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Maverick Viñales Confirmed With Aprilia For 2022, Option For 2023

Aprilia have confirmed that Maverick Viñales will be joining the Italian factory for the 2022 MotoGP season, with an option to continue for 2023. The Spaniard will join Aleix Espargaro in the Aprilia Racing factory team once Viñales' contract with Yamaha expires at the end of the current year.

The news had been widely expected, after Viñales made a shock announcement just after the Assen round that he would be leaving Yamaha at the end of 2021, halfway through his two-year contract. Rumors linking Viñales to Aprilia emerged during the Assen round, as rumors of the split with Yamaha leaked that weekend.

The deal had been a long time in the making, however. The announcement had been expected in the week ahead of the first race at the Red Bull Ring over a week ago. The news that Yamaha had suspended Viñales for the second Austria round after he had intentionally over-revved his Yamaha M1 during the Styria race cast further doubt on the deal. But that has not proved to be an obstacle.

Aprilia is hoping that Maverick Viñales is the last piece of the puzzle for the Noale factory. Having a proven top rider alongside Aleix Espargaro is what they wanted to help the Aprilia RS-GP make the next step to becoming a podium-worthy motorcycle.

They have had a difficult run with second riders, of their own making, for the most part. Sam Lowes and Scott Redding were given a single year to prove themselves, and never appeared to enjoy the support of the management which Espargaro seemed to have. Andrea Iannone got off to a rocky start with Aprilia, and never made the impact that the factory hoped, only to be suspended for a doping infractoin at the end of his first year.

Whether Maverick Viñales will fare any better is the big unknown. The Spaniard is unquestionably talented, but has not proved easy to work with, going through three crew chiefs in his five season with Yamaha. In the right environment, Viñales can thrive. Aprilia will have to work to create that environment.

The press release appears below:


MAVERICK VIÑALES TO RACE WITH APRILIA IN 2022

ON THE OCCASION OF ITS RETURN TO MOTOGP AS A FACTORY TEAM, APRILIA WELCOMES A GREAT CHAMPION TO JOIN ALEIX ESPARGARÓ: WELCOME MAVERICK!

It is with great pleasure that Aprilia welcomes Maverick Viñales to the Aprilia Racing factory team.

This completes the official team for the 2022 MotoGP season, with Maverick coming alongside Aleix Espargaró astride the RS-GP. The Spanish rider has signed an annual contract with an option for renewal.

The signing of Viñales is another step in the Italian team's growth and development strategy, which comes just in the year of the transition to a factory team. Two events that testify to Aprilia's desire to continue to grow in the top category of world motorcycling.

Born in 1995, Maverick Viñales made his début in World Championship GP Motorcycle Racing in 2011 astride an Aprilia in the 125 category, taking 4 wins and 5 podiums, making him the best rookie of the season and finishing third overall. After another high-level season, he won the Moto3 World Title in 2013 before moving up to Moto2 the next season. Thanks to the potential demonstrated in the intermediate class, he earned a seat in MotoGP from the 2015 season with Suzuki and on Yamaha from 2017.

In the premier class Viñales has taken 9 wins, 13 pole positions and 28 podium finishes, in addition to two overall third places as his best final placement in the rider standings.

MASSIMO RIVOLA - APRILIA RACING CEO

"We are extremely happy to announce that we have signed Maverick Viñales, a very high-level rider and one of the purest talents in the premier category. Our project has now been enriched with the value that Maverick brings - a World Champion who has confirmed his talent as a top rider in MotoGP - at a time of great change, after bringing a completely revamped bike to the track and having consistently established ourselves in the group of protagonists, we are also facing a switch in status as a Factory Team now, in order to take Aprilia to success. We are honoured to be able to make all of our best skills available to Viñales along with our enthusiasm and our passion. I am confident that, like Aleix, he will embrace this extremely high-potential project. The arrival of Maverick in no way distances Lorenzo Savadori from the team, as he will remain an integral part of the Aprilia Racing family."

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Official: Petronas Ends Sponsorship Of SRT Team, New Structure To Be Created

Petronas are to end their sponsorship of the Sepang Racing Team at the end of 2021. The news had been reported for a couple of days, but this morning, an official press release came from the Sepang International Circuit announcing the news officially.

Petronas had been title sponsor to the team since 2018, when they only had teams in the Moto2 and Moto3 classes. The next year, they increased the  budget to allow them to expand into MotoGP. Three seasons later, they are pulling out of sponsorship once again.

The consequences of this have yet to be announced. The team is set to make an official announcement at Silverstone, in two weeks time. But the team is expected to be reducing their presence in the MotoGP paddock to just the MotoGP team, closing their Moto2 and Moto3 teams.

Alongside big news about Petronas ending their sponsorship, the press release contains a statement which could turn out to be almost as significant. "The team is expected to make an announcement regarding its continuation in MotoGP™ from 2022 onwards under a new independent entity," the press release reads. Just what this entails is not entirely clear, but it would seem to suggest that the team will be severing its ties with the circuit.

The team was first launched back in 2014, as the AirAsia Caterham team, run by Johan Stigefelt with backing from Malaysian budget airline AirAsia, fielding riders Johann Zarco and Josh Herrin. The team was then bought out by the Sepang International Circuit ahead of the 2015 season, where they diversified into the Moto2 and Moto3 classes, with the objective of bringing Malaysian riders into the class.

