What happened when Valentino Rossi crashed? How serious is his injury? When will he be back? Who will replace Rossi, if he doesn't return at Aragon? And what does Yamaha think of Rossi's training methods? Yamaha boss Lin Jarvis spoke to a small group of journalists at Misano on Saturday morning, to answer these questions and much more.
Jarvis knew about the accident very shortly after it had happened. "I knew before he got to the hospital," Jarvis told us. "Albi [Tebaldi] called Maio Meregalli as soon as he got the news that Vale was on the way to the hospital. Maio called me straight away."
The good news was that Rossi's injury was not as bad as the last time he broke his leg, at Mugello in 2010. "It's much less serious," Jarvis told us, "but probably just as irritating. Irritating because it effectively means his championship chances are over. So whilst the injury is less serious, the consequences are equally as serious. Especially now being still very much in the game, being on form, having done such a great race in Silverstone, coming to his home Grand Prix where we tested so well. It's like a worst possible scenario in terms of timing. It's a great shame."
Return at Aragon?
Rossi had said in TV interviews that he was aiming to at least try to ride in Aragon if at all possible, but Jarvis was still playing the situation by ear. "There is no plan at the moment, I would say." But the Yamaha boss believed that Rossi would be better to be cautious, and only return if he believed he had a chance to finish in the top five or so. Trying to ride at Aragon could be a risk, he admitted. "This is something that will be factored into the decision making."
"I would say he will only go there if he is convinced he will be able to ride and race. Not only ride. Riding around is not interesting to do. If he's not going to be up there fighting for the top five or six positions, I don’t think he will go. Can he race? Let's see. The doctors have said the recovery time should be longer than that. But sportsman are quite extreme. We've had in our team the most extreme experience with Jorge Lorenzo. So never say never."
"But I think this is a little bit different now with Valentino. He has the experience so he will know how the feeling is and when he can get back. Obviously we will do a test with him before him participating at Aragon, he would make a ride, probably on an R1. Will that happen? I don’t know. It depends on how he is feeling. It depends on the pain. The physiotherapy. Everything."
Unpredictable season affects decisions
The 2017 season has been a strange one, with so many riders suffering DNFs, that makes it more difficult to predict whether it would be worth trying to come back early. "Nobody knows what’s going to happen in any single race, as we’ve seen," Jarvis said. "Sunday it's going to be raining here, so there are going to be more variables coming into the game. Maybe Vale will still have an extra motivation to try and come back because maybe the competitors will be in difficulty, or maybe not. We have to wait and see. For sure, it’s one of the factors, but the primary factors to decide is whether he is comfortable and fit and feels he can do the job. That remains the same. The other thing is perhaps the additional motivation. There’s no pressure from our side as a team so we’ll judge according to his fitness."
The unpredictability of this year is a factor for Rossi in considering when to return, Jarvis explained, but there are fewer options to close the gap as Valencia draws nearer. "You have these four guys there fighting for the title. So last weekend it was Marc who scored zero points, which tightened up the championship again. It’s very unlikely this weekend – I mean, it’s very unlikely, but you never know, that three or four – if you include Dani as well – are going to face a zero points situation. Obviously as the championship becomes more and more progressed, the chance to gain points is less. So it is a calculation that changes and becomes more critical."
If Rossi does miss Aragon, then Yamaha stand ready to replace him. "Of course we have a plan to replace him, because we must. By contract, after withdrawing a rider within 10 days you are obliged to replace the rider. Which is a very correct rule, because the show must go on, shall we say. So we will nominate a replacement rider for Valentino at Aragon."
Jarvis made it clear that there are four candidates to replace Rossi at Aragon. "We have two test riders in Japan, which are [Katsuyuki] Nakasuga and [Kohta] Nozane, then we have two Superbike riders, Alex [Lowes] and Michael [van der Mark]. So it will be one of those four and we'll decide next week."
When we pressed Jarvis, however, things got a little more interesting. Jarvis remained the master of communication, seemingly keeping all options open. But when asked whether it would be good opportunity for the young Japanese rider Nozane to get on a MotoGP bike, Jarvis played down expectations. "I think it would be a tall order to ask Nozane to replace Valentino in Aragon. I don't think he has experience of Aragon circuit, he certainly doesn't have the multi-year experience that Nakasuga has. Nakasuga has ridden in many MotoGP races, because he is a wildcard every year, and he replaced Jorge in Valencia, he did a great job. So Nozane is one of our options, but he's definitely not the most likely guy to get the call."
That more or less ruled out Nozane, and with Sam Lowes telling us on Thursday that brother Alex would not be riding the MotoGP bike again this year – when asked, Jarvis simply said "I have no idea where Sam's information came from, so I can't really comment" – the choice looks like it will come down to Nakasuga or Van der Mark. A decision is due next week, likely on Monday afternoon.
