Just seven more days, and the biggest open piece of MotoGP's puzzle should be slotted into place. On Saturday night, Valentino Rossi met with Ducati CEO Gabriele Del Torchio, to discuss the details of the offer Ducati have for Rossi, and this morning, Del Torchio told French journalist Michel Turco that he expected to know Rossi's answer within the next seven days. The money from Ducati is generous, some 17 million euros a season, if the rumors are to be believed, but the money will not be the important part of the deal. The biggest item will be what help Ducati will get from Audi, and whether the rate of progress at Borgo Panigale can be ramped up to start rolling out updates faster, and start to change some of the things which Rossi and Burgess believe are vital before the bike can even begin to become competitive.
Ducati is not Rossi's only option, of course. The second seat at the Factory Yamaha team awaits - and did that seat being held open for Rossi prompt Ben Spies to leave, or was the Texan's mind already made up, after a bellyful of MotoGP politics? - though that ride is not so richly rewarded, financially at least. The offer from Yamaha is rumored to be around the 3-4 million euro mark, a pay cut Rossi may be willing to take if it leaves him capable of winning and challenging for championships again. But here, too, conditions will be key: Rossi will return as the number 2 rider, Lorenzo already having clinched a two-year deal with the factory, and Yamaha having made it clear to Rossi that they saw Lorenzo as the future back in 2010, which caused Rossi to up sticks and go to Ducati. Even worse, though, Rossi may have to return alone; his crew will not automatically be rehired by Yamaha, the cost of flying them around the world being a major cost factor in the equation. What's more, Rossi will have to bring sponsorship to the table, much more than just the amount needed to cover his salary.
Rossi has to weigh the prospect of winning immediately against the hope of turning around the situation at Ducati and cementing his status as a bike developer in history. Walking away from Ducati would be the first time he ever backed down from a challenge, but his experience of Ducati has been mostly of waiting in vain for updates that haven't come, and receiving updates that have not answered his most basic demands. Financial backing from Audi should allow Ducati Corse to expand its engineering department to ramp up production, but the question remains of whether the problem is purely financial or more an ingrained part of the culture inside Ducati Corse. Rossi's choice is clear: is it better to serve in heaven or to reign in hell?
Once Rossi's decision is made, the next pieces can start to drop into place. If Rossi stays at Ducati, the question will be whether Cal Crutchlow or Andrea Dovizioso gets the second seat at Yamaha - or whether Yamaha chooses to draft in a young rider from Moto2, to learn alongside Jorge Lorenzo. If Rossi goes to Yamaha, Crutchlow and Dovizioso will vy for the second seat at Ducati, alongside Nicky Hayden. With Ducati set to run a junior team in MotoGP in 2013 - though which team will run it, is yet to be determined - the chances of a young rider taking a seat in the factory team look fairly slim. Instead, the junior team will consist of prospects such as Danilo Petrucci, Andrea Iannone or Scott Redding, all of whom are set to test a Ducati at Mugello next week.
The uncertainty over the future of Valentino Rossi - and many others in MotoGP - is nearly at an end. Another week or so, and the waiting is over.
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When asked by reporters if it was true that he had been offered 17 million euros to stay with Ducati last year, he denied it. "This is important to say, this is completely not true. My offer for next year is less money than the offer for the past two years. I think this is right, because the economic situation of the world is difficult, and I arrive from a bad season with worse results. So it's normal that I take less money than this year." He also weighed up the different options, saying that he has to consider the chance of winning again quickly with the greater and more interesting challenge of winning with the Ducati is greater, but it would take more time. Winning with three different brands was something special, he told reporters. He had to decide between these two options, he said, rejecting the third option, a factory bike in a satellite team with Honda.