That objective has been hard to realize. After a string of Malaysian riders, including Hafizh Syahrin and Zulfahmi Khairuddin, this year, they have no Malaysian riders at all, preferring to challenge for wins and championships in all three classes. That seemed like a solid strategy, given the results of the 2020 season, but it has not played out that way. A switch back to supporting Malaysians is difficult, with so few obvious talents on the horizon.

The situation has been compounded by the difficult financial straits that Sepang, like all major race tracks, find themselves in. The global pandemic has caused large-scale public events to be closed down, devastating the incomes of race tracks and other sporting arenas. If the SRT team is not developing Malaysian talent, and the circuit is in financial difficulties, it makes little sense to retain the racing team.

We will have to wait until Silverstone to get full details of what the future will look like for the team.

The press release from Sepang International Circuit appears below:


NON-RENEWAL OF TITLE PARTNERSHIP BETWEEN SEPANG INTERNATIONAL CIRCUIT AND PETRONAS

14 August 2021 - Sepang International Circuit Sdn Bhd (SIC) and PETRONAS wish to announce today that both parties have mutually agreed to end their partnership in relation to the Title Partnership of the PETRONAS Sepang Racing Team. The partnership will end at the conclusion of the 2021 MotoGP™ season.

PETRONAS has been the Title Partner to SIC since 2018, through the PETRONAS Sprinta Racing in Moto2™ and Moto3™. The project was expanded to MotoGP™ in 2019 via PETRONAS Yamaha Sepang Racing Team.

Further to this development, the team is expected to make an announcement regarding its continuation in MotoGP™ from 2022 onwards under a new independent entity.

Chief Executive Officer of SIC, Azhan Shafriman Hanif said, “SIC wishes to thank PETRONAS for the unwavering support during the partnership and a remarkable journey together. We respect PETRONAS’ decision, and mutually agreed that this partnership has accomplished its purpose and objectives. We have enjoyed a meaningful partnership, with great achievements and memorable moments with the team. I believe this is not the end of our collaboration in motorsports as we continue our quest in nurturing Malaysia’s motorsports talents.”

“SIC is proud to have been involved in the formation and early development of the team that had surpassed expectations in its performance. We wish the team all the best in the next phase of its evolution under a new entity.”

PETRONAS’ Head of Strategic Communications, Datin Anita Azrina Abdul Aziz said, “We entered into this partnership with SIC to showcase our R&D capabilities, and we are proud that PETRONAS Fluid Technology Solutions have been instrumental towards establishing the team's status as a championship contender. Together, we have created some standout moments in the sport, serving as an indication that we have achieved what we set out to do and we feel it is the right time for us to conclude the partnership. On behalf of PETRONAS, we would like to express our gratitude to SIC for their commitment towards ensuring the success of the partnership.”

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Yamaha Suspends Maverick Viñales For Austrian GP For "Irregular Operation" - But What Exactly Did He Do?

Yamaha has suspended Maverick Viñales from participating in this weekend's Austrian Grand Prix at the Red Bull Ring. In a press release issued today, the Monster Energy Yamaha said Viñales had been suspended for "the unexplained irregular operation of the motorcycle by the rider during last weekend's Styria MotoGP race".

According to Yamaha, this behavior was visible in the data logged by the Yamaha M1, and that data forced Yamaha to draw the conclusion that "the rider‘s actions could have potentially caused significant damage to the engine of his YZR-M1 bike which could have caused serious risks to the rider himself and possibly posed a danger to all other riders in the MotoGP race".

Though Yamaha would not expand on this statement when asked, the behavior they are referring to is clear from reports by people at the track, and is visible in the lap times. Photographers present in that part of the circuit say that for the last four laps or so, they heard Viñales leaving the bike in fifth gear at the end of the straight, and only changing up into sixth just before Turn 1.

This explanation of events is clear from the lap chart. Below are the lap times from the analysis PDF on the MotoGP.com results web page, with the last four laps highlighted. You can see that especially in Sectors 1 and 2 – containing the end of the front straight, the climb up the hill to Turn 3, and the sections between Turns 3 and 4 – Viñales is on average nearly 2 seconds down than on his laps at a more 'normal' pace.

You can also see that his top speed – measured just before Turn 2 up the hill – is nearly 30 km/h down, a consequence, most likely, of either poor drive out of Turn 1 or holding the bike in fifth rather than changing up into sixth. From his times, it looks like Viñales was holding the bike in lower gears for much longer than necessary on just about every straight on the track.

Lap # Time T1 T2 T3 T4 Top speed
18 1'25.137 17.382 26.725 24.283 16.747 307.6
19 1'27.281 17.902 27.282 25.108 16.989 304.2
20 1'25.613 17.514 26.942 24.413 16.744 305.9
21 1'25.926 17.500 26.940 24.482 17.004 305.0
22 1'25.933 17.544 27.025 24.472 16.892 305.9
23 1'25.974 17.478 27.021 24.293 17.182 305.9
24 1'30.320 17.936 28.533 25.768 18.083 301.6
25 1'31.830 19.145 29.562 25.718 17.405 274.1
26 1'30.654 18.711 29.420 25.189 17.334 287.2
27 1'37.361 18.359 29.044 27.190 22.768 287.2

Why would a MotoGP rider deliberately mistreat their engine? The relationship between Viñales and Yamaha has been souring for a long time. The Spaniard has repeatedly expressed his frustration with the bike and with the team. Yamaha tried to fix the problems Viñales was having by changing crew chiefs, bringing in Silvano Galbusera instead of Esteban Garcia, but that was only a temporary fix.