Two bullets is better than one
Jarvis was extremely interesting on the subject of having two riders in the chase for the title rather than one. Yamaha has long had a history of having two competitive riders, rather than a clear number one and a clear number two. When asked whether it helped Viñales in the title chase with Rossi no longer able to take points off him, Jarvis dismissed the idea. "I can't see any advantage. It's better to have two bullets than one bullet. If something happens to Marc then Honda are in difficulty. Now we've seen that something has happened to Vale, imagine if Vale was our only bullet, then we would be in difficulties."
"So for us, we've never doubted having two is better than having one. If you're in the fight, and a lot of people talk about, 'yeah, but then you have your one rider, and he's stealing points from the other rider,' it's a load of rubbish. Because frankly, each rider is competing against each other, and for a manufacturer or team, it's better to have two bullets in the gun. So I don't see frankly any real serious positives."
There was one benefit to Rossi's absence for Viñales, and that was that the Spaniard now has two 2018 chassis in the garage, Jarvis told us. At Silverstone, each rider had had one 2018 bike, one 2017 bike, and had to manage swapping between them. But with Rossi out, both 2018 chassis could go to Maverick Viñales, making getting setup right that little bit easier. It also gives Yamaha more time to fabricate more frames and have enough ready for when Rossi returns.
Dirt track, yes; enduro, no
Jarvis was also able to explain Yamaha's view of training, though there was a certain amount of subtext to be parsed. Jarvis was not in the best position to criticize, however, having himself broken a leg falling off a motocross bike last year. Jarvis understood that motorcycle racers need to ride motorcycles, however. "I've always believed you can't wrap up motorcycle racers in cotton wool because it's the nature of the beast, and motorcycles per se, sooner or later you will fall off. It's just the way that it is. So what do you do? They can't test riding a MotoGP bike. They can't test on regular race tracks really. So they have to use alternative training methods and the common denominator these days is most of them ride the dirt."
Jarvis was positive about the usefulness of riding dirt track and Valentino Rossi using his ranch, but he was ambivalent about enduro. "I think that riding on the ranch is different than riding enduro and I think motocross is different again. Riding on a circuit anyway is more predictable, riding enduro there is always the unpredictable moment. The element of surprise. Because if you ride enduro, you do huge distance and you probably only do each part once in a day. You never know what you are going to find."
"So I don't think enduro is the best training, personally, for riding MotoGP. But that said, they test at Misano, they do minibikes, they do the ranch, many different disciplines including motocross. It's the way it is. I wish he hadn't ridden enduro last Thursday! But he's done it several times this season, he's done it many, many times in the past. So what can you say." We were left with the distinct impression that at some point, there will be a conversation between Rossi and Yamaha over the benefits of riding enduro, and whether the risks outweigh anything Rossi might learn.
Asked whether Rossi would stop riding enduro in the future, Jarvis remained vague. "Do I really know tangible facts from a tangible discussion? No. Obviously I visited him in hospital last week on Friday and I asked him, ‘Why? Why? Why?’ And he said, ‘This can happen.’ And that’s the reality. Obviously this year he’s had two incidents prior to GPs – one before Mugello and one before Misano. At Mugello it was a much more serious crash. It was a high speed crash landing from a big jump in motocross, where he hurt himself really badly."
"This crash was a relatively simple, small enduro crash. But the problem is very often – and anyone that rides enduro will know – that many times a crash in enduro is at 0 km/h but you’re in a situation where you put your leg out and you crash, or you break a collarbone or break your wrist or break your knee. So it’s difficult to say. Clearly his main training is at the ranch and his main training is at Misano. So far he hasn’t really injured himself in either discipline there, even though you do fall at the ranch. I’m sure he’s slid off on numerous occasions but it’s a relatively predictable and known environment."
Banning riders from doing things was not something Yamaha liked to do. There was a list of approved activities, Jarvis implied, but if a rider requested to do something, there was very little which they would block. "They must ask permission if they want to do things which are not already predefined."
Yamaha would allow riders to participate in races, as long as they got permission first. With the notable exception of bicycle races, Jarvis revealed. "Have we stopped people doing things? Yes we have, bicycle races," the Yamaha boss said. "Because bicycle races are in my opinion more dangerous than MotoGP, because if you fall off a bicycle, you have zero protection, you have the pack, the peloton all riding together. A lot of riders do like to ride bicycles, but riding bicycles is one thing, racing bicycles is another story when you are packed up together."
From racer to athlete
Yamaha had to accept that rider training changes as the sport progresses. Athletes in all sports are following ever more specialized preparation programs, and approaching the sport ever more professionally. "I would say that the riders in general are training much more intensively than they used to in the past, there is no doubt about that," Jarvis commented. "And I think Valentino and his Academy is a sign of that, with the multiple disciplines that they do throughout the week. And as Valentino said, he will go maybe four or five times a year also to ride enduro, but every Saturday, they go to ride at the ranch, they're also often on the minibikes, and they come to Misano on the R1s and the R6s. So yeah, it's like full on, and I think in general the riders are much more trained as athletes and much more frequently on the bike than they were in the past. Which means the risks are automatically higher. The more kilometers you do the more risks you take."
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