Reading that Stoner won on it again and again, we know. But that was in 2010 against 2010 Yamahas and Hondas, and only a couple of races at the end of the season when Jorge already had the title decided and was on cruise control. Casey Stoner has never ridden this 1000cc Ducati Desmosedici. And I highly doubt he could win a race on it either as he can't even beat his team mate right now on the Honda.

Nine world titles don't lie. All that's being pointed out here is he didn't land on a pig at Yamaha in '04. I don't know why that hurts so much.

and say Rossi's title in 2005 was on the best bike on the grid. He won the title that year by 147 points for Christ sake. This is MotoGP - not Thunderbike series or the R6 cup. That's a staggering amount. No rider wins that title in MotoGP by that much on a vastly inferior bike. It just doesn't happen. No one claims that Colin Edwards is one of the greatest MotoGP riders of all time. Colin finished the title 5th in 2004 and 4th in 2005. So exactly how "inferior" was the bike if Colin can finish that high in the championship? Especially now that it is known that Colin wasn't supplied with equal kit to Rossi? The results speak for themselves. I think Rossi's reputation as a rider who is "able to ride around problems and still win on an inferior bike" is overblown. Compare that to a guy like Schwantz who was clearly on the third best bike on the grid behind the Yamaha and Honda fighting for wins and titles and who should be the one that has that reputation. Someone like Kenny Roberts Jr who finished 2nd in 1999 and won the title in 2000 on a bike that was clearly inferior to the Hondas and Yamahas should have that reputation. How many wins and titles does Rossi have on the 3rd best bike?

Edwards was on a Honda in 2004 just like every man between 2 and 6. Actually if you look at the best place Yamaha other than Rossi in 2004 it was a 7th with Carlos Checa, exactly the same place he ended in 2003 when he was the best Yamaha. That's what I call "winning on a clearly inferior bike".
Also in 2005 Edwards ended 4th 27 points behind Nicky even though he scored on every race and Hayden had 2 DNFs. I woudn't call that a great result.

Edwards was on Honda 2004 - typing faster than I was thinking! But in the 6 years or so Checa was with Yamaha he only place 5th once - he mostly placed 6th or 7th in the title even on the 500cc Yamaha. So 7th was par the course for him. So that still begs the question how inferior was the M1 in 2004? It probably didn't have the engine power of the RCV but it wasn't exactly a bag of bolts either. I still contend the 2005 bike was just as good as the RCV though. Rossi dominated the championship and that doesn't happen on an inferior bike. How can someone finishing 4th in the title not be considered a good result? You guys are a tough crowd!

Agree to disagree I guess. In my opinion the 2004 Yamaha was far from the worst bike on the grid and it was a a clear improvement from the 2003 Yamaha but the Hondas where a lot better.
I didn't meant that Colin had a bad result. It was certainly good just not a great one considering all the riders ahead of him had 2 o 3 DNFs and he, with non, finished 27 points behind 3rd (more than a race). The 2005 Yamaha was clearly a lot closer to the Hondas but I don't think there is much evidence supporting which one was better, and which ever one was better was not better by a big margin.

I believe his time has come, it's never easy - but the direction has changed in moto gp & from all accounts I don't believe he has the genius to dig himself out of this hole. I will never forget the great things he has done, in 2007 a World Title & wins in the first year of entry in moto gp. However, by all accounts a lot has changed at Ducati (riders, mechanics, crew chiefs), expect the lead engineer - every rider has had the same complaints & feedback to the factory. Lack of front end feel & slow reaction to change. The changes JB is requesting in the article I read are relatively simple, & easy to impliment. JB has been around a long time, and has seen what works and what doesn't. I think they need a new direction / chief engineer - clearly repeating the same actions will get you the same results & is a sign of insanity. I know they have come a long way this year with the alu frame, but to spend all that money on the roll out & not evolve it seems crazy. As Valentino said, he thought it would have been fixed now....so would of I.....

how much support in the form of number of engineers and budget does Preziosi have compared to Honda and Yamaha? Honda is rolling out a BRAND NEW bike - in the middle of the year! I think Preziosi has done a great job with the size factory that he has. Is he the guy to take Ducati's MotoGP project forward? Honestly I don't know. I have said before that the problem may lie with Preziosi and his line of thinking but when you think about how much does the guy have to work with? He's not working with the same war chest as Yamaha and definitely not Honda.