After a dramatic result at the Sachsenring, where Viñales finished last, a week later, at Assen, the Spaniard announced he would be leaving Yamaha at the end of 2021, getting out of his contract a year early. Ironically, the announcement came on Sunday, after Viñales had just finished second behind his teammate.

On Sunday after the Styrian round of MotoGP at the Red Bull Ring, Viñales was once again frustrated. The Spaniard had gotten off to a good start in the first race, but he stalled his bike on the grid when the warm up lap commenced before the restarted race. He then pushed his bike into pit lane, had to start from pit lane exit, and complained of strange bike behavior and and electronics problems all race, including erroneous messages on his dashboard.

"Basically, I had a few problems on the bike," Viñales had told us after the race. "I don't know why, but nearly all the laps I had "pit lane" [on the dashboard], like going in. And I didn't understand anything. And my dashboard was saying, "pit lane", "pit lane", so I didn't start. And I don't know why, but the anti-wheelie was working badly, and I just went. Also I was out of the points, and I just saw "pit lane", "pit lane". So maybe I thought I had a failure or something, and I went in."

Viñales also complained of electronics issues on the bike, a repeat of problems during qualifying. "Honestly speaking, for me, in the second race, the same thing happened as in the qualifying. I don't know why, but when I opened the gas, the bike was making failing, like 'boh-boh-boh-boh', so I don't know why. So I thought I had some kind of problem, but I kept running and running and running and it was OK, but in the last laps, I don't know why, it kept doing it more."

It is possible that Viñales' frustration had grown so great that he took it out on the Yamaha M1. Requests to Yamaha for confirmation of the dashboard messages reported by Viñales were refused, a spokesperson saying they were studying the data and had nothing to add to the statement they had issued.

This is not the first time Viñales has found himself in difficulties with a team. During his 2012 Moto3 campaign, Viñales decided to quit the Blusens Avintia team at Sepang, citing a lack of support and a lack of professionalism. Meetings with lawyers back at home saw him return to racing the next round at Phillip Island, and switching to the Team Calvo squad aboard a KTM, and going on to win the 2013 Moto3 title.

It is deeply unusual for a rider to be suspended by their team. It has only happened a handful of times – Romano Fenati after the Misano incident with Stefano Manzi in 2018, John Hopkins in Misano in 2008 – and it usually takes something extreme for it to happen. This particular incident looks to be the most serious split of the lot.

The Yamaha statement says that Viñales will not be replaced at the Red Bull Ring this weekend – his crew are already on their way home – and that "decisions regarding the future races will be taken after a more detailed analysis of the situation and further discussions between Yamaha and the rider". It seems unlikely that Viñales will be back in the Yamaha garage for the remainder of the season.

Who Yamaha find to replace him with is open to question. The most likely scenario, if Viñales does not return, is for Yamaha to bring in a rider from WorldSBK – most likely Garrett Gerloff – for the race at Silverstone, then swap test rider Cal Crutchlow into the factory team for the remainder of 2021. That is not a decision we will see this weekend, however.

What this means for Maverick Viñales' future is also open to question. It was widely expected that Aprilia would be announcing they have hired Viñales to race alongside Aleix Espargaro in 2022. How Aprilia feels about Viñales, and whether this situation has jeopardized that deal, should become apparent quite quickly.

The press release from Yamaha appears below:


MONSTER ENERGY YAMAHA MOTOGP STATEMENT
Spielberg (Austria), 12th August 2021

Yamaha regrets to announce that Maverick Viñales‘ entry to this weekend‘s Austrian MotoGP event has been withdrawn by the Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP team.

The absence follows the suspension of the rider by Yamaha due to the unexplained irregular operation of the motorcycle by the rider during last weekend‘s Styria MotoGP race.

Yamaha‘s decision follows an in-depth analysis of telemetry and data over the last days.

Yamaha‘s conclusion is that the rider‘s actions could have potentially caused significant damage to the engine of his YZR-M1 bike which could have caused serious risks to the rider himself and possibly posed a danger to all other riders in the MotoGP race.

The rider will not be replaced at the Austrian GP.

Decisions regarding the future races will be taken after a more detailed analysis of the situation and further discussions between Yamaha and the rider.


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Raul Fernandez Confirmed To Join Tech3 KTM In MotoGP For 2022

KTM has officially confirmed that Raul Fernandez will be moving up to MotoGP in 2022, racing for the Tech3 KTM team. The Spaniard has been rewarded for a sensational rookie campaign in Moto2 with a promotion to MotoGP.

That Fernandez would move up to MotoGP was an open secret. The only question was the timing of the announcement. But KTM had to fight to keep the Spaniard, after Yamaha had attempted to poach him for the Petronas team.

With Fernandez joining current Moto2 Ajo teammate Remy Gardner in Tech3, the current line up of Danilo Petrucci and Iker Lecuona are set to lose their places in MotoGP. Lecuona has been linked to a move back to Moto2, while Petrucci is widely tipped to move to the WorldSBK series, where he could make a return to Ducati.

