When Valentino Rossi crashed his motocross bike while training last Thursday, he triggered a wave of speculation on just how serious his injuries were. It was clear that there was reason for concern, as the Italian had been taken straight from the motocross track at Cavallara to the emergency room at Rimini hospital. The fact that he was kept in overnight made it even more worrying.
Initial reports from local newspapers and websites validated such concerns. There were reports that Rossi had fractured one or more ribs, that he had injured his shoulder, even that he had taken a blow to the head and had picked up a concussion as a result.
That presented the Movistar Yamaha team with a serious problem. One which they have handled with considerable subtlety and expertise, it has to be said. Their first and major priority was to control the narrative around Rossi's injury, giving the media the information they wanted, while keeping their options open.
However, despite their careful information strategy, if you read between the lines, there was clearly more going on than met the eye. In all of their press releases, Yamaha were treading a fine line between being as honest as possible about Rossi's injuries, while leaving underlying questions unanswered.
Their initial press releases painted an optimistic picture of the Italian’s condition. The severity of the internal chest and stomach injuries were downplayed, with doctors reporting that the liver and kidney bruising was not as bad as feared, and that no broken bones had been identified. A photo posted on the Italian website Rimini Today showed a very chipper-looking Rossi, surrounded by nurses from the hospital. A final press release after Rossi was sent home from hospital merely rehashed the information from earlier releases.
Despite the rosy picture painted by the press releases, they cast doubt over Rossi's condition by what they didn't say. Not one of the press releases mentioned the upcoming race at Mugello. They did not mention whether Rossi expected to be fit for the race, they did not mention whether Rossi was undergoing rehab to try to be fit for the race. Yamaha had issued three press releases, and not one of the contained the word "Mugello".
This is extremely unusual. When a rider is injured while training, the press release issued by their team will invariably mention the chances of the rider being fit in time for the next race, or the time frame within which they hope to return. But in the Movistar Yamaha press releases, not a word.
The first sign of how serious Rossi's injury had been came in the team's press release previewing the Mugello race. As is common practice in such cases, Rossi will have to undergo a checkup by the circuit doctor before he is given the green light to race on Sunday. But Rossi's press release quotes were telling. "The pain in the abdomen and in the chest is still severe. Fortunately, my condition is improving day by day and this allows me to think a bit more positively about the Mugello weekend. My desire to be at the start of the Italian GP is so strong and I'm working on recovering as soon as possible. It will not be easy but I still have a few days to continue the treatment."
This was further underlined by Rossi pulling out of the press conference on Thursday, which he was scheduled to take part in. Yamaha canceled his appearance in the press conference, and Rossi will hold a press debrief instead. The difference? The pre-event press conference would take somewhere between 45 and 60 minutes of his time, whereas Rossi can be in and out of a press debrief within 15 minutes. He can use that extra time to recover, and try to be fit for Sunday.
All the evidence points to Valentino Rossi's being much more serious than either he or Yamaha were letting on. Despite a very chirpy appearance on an Italian radio station, Rossi did let slip how he injured himself, and how painful it had been. He had run off the track at Cavallara, and hit some deep soft sand, he explained, and that had catapulted him off the bike. The pain had been severe, and he had immediately gone to the hospital.
As serious as it is, the events of last Thursday don't mean Rossi's season, or even races much beyond Mugello are in danger. Bruises to internal organs such as the kidneys or the liver are common in crashes, but fortunately, they are quick to heal. They can be exquisitely painful, and make sleeping or moving tough, but they recover just like any other bruise. Within a couple of weeks, the damage is gone, the wound is healed.
It is likely that his injuries will hamper Rossi at Mugello, cutting into his practice time and leaving him less time to find a set up which will work for him. But he should be much closer to fully fit at Barcelona in ten days' time, and by the time he gets to Assen, he should be his old self again. As long as he stays off a motocross bike, that is...
Gathering the background information for long articles such as these is an expensive and time-consuming operation. If you enjoyed this article, please consider supporting MotoMatters.com. You can help by either taking out a subscription, buying the beautiful MotoMatters.com 2017 racing calendar, by making a donation, or by contributing via our GoFundMe page.