Honda have a huge budget, Yamaha smaller & we're making massive losses in their key market areas when Rossi was winning titles - they knew where to spend their money and had a bike of evolution. Constantly evoloving, very small changes at every test - nothing major. Ducati (when stoner was riding) was the only manufacturer to finish the year with money in the bank. I find it hard to believe money being a problem with the sort of sponsership dollars Rossi brings in. And yes, the initial building will costs millions, but once the key areas have been addressed, permitting rule changes (enough dorna) it can just evolve - then the costs are very minimal. I'm sure the German's know this.

some of the money Rossi brings in goes in HIS bank account - not Ducati's. And Ducati's race department isn't the same size as either Honda or Ducati. I remember when Nicky first sign for Ducati. He commented on the Ducati factory on his first visit. Coming from Honda, he was absolutely stunned at the size or rather lack of. It takes people to get a design on paper and even more people to get the design off paper into a tangible part. Resources include manpower and not just money. Ducati is short of both compared to their main rivals.

model and won, on the other hand he may have won the title on it, who knows?

I do know that Lorenzo was very fast as soon as he rode the Yamaha, much to Vale's annoyance.

Vale is a great great rider, and any who denigrate him, do it for no good reason.

I hope he stays and that Audi open the cheque book as well as the engineering department to Ducati.

I'd like to see a full Audi sponsored satellite Ducati team (in Audi colours), with Hayden Crutchlow on them, with Vale and Depuniet riding the works machines.

VR should never have left Yamaha. His inability to accept the brashness and confidence of upstart JL caused him to make a decision based on emotion rather than logic. Plenty has been written and facts prove that CS was the only person capable of winning on the Ducati. While VR is arguably the greatest rider that ever lived, you just cannot ignor the fact that only one person has had success with the Ducati. For whatever reason, CS just made it work. Only having one person make something, anything work, has to be considered an anomaly. VR is a guy that wants to win. He was on a bike that gave him an excellent chance of doing just that. But he could not accept the attention that his new team-mate was taking from him. He thrives on attention, the spotlight. So he let his emotions, his ego, get the best of him. It was a poor gamble. The evidence was there all along that it was not going to work. He is asking for the same or similar changes that CS asked for and didn't receive. Also, VR has never had or will never have the "win it or bin it" attitude necessary to win on the Ducati. I draw this conclusion: If he stays at Ducati, he's in it for the money. If he goes to Yamaha, he's in it to win. A racer can compete at the top level for just so long. Ego and the price you pay for it? Two lost years that you can never get back.

There are good reasons for Yamaha to sign Valentino Rossi - not least because he should be able to challenge for wins once he climbs back on board a Yamaha - but there are at least as many reasons for them not to sign the Italian.

Nicely said, David. This is something that casual fans seem to forget. Seat assignment or rides aren't a simple meritocracy, but are the result of complex financial, marketing and - occasionally - competition considerations that go far beyond whether Rider A is faster than Rider B.

At first I liked the idea of Rossi going to Ducati, working to improve the bike, but then Ducati stuck with their frameless chassis in 2011 and have been too slow with updates in 2012. It might be a good idea for a rider willing to wait several more years while they figure things out, but that's kind of the opposite of where Rossi finds himself.

I think he should take the most competitive ride he can find, which is Yamaha. He may have to team up with Lorenzo, and even if he can't always keep up with him, the racing should be entertaining. I just can't see Ducati suddenly turning it around and fixing their issues in a timely manner. There's a good chance that Rossi could get better results on the neutered satellite Honda than he will staying at Ducati, even if they make some progress.

to accommodate one Mr Rossi, and people saying Ducati have been 'stubborn' annoys the hell out of me. They've thrown their entire frame building philosophy - developed for 10 years in the bin and copied the japanese ubiquitous twin spar aluminium unit, swallowing their pride and heritage in the process. Now people are saying that because they still use a 90 degree V engine they are pig headed or stupid even though that engine thats won in plenty of categories plenty of times. Maybe they should just go and ask Yamaha for a blueprint of their entire bike, just so Ross's reputation might not suffer so much? Bollocks.

The bike has to be built around the Bridgestone tires. If you look up the stats, Ducati has gone down hill every year since 2007. 2007 Ducati had custom made and custom suited Bridgestone tires. Once they went to spec tires the game changed and Ducati suffered for it. Valentino even used the Ducati spec Bridgestones in 2008 to great success and retook the championship that year. A big reason why is because the inline motor is easier to move around in the chassis to work around the tires.