Fernandez' signing,  confirmation this morning that Franco Morbidelli will be moving up to the factory Yamaha team, and Maverick Viñales widely tipped to go to Aprilia means there are three seats still left open in MotoGP for 2022. There are two seats vacant at Petronas Yamaha, though one of them could be occupied by Marco Bezzecchi, and one seat at the new VR46 team alongside Luca Marini.

The official press release appears below:


Raul Fernandez completes 2022 MotoGP™ Tech3 KTM Factory Racing roster

2021 MotoGP news

The current Red Bull KTM Ajo Moto2™ star makes the final step of the KTM GP Academy trajectory to join present teammate Remy Gardner on the Tech3 KTM Factory Racing RC16 next season.

Two wins and four podiums in two seasons of Moto3™ and three victories with a total of six trophies to-date in Moto2: 20-year-old Raul Fernandez will continue his climb to the peak of MotoGP with aTech3 KTM Factory Racing saddle next year.

The Spaniard, along with Australian Remy Gardner, has been the dominant force as part of Aki Ajo’s Red Bull KTM Ajo team in Moto2 after graduating from the KTM RC4 in Moto3 during 2020. He sits 2nd behind Gardner in the championship at the mid-point of the campaign and on the eve of race day at the Michelin Grand Prix of Styria. Fernandez’ adaptation to the demands of Moto2 and his continuing fast development as a professional GP rider has helped KTM race management take the decision to elevate #25 to the premier class.

KTM’s MotoGP wing for 2022 is set as Red Bull KTM Factory Racing will field Brad Binder and Miguel Oliveira, and Tech3 KTM Factory Racing will work with the rookie Raul Fernandez and Remy Gardner.

Raul Fernandez: “Honestly, I’m really pleased with this opportunity from KTM, as much for this year as for the next. I’ve been learning a lot and enjoying Moto2 and was able to get into a position where I have this chance to enter MotoGP and for which I’m very grateful: it’s the dream of any rider to arrive to this class. Right now, the most important thing is to keep focusing on this season and giving all I have up until the last race to try and fight for the championship. If it doesn’t work out then fine, everything happens for a reason, and you have to look towards the positives. I’ve been a rookie this year and I want to close the chapter and then start again for 2022 where I’ll be looking to find a good feeling on the bike and, above all, aiming to enjoy myself.”

Pit Beirer, KTM Motorsport Director: “I’m happy to announce that Raul will move into the MotoGP class with us, and this further proves that our KTM GP Academy project is working from the Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup all the way to MotoGP. We all know that Raul is an outstanding talent. His jump from Moto3 to Moto2 had some question marks but he showed repeatedly that he is an excellent rider on the bigger bike, which was our original thought and hope because he was quite tall for Moto3. Going to MotoGP so quickly wasn’t part of the initial plan but he has demonstrated that he has the potential. The Moto2 line-up at the moment with Remy is like a dream team, so to move both of them to the premier class makes it very strong and means we now have riders for MotoGP that have come through our system. We had – and still have - a similar ‘dream team’ with Brad and Miguel and now we can repeat the same story with another Moto2 line-up. If you know the guys, their background and how they work and how they feel in the KTM surroundings then it makes the whole effort stronger.”

Hervé Poncharal, Tech3 KTM Factory Racing Team Principal: “We are delighted, proud and excited to welcome Raul Fernandez next to Remy Gardner. I think it’s going to be a very exciting 2022 season with the two of the brightest talents of the Moto2 category moving to the premier class. Even though it will be their rookie season, I’m quite sure they will quickly learn and after a few races show their potential in the MotoGP as well. Raul has had an unbelievable first part of his rookie Moto2 season, something that has not been achieved in a long time. Although we are very pleased with this announcement we know we still have half a season to go with our current riders, Danilo Petrucci and Iker Lecuona, which I want to thank for their dedication and their never-ending constructive attitude, and, we clearly wish them well and best of luck for the future.”

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Franco Morbidelli To Move Up To The Monster Energy Yamaha Team For 2022

Franco Morbidelli is to race for the Monster Energy Yamaha team next year. Speaking to MotoMatters.com, Yamaha Motor Racing Managing Director Lin Jarvis confirmed that the Italian is to move up to the factory team for the 2022 season, once the details of the contract have been sorted out.

Jarvis was speaking to us as part of a much larger interview to be published after the Austrian round of MotoGP. Morbidelli's move to the factory team is a result of a situation which was hard to imagine at the start of the 2021 season. Back in January, Yamaha looked to have one of the strongest rider line ups in MotoGP.

"It's a kind of a unique situation," Jarvis said. "If you look at how we started this season, we had Quartararo, Viñales on two-year contracts, we had Valentino on a one-year contract with an option for the future, and Morbidelli on a two-year contract. Now that's a pretty strong package. You've got three young, very, very talented riders – Franco was second in the championship last year, Fabio's talent is known, and Maverick is one of the fastest guys out there, plus Valentino. So you can't really say that we didn't have a strong rider package."

One expected, one unexpected

The season took a different turn, however. The retirement of Valentino Rossi had been planned for, the Italian having said from the start of the year that he would make a decision based on his results. "Valentino's results have been disappointing this year, for him and for us, and so finally, that is the conclusion," Jarvis acknowledged. "These young guys are so damned fast, and if the blade is not 100% sharp, then it doesn't cut it any more, literally."

The loss of Maverick Viñales was very different. It was a situation which developed quickly, and could not have been planned for at the start of 2021. "The fact that Valentino might retire at the end of the year was a known factor and risk, OK. But then Viñales suddenly decided to stop, left us a little bit exposed, looking at it now," Jarvis said.

"But we're not panicking about it. We are going to move Morbidelli to the factory team, so the factory team is going to be strong next year," Jarvis told us. Though the paperwork was still to be finalized, the decision had already been made.

Looking to the future

That left two seats in the Petronas team to fill. "We're going to work together with the Petronas team to put together the best package that fits our future needs and their needs as well, with their sponsorship and their partners," Jarvis said. "But it's not simple, because most of the good guys are already signed up to contracts."

It was a relatively short-term problem, however, with the rider market expected to open up when the current cycle of two-year contracts ends. "The next window of opportunity will come for 2023/2024, when many of the top riders will come available again. So I'm not really worried about it," Jarvis said.

Yamaha's position is very different to that of KTM, who have a full development path all the way from the Spanish championship. But it was not an approach Yamaha would take, Jarvis explained. "I fully respect KTM's situation, they have a very strong program, they've done a good job. They have the Red Bull Rookies Cup first, they have a Moto3 bike, so they get access to the young talent, they sign up the riders when they are very, very young, and they put them on all-inclusive contracts. They can move them up to Moto3, Moto2, and eventually up into MotoGP. So they have a very full program that we don't have. And also, I would say Suzuki is in the same situation as us, so is Aprilia, so are Ducati. So we're not alone."

Yamaha's talent pool

Not having Moto3 and Moto2 teams of their own did not mean Yamaha does not have access to young talent, however. "It means that we have to go about it in a different way," Jarvis said. "But we have certain systems in place. We work together with the VR46 Academy to look at their talent. And obviously with the Petronas team, having a Moto3 and a Moto2 program, that's part of the future plan."

Jarvis also confirmed that they are very close to signing a deal with Petronas, to continue supplying them with MotoGP machinery beyond 2021 and into the future. "We will sign with [Petronas] once we get all of our paperwork sorted out, we will sign with them for another three-year term," Jarvis said. "And we'll work together with them even more in the future, to try to pick up and spot young talent as it comes through the ranks."

While Jarvis was confident that Yamaha have their own systems in place to develop talent, he expressed admiration for KTM for the program the Austrian factory has put together. "But on the other side, chapeau to KTM for having such a strong package." Jarvis even joked about the abundance of talented riders KTM currently appear to have. "I've offered to take some of their excess talent off them if they find it's too much of a burden, but so far they haven't accepted," he laughed.


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Valentino Rossi To Retire At The End Of The 2021 MotoGP Season

Valentino Rossi has announced that he is to retire from MotoGP racing at the end of the 2021 season. The legendary Italian has decided to call it a day after 26 seasons in Grand Prix racing, as results were becoming more difficult to come by.

Rossi leaves with an incredible record. The Italian has 423 Grand Prix starts across all three classes, 115 Grand Prix victories, 199 premier class podiums, and 89 premier class wins. He has nine world championships, and seven premier class titles, having won on 500cc two strokes, 990cc four strokes, and 800cc four strokes. He also came within 5 points of winning the 1000cc four-stroke format as well.

But those results have not been coming of late, and that has been the reason for him to choose retirement. "I decide to stop at the end of the season. Unfortunately this will be my last half season as MotoGP rider," the Italian told a special press conference.

There was a mixture of happiness and sadness, he said. "It’s difficult. It’s a very sad moment. It was a long, long journey, really funny. It’s been 25, 26 years in the world championship. I had a very long career. Fortunately, I won a lot of races. But have some moments, victories that are there in the video that are unforgettable and was a pure joy."

Results are what count

Declining results, and the knowledge that he was approaching the end of his career, were the deciding factor. "At the beginning I decided in the summer break," he said. "I want to continue when I start the championship. but I needed to understand if I was fast enough. During the season our results were less than what I expect. Race by race I start to think."

That was what swung it for him. "At the end in all sports the results make the difference," Rossi told the press conference. "At the end it’s the right way. It was difficult because I had the chance to race for my team in MotoGP together with my brother. It’s something I’d like."

He decided against racing in his own team because he was not sure he had more than one more year. "It’s a good project if you have two or three years," Rossi said. "But if you think you have just one season, it's maybe more risk than good things."

That decision had come easier than when he first started to consider whether he wanted to continue or not several years ago. "Sincerely two years ago and last year I was not ready to stop with MotoGP. I have to understand to try everything," He had done that, and arrived at his decision. "Now I am OK. I am calm. I’m not happy for sure." But continuing on for another year would have made no difference, he said. "Anyway, if I make another year, next year I’d be not happy in the same moment, because I want to race for the next 20."

No regrets

He had no regrets about the decisions he had made throughout his career. "Sincerely I don’t have. Racing with Ducati was very difficult because we don’t win. But it was a great challenge. If we were able to win it would be historic." His only regret was never managing to clinch that tenth Grand Prix title. "A little bit sad to not win the tenth championship, especially because I think I deserve it for my level and speed," he said.