Yamaha followed Ducati's lead and went with Magneti Marelli ECU/fuel injection, etc. Yamaha also went to pneumatic valves as did Honda. Some times in order to beat your rivals you must copy them. Honda stole two key laptop jockeys from Lorenzo's garage to code for them prior to Casey coming onboard to Honda.

Ducati is the "stubborn" one. The cf frameless design could not use the tires properly. The blocky L engine severely limits setup options to work around the tires. Burgess and crew often run out of setup options all the while on the Yamaha, they were almost limitless.

This is why the Yamahas haven't suffered chatter problems this year, adjust-ability. And this is why Ducati suffers the most. They are stubborn. Honda doesn't make a production V4 1000cc sportbike, nor do they make any production bike with pneumatic valves, carbon discs, turn by turn mapping, etc. Ducati should follow suit and make a narrow-er Vee engine for handling reasons but so far they refuse.

With or without Valentino Rossi, the twin-spar was the right decision.

Just look how their results have improved.. not. And they could do the same with the engine, start over again with a narrow V, get dismal results and have Rossi walk out on hem having wasted millions of R&D dollars and diverting them from a path they had success with and in which they were technology leaders. Ducati are a smaller company and the success they have had has been acheived by being a bit different to the big jap companies, not by trying to copy them.

Admittedly this is just speculation on my part but if Rossi is on a Yamaha next year (and can adapt to it quickly), then I feel that Lorenzo won't have it all his way. Rossi may not be the quickest, but as long as he's in the ballpark speedwise, his racecraft will continue to serve him well - wet conditions and the dry race at Mugello have shown that it's still there...

Agreed; not sure if he could win a WC now; but there will certainly be much entertaining racing on the way.

Thanks for the update David.

with yamaha, i can't understand many of the arguments that we're discussing here, i'm sorry.

Money questions, sponsorship deals, all that makes sense, but pride, myth?... like the guy in "pulp fiction" said, f**k pride.

He tried another bike, it was a nice story, well paid - of course - but it didn't work. Yamaha and Honda are so much better. It might work in the future, who knows, but he just doesn't have the time.

he's a rider, he wants to win, still has the ability to do it, and the yamaha is the right ride for him. And he's the only "hunter" in the motoGP class, who can provide a great show.

I like the idea of a Coca-Cola Honda for Rossi next year.

I don't see why a Tech3 Monster Yamaha should be better than a satellite Honda, except for the fact that Yamaha don't have a "Repsol" money feeder, that probably would prefer a factory Repsol-bike winning the championship.

Actually I also like the idea of Rossi on a Tech3 bike or a Ducati - as long as he's back to the front, fighting for podiums. With Spies, Crutchlow, Dovi and many others!
There have only been three regular winners the last couple of years in MotoGP. It's too static. Even F1 is turning out to be more unpredictable.

I don't recall seeing specific comments from JB on the failings of Ducati's development process ie “This bike is still a frame wrapped around an engine, rather than an engine designed to go in a frame,” explained Burgess. "You’d think we would’ve had new ’cases by Le Mans, but here we are at the ninth race with the same bike we had at the first tests......." “There’s lots of other little things. The Honda gets a jump on us out of the corners because it’s smoother and the Yamaha is another step better. They’ve got primary and secondary injectors, while we’ve only got single injectors.” Why should this be? Lack of resources - people and money - presumably, rather than a lack of will - in the face of Honda and Yamaha's millions. Now, Audi has the necessary resources and must surely want value from Ducati's involvement in MotoGP, if it is to stay there. And with the most valuable marketing asset in the business (VR) pressing and PM paying VR's wages and also wanting success, there's a perfect storm brewing. The outcome? VR to stay at Ducati (especially as David thinks so too!).

Firstly let me say, I have no desire to get into any arguments over who is right or wrong. But I only wish to point out some facts that so far no one has mentioned. Regarding Rossi & Burgess's development ability.

Casey Stoner who we can all agree is the only truly successful rider of the Ducati has said he asked for many changes. Rossi has asked for many changes. It would seem they both agree something was/is wrong with the Ducati bikes.

Furasawa, has always been thought of as an honest and brilliant man. He has said on many occasions, and again also in the the film 'Fastest', that he developed the bike according to Rossi's direction, he also said that Ducati could be successful if they listened to Rossi, and he would maybe give them some hints. Separately Furasawa said in other interviews that he believed the carbon fiber chassis to be incorrect.

When asked about Rossi's chances of success at Ducati - which last won the world championship in 2007, but hasn't won a race so far this year - Furusawa responded:

“I know the advantages and disadvantages of the Ducati bike. The point is whether or not Valentino can point these out, and then [whether] Ducati can follow his recommendations."