Rossi's greatest achievement has been to expand the popularity of the sport beyond the narrow confines of motorcycle racing fans. Fans around the world came to know and love MotoGP thanks to Rossi, an athlete of the stature of Michael Jordan, Muhammad Ali, or Tiger Woods.

Though he rejected any comparison with greats such as Jordan, he was aware of, and grateful for, the fact that he had brought in so many new fans, and brought them so much joy. I was able to bring a lot of people close to motorcycle racing. Without me they wouldn’t know about 125s, 250s, or 500s," Rossi said. "I did something in my early career that switched on the emotion of many people. I’m proud of this. It’s really special."

Bigger than the sport

That was his greatest achievement, Rossi believed. "A lot of people followed motorcycles because of me. This is most important thing I did in my career. I entertained a lot of people on Sunday afternoon and a lot of people enjoyed. One or two hours during the Sunday when they don’t think about anything, just enjoy my races."

After the press conference finished, as Rossi went around the room, he spoke briefly to Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta, thanking him for running the series, saying he had enjoyed himself. Ezpeleta, in turn, thanks Rossi, for all he has done for the sport. There is no doubt that MotoGP would not be the same if Valentino Rossi had not existed.

A potted history of Valentino Rossi's racing career.

Though Valentino Rossi was the son of a motorcycle racer, father Graziano having in Grand Prix between 1977 and 1982, he ended up racing motorcycles almost by accident. Though he had grown up riding bikes, racing minicross and minibikes, but at one point he started racing karts due to the rules on circuit racing. But at 13, the expense of kart racing forced him to switch to motorcycles, a decision from which he would never look back.

From racing Sport Production, a class for 125cc bikes in Italy, he went to racing in the Italian and European 125cc championships. He entered the Grand Prix paddock in 1996, and made an impact very quickly. He took his first podium at the Red Bull Ring, finishing third behind Ivan Goi and Dirk Raudies. His first victory came a race later, at Brno.

Winning became a habit. He won the 125cc title in 1997, collecting 11 wins from 15 races, then moved up to 250s with Aprilia in 1998. He finished second in that year, winning the title the next, and moving up to the 500cc class in 2000, inheriting most of Mick Doohan's crew, who had just retired from racing after an injury at Jerez.

After a year in the Nastro Azzurro team on his own, finishing second in the championship, he was moved into the Repsol Honda team in 2001, where he went on to win the first of a string of titles. He racked up five Grand Prix titles between 2001 and 2005, first on a 500cc two stroke, then on a 990cc Honda RC211V, before making an audacious switch to Yamaha, at that time a relatively uncompetitive bike, and winning both his first race on the bike, at Welkom in 2004, and the 2004 and 2005 title.

There were rumors of a switch to F1 at the end of the 2005 season, and he faced an uphill battle for the title in 2006, eventually losing out to Nicky Hayden. When the formula changed again, to 800cc four strokes, Rossi lost another title to Casey Stoner on the Bridgestone-shod Ducati Desmosedici GP7. Rossi engineered a switch to Bridgestones for the 2008 season, and after an epic battle at Laguna Seca, in which he turned the momentum of the season, he won the MotoGP title in that year as well, following it up with another in 2009.

2010 proved to be a disastrous year for Rossi. He started off with a serious injury after the first race in Qatar, in a training crash in an abandoned quarry. Though he continued to race, another massive crash at Mugello during practice on Saturday morning saw him break his leg, and forced to miss the first race of his career. That injury would cost him the 2010 title, Yamaha teammate Jorge Lorenzo taking his first crown.

At the same time, Rossi had been tempted by Ducati to take the seat vacated by Casey Stoner, who was off to the Repsol Honda team for 2011. That turned into two disastrous seasons, when the bike proved to be much more difficult to ride than he had expected it to be from the outside.

Rossi returned to Yamaha for the 2013 season, riding for no salary from Yamaha. Though he took a podium in his first race back at Qatar, and his first win after a two-year drought at Assen, it was a relatively modest return, Rossi finishing fourth in the championship.

The next season went much better, Rossi finishing second to Marc Marquez, winning two races and finishing on the podium 13 times. That led to the controversial and legendary 2015 season, when he found himself engaged in a year-long battle with teammate Jorge Lorenzo. It culminated in a vicious dogfight with Marc Marquez at Sepang, after Rossi had accused the Repsol Honda rider of trying to help his teammate Lorenzo to win the title. Rossi and Marquez collided, and Rossi was handed a penalty for the final race of the season, forced to start from the back of the grid at Valencia. Rossi finished that race in fourth, while Lorenzo took victory in the race and the 2015 MotoGP title, Rossi ending the season in second, amid acrimonious accusations of malfeasance, none of which were verifiable.

Rossi finished second again in 2016, but that proved to be the final time he would be competitive. He won his last race in 2017, at Assen, and had his last podium last year, at Jerez. This year, Rossi has struggled to be competitive. For a rider so used to winning – he has amassed 115 victories, second only to Giacomo Agostini – the enjoyment in racing was gone.

Rossi's career and his impact on the sport is too vast to be encapsulated in a few lines thrown together on a Thursday. We will have a retrospective on his career, and attempt to put it in context at the end of the year, after he finishes racing. Valentino Rossi was the most significant motorcycle racer of all time. He deserves a considered reflection.


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Valentino Rossi To Announce His Future At Styrian GP

Dorna and the Petronas Yamaha team have announced that there is to be an exceptional press conference at 16:15 local time in Austria. While no further information was given, the obvious conclusion is that he will announce his plans for the future at that press conference.

What that future is predictable, though not certain. It is most likely that Rossi will announce he will be retiring from the sport at the end of this year. He insisted earlier this year that he would make a decision in the first half of the season based on his results, and with only two tenth places as his best results, that would point heavily toward the idea of him retiring.

Much less likely is that he will announce he is to continue in his own VR46 team, sponsored by Saudi enterprise Tanal Entertainment. That would mean a switch of machinery, the VR46 team set to run Ducatis from 2022, and switching bikes at this stage of his career would be exceptionally challenging. It is not something to be undertaken if your aim is to immediately improve your results, as it takes time to adapt.

All this is speculation, of course. We will find out for certain what Valentino Rossi is going to do at 4:15pm local time in Spielberg. The press conference will be streamed live and for free on the MotoGP.com website.

 

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Cal Crutchlow Confirmed As Replacement For Franco Morbidelli For Three Races

The first race after the summer break will see retired racers returning to the MotoGP grid. After Dani Pedrosa was confirmed as a wildcard at the Styria GP at Spielberg, Cal Crutchlow has now officially been confirmed as replacing Franco Morbidelli at both races in Austria and at his home Grand Prix at Silverstone. Today, the Petronas Yamaha SRT team issued a press release announcing Crutchlow for the next three races. Morbidelli is absent after having surgery on his left knee to fix an issue with his ACL.

Racing at Austria will not be easy for Crutchlow, MotoGP veteran and now official Yamaha tester. The 2019 Yamaha M1 is the slowest bike on the grid by some margin, an important factor at the Spielberg circuit. It will be a good base to get up to speed for his home race at Silverstone: there has been at least one Yamaha on the podium at the Northamptonshire circuit at every race held at the track since its return to the Grand Prix calendar in 2010.

The fact that Crutchlow is to replace Franco Morbidelli for the next three rounds points to the Italian prioritizing his recovery from ACL surgery over the 2021 MotoGP season. This could be read as a clear indication that Morbidelli is in line to move up to the factory Yamaha team in 2022, taking the place of the departing Maverick Viñales. Morbidelli is clearly the best option for the seat, having proved his worth by finishing second in the championship in 2020.

What will become of Viñales is less clear, with no word of where the Spaniard might land for 2022. Similarly, the search for a replacement (or two) at Petronas is also far from settled.

The Petronas Yamaha press release appears below:


Crutchlow to join PETRONAS Yamaha Sepang Racing Team for next three races

Cal Crutchlow will stand-in for the recovering Franco Morbidelli at Styrian, Austrian and British GPs

PETRONAS Yamaha Sepang Racing Team welcomes Cal Crutchlow to the Malaysian squad as stand-in for Franco Morbidelli while the Italian rider continues his recovery from left knee surgery.

Crutchlow will take part in the two Grands Prix in Austria, held at Spielberg, and the BritishGP at Silverstone – his home race.

Crutchlow is no stranger to Yamaha MotoGP machinery, having started his premier class career with the Japanese marque in 2011 – spending three seasons aboard the Yamaha – and is now the official factory test and development rider.

Razlan Razali, Team Principal, PETRONAS Yamaha Sepang Racing Team

After looking at all the options, it was a collective decision between Yamaha and ourselves to ask Cal Crutchlow to fill in for Franco, while he recovers from surgery. Cal is a credible and experienced rider, who is currently a test rider for Yamaha. As an independent team, this is where we can really step up to help Yamaha. Cal will be able to rack up some good mileage on our M1, which should aid him with his testing and development work for Yamaha. Cal will replace Franco for the next three races and we have no real targets for him in terms of results. We will do all we can to help support him and make him feel comfortable in the team. He’s already familiar with some of the key people in the team, which helps, and I’m sure he’s up for the challenge.

Cal Crutchlow, PETRONAS Yamaha Sepang Racing Team

It’s great to be back riding with Yamaha this year as the official test rider and to be able to step in when needed is good for all parties. I’m looking forward to riding for PETRONAS Yamaha SRT in the three Grands Prix. Obviously it’s not in the best circumstances and I wish Franco a good recovery, I hope he comes back strongly after the knee surgery. I’m sure he will because he’s been riding fantastically over the last two years.

I think it’s difficult to set targets for these three races and it will be more about understanding the bike, as I’ve had limited riding days this year. The good thing will be that I can compare the bikes and I should be able to gather a lot of data for Yamaha. It’s a bit like being thrown in the deep end, as it’s a very competitive MotoGP class, but I’m really looking forward to it and it’s going to be good to be back on the grid.

I’m looking forward to meeting the team in Austria, although there will be some familiar faces for me because Wilco Zeelenberg was my Team Manager in Supersport in 2009 and I actually raced against Johan Stigefelt some years ago, so it’s going to be a pleasure to be back with them.