Furasawa, a top engineer beleived so strongly in Rossi and his teams ability, that his retirement was influenced by Rossi's move to Ducati.

Rossi, Burgess, Casey, Melandri and Nicky have all said that the changes they asked for have not come, or came extremely slow. It takes a whole organization to learn what it means to win. In all sport, winning is an organic thing. All teams who continually win, have a culture of continually doing the right things. There are teams who win once, and never win again, history is also full of nations which have won battles, but lost wars. I don't believe Ducati truly understand the winning formula, and though Burgess and Rossi try, Ducati are either unable or unwilling to make the necessary changes.

On paper and in theory many things look like simple mathematics, but In racing the most necessary thing is the confidence and connection a bike gives a rider, Rossi aside, every rider who has ridden the Ducati have complained, including Stoner. Ducati need a big change in mentality if they are ever to create a winning culture.

Lastly, I am not a Rossi fan. I support racing, and understand the human element and winning. I myself have been 5 Time World Champion in a very, very competitive sport. I also ride motorcycles competitively in my retirement.

If I'm Lin Jarvis, I'd think long and hard about putting Rossi back on the Yamaha. Yes, Rossi will be fast and fight for wins right away but I've got to consider how this impacts Yamaha's motogp effort as a whole. With Stoner retired, Jorge is as close to a lock for the next few years. Why disrupt that? I know Jorge has said he doesn't care who's in the other side of the garage but seems rather stupid move to put someone who could pose serious challenge next door. Until Jorge, Rossi never had a truly competitive no. 2 rider on his factory Honda/Yamaha teams...and that was no accident. With Rossi on a sat. Honda or Ducati, odds are very, very high Yamaha keeps the motogp title for several years. With Rossi on the factory M1, Yamaha would only be undermining itself. If winning the title is the goal, it makes zero sense for Yamaha to put Rossi on the M1.

First, Ben says "I have chosen to leave Yamaha" as if he had a choice to stay. Did he? Secondly, he says he chose to leave "for a litany of reasons. I will explain more when I feel it is appropriate". My, that will will be an interesting read will it not?

Unfortunately, at this point I don't see room in MotoGP for Ben outside of Yamaha. I have read rumors of him going to Tech 3 with a factory bike paid for by Yamaha US if he was dropped from the factory squad. Him saying "leaving Yamaha" and not the "factory" team would lead me to think he's not going to Tech 3. Really, anything outside of a factory Yamaha or factory Honda ride would be a step backwards. If Rossi leaves Ducati for Yamaha I would think Ducati would have Hayden and Cal as their riders. I think WSBK is in his future now.

"back where we were meant to be"

"I have chosen to leave Yamaha"

Suzuki is where he made his name in the AMA.

Back to Suzuki in WSBK? .... I hope not though

...Or... is Suzuki going to make an early return to GP?

I doubt it means Tech 3. It could very well mean Suzuki, and it could mean AMA racing in the USA... meanwhile developing the Sukuki MotoGP bike for a return to the world stage in 2014... Just guessing.

Suzuki is not used to losing the AMA championship, and may view a fat paycheck to Spies as a worthwhile investment.

in the period they were team mates, who won the titles? Yamaha, Valentino and litlle georgie.
Now JL is a mature rider, and Rossi "the old Champ" who just waves at the crowd, so that shouldn't be a big problem... ;)

As usual, great article! What I find SO stupifing/head scratching/dumbfounding in this situation at Ducati is.....DUCATI! Rossi has NOT forgot how to ride a bike and go fast! Either has Nicky. This bike they have been building, for years and years and years, has sucked and numerous riders have told them that. A 'freak of riding talent' won them the WC and so the engineering team at Ducati said, 'See, the bike is fine'. Casey leaves, Rossi throws a leg over the 'thing' and he knows the bike is a pile. Here we are, almost two years down the road, and the bike is now taking some vague form of being competitive. My question, David, and with your 'connections' you may have the answer(s), is this:

Is Ducati unwilling, or totally unable, to make the changes that Rossi, and all the riders before him, have asked them to make? If the engine configuration is part of the problem, minor or major issue, why wouldn't they change it to make that 'thing' competitive? Hmmmm........

Not much to add to the hype. Rossi to Ducati hit its pinnacle around early 2010 and it was consumated as such. A marriage made in hell.
Fast forward to mid 2012 and I think David has it about right.
Rossi stays at Ducati for a whole lot of carefully analysed reasons pertaining to MGP Premier class in general.
Personally,I do wish he could manipulate the scenario to the point where he and Lorenzo can go head to head in the same team on factory M1's.
I don't expect much of a Rossi announcement prior to post Indianapolis anyway.
The same thinking applies to Hayden's future within Ducati and Spies at Yamaha.
Neither Yamaha nor Ducati have plans to upset the host nation.
Oh well, another 4 weeks and contracts for prototype riders will be finalised I guess.

Spies out of a ride. Indeed that opens the gateway for Rossi and Yamaha big time. I hope it comes to fruition. Delete my earlier conjcture. I sure hope Rossi gets a factory Yamaha ride alongside Lorenzo.

and it would be good to see Rossi and Crutchlow on factory bikes.

I quite like the Ducaudi idea too but, personally, I think RdP's lady would be too distracting for a team.....! Should keep Nicky smiling though. Like BMW in WSB, 2 quasi factory teams would be a rapid R&D tool. Could be great fun too!

Ben has said 'leaving Yamaha', not MGP. Perhaps Suzuki is where he thinks he should be....although AMA seems natural it's a step back, not forward.
Perhaps he wants to win 'The Tour'......

Isn't it about the time of the year when we hear the "Norton is returning to MotoGP" rumor. Two spots reserved on the grid, right? Maybe Rossi can go ride for the "new Norton factory team"

I've been reading all the reasons Rossi would or should go to Yamaha / Honda or stay at Ducati but nothing about him being happier at Ducati.
He has nothing left to prove. He's won a load of races, titles and set many records. Made a mountain of cash. WLF, and he's getting older.
Of course he wants to win, that is without doubt. And yes the Ducati is a dog. Oh fucking well.
Maybe it's just nice to be surrounded by Italians and his trusted crew. Nicky even looks happier at Ducati even if he is frustrated because he can't win on the bike.
Spies liked being at Yamaha so much he's leaving for parts unknown.
Stoner liked being at Honda so much he's fucking leaving MotoGP altogether.
Senna said he enjoyed racing when he was racing karts. Pure racing. No politics.
The bean counters have taken over MotoGP as they have everywhere else. Boring interviews. Hold up your bottle. Change hats again. Smile. Total castration.
Maybe Rossi still likes racing. Maybe he loves it. Maybe the best way for him to keep loving it is to work with people he likes working with. Lorenzo still has many things to prove (and a lot of Rossi-esq things to copy) and he has to stay with a Japanese team to do it but would it be worth it to Rossi?
Maybe he'd rather have a little espresso with the boys than bow to the bosses.
I was born in California as was my mother, but my grandmother was from Calabria, Italy and every time I get off a plane in Italy I feel at home.
And I agree with the guy who said that the regulators might want to get their heads out of their asses and let big tobacco come back in with their logos and dollars. I'd like to see the Gauloises team or the Camel team come back into the fold. Where are the booze venders while we're at it? The Guinness team, the Nastro Azzurro team, etc...
Maybe it's nice for Rossi to be at home.
Maybe the Ducati marketing people should get off their asses and start using Rossi correctly and then the fact that he's not winning wouldn't mean as much as his joy at being on an Italian team.
Good luck Ben

David, thanks, but is based 2 much on logic. Rossi doesn't think like that, and definitely there's a lot going on in the background, of which we'll hear only the result. Spies'leaving Yamaha is one big sign. I really think Rossi is, bar something unexpected, already back with Yamaha.

..hello Yamaha. Whilst Ducati/Audi might be able to fulfill some of Rossi's post-MotoGP wish list (WSBK, Le mans, WRC) I think the lure of two more years at Yamaha running a competitive bike and being within spitting distance of Ago's record (15 more wins is it? Could be possible....) might just be what the doctor ordered. Sorry about the pun.
I think overtaking the record for most wins would easily eclipse whatever misadventures have happened at Ducati. What's more what brand is Rossi going to be most associated with when he retires? Ducati? Somehow I doubt it. It's the reverse of what Ago did in many ways - he finished his career at Yamaha but he will always be remembered as an MV Augusta rider. Heck over thirty years after his retirement the Italian factory are still milking the Ago cash-cow. It's this kind of publicity that Yamaha want - if he is able to mix it and finish one-two with their current front-runner, even better. Let's face it, Rossi sells stuff. Be it Paddock jackets or replica M1's or 150cc scooters in Malaysia and Indonesia, Yamaha is quids-in if #46 re-signs with them.