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2021 MotoGP Calendar Update: Thailand Canceled, Replacement Round To Be Decided

The Covid-19 pandemic continues to remind us that it is a global, not a local, phenomenon. As cases continue to rise in Thailand, and the vaccination program is only being rolled out slowly, the organizers of the Thai GP have been forced to cancel the 2021 MotoGP round at Buriram.

It is believed that a replacement round is being planned, but finding a venue is proving difficult, for much the same reason the race was canceled. There have been rumors of a second round at Sepang, but also of hosting two races in Austin, at the Circuit of the Americas. Much of this is speculation, with little confirmation, given the ever-shifting nature of the pandemic. Holding two races at the same track is the most likely course of action, however: minimizing travel increases the chances of a race actually being held.

The current 2021 MotoGP calendar appears below, though it is certain to change:

Date Grand prix Circuit
28 March Qatar* Losail International Circuit
4 April Qatar* Losail International Circuit
18 April Portugal Algarve International Circuit
02 May Spain Circuito de Jerez – Ángel Nieto
16 May France Le Mans
30 May Italy Autodromo del Mugello
06 June Catalunya Barcelona - Catalunya
20 June Netherlands TT Circuit Assen
27 June Germany Sachsenring
8 August Styria Red Bull Ring-Spielberg
15 August Austria Red Bull Ring-Spielberg
29 August Great Britain Silverstone
12 September Aragón MotorLand Aragón
19 September San Marino e della Riviera di Rimini Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli
03 October Americas Circuit of the Americas
24 October Malaysia Sepang International Circuit
7 November Algarve Algarve International Circuit
14 November Comunitat Valenciana Comunitat Valenciana-Ricardo Tormo
tbc tbc tbc
 
Postponed Grands Prix to be rescheduled subject to the pandemic:
Grand prix Circuit
República Argentina Termas de Río Hondo
Reserve Grand Prix Venues:
Indonesia** Mandalika International Street Circuit

* Evening Race
** Subject to Homologation

There will be a maximum of 20 events in the 2021 season. All dates, events and the attendance of spectators are subject to the evolution of the pandemic and the approval of the corresponding Governments and authorities.

The official announcement appears below:


2021 Thai GP cancelled

Wednesday, 21 July 2021

The FIM, IRTA and Dorna Sports regret to announce the cancellation of the OR Thailand Grand Prix, which was set to take place at Chang International Circuit from the 15th to the 17th of October. Despite the best efforts of all parties involved, the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and resulting restrictions have obliged the cancellation of the event.

The FIM MotoGP™ World Championship looks forward to returning to race in front of the incredibly passionate Buriram crowd in 2022.

A replacement event is currently under consideration and any updates regarding a possible substitute will be published as soon as available.

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Old Hands Return To MotoGP - Dani Pedrosa To Wildcard In Austria, Cal Crutchlow To Replace Franco Morbidelli

The old guard of MotoGP are making something of a comeback after the summer break. Two familiar names and now test riders are to make a brief return to racing, in Austria and beyond. Only one of those riders - Dani Pedrosa - has been officially confirmed as a wildcard at the first race at the Red Bull Ring - but Cal Crutchlow is widely expected to replace Franco Morbidelli for the next three rounds.

The news that Dani Pedrosa is to make a wildcard appearance at the Red Bull Ring at the Styrian Grand Prix had been widely rumored, but still comes as something of a surprise. There had been much talk early in the year that Pedrosa would race for KTM as a wildcard, but the Spaniard's aversion to media appearances and general lack of interest in racing made that seem unlikely.

It appears that there has been some pressure on Pedrosa to race, however. The last time Pedrosa actually competed in a MotoGP race was at the final round of 2018 at Valencia. Though Pedrosa's input has been invaluable in helping to develop the KTM RC16 into a competitive machine, there was talk that the Spaniard was starting to lose his ability to push right at the very razor's edge of performance. Putting Pedrosa back into a racing situation will sharpen his reflexes, it is thought, and help him be even more productive.

This is a lesson learned from Ducati, who have encouranged test rider Michele Pirro to keep racing in the Italian CIV Superbike championship, for this very reason. Racing boosts the ambition, and hones the senses, giving them a better understanding of just how much risk can be taken on a race bike, and giving them a better feeling for where the limit actually lies.

While Dani Pedrosa has been confirmed officially as a wildcard, Franco Morbidelli's replacement has not. What has been officially announced by Petronas Yamaha boss Razlan Razali is that Morbidelli is to miss the next three races - two rounds in Austria and the British Grand Prix in Silverstone - while he recovers from surgery to fix a torn ACL. Unofficially, however, it seems that Yamaha test rider Cal Crutchlow is to take Morbidelli's place in the Petronas squad.

That is something of a mixed blessing for Crutchlow. The Englishman gets to ride the slowest bike on the grid at the fastest track on the calendar not once but twice, a track with the 2019 Yamaha M1 does not prosper. However, he also gets to race his home Grand Prix at Silverstone on the M1, a track at which the Yamaha has excelled in the past.

An appearance by Crutchlow is still not offcially confirmed, however. We will only know for certain whether he is racing once official confirmation arrives.

The press release from KTM appears below:


Pedrosa confirmed to make Red Bull KTM MotoGP™ wildcard appearance in Austria

Red Bull KTM Factory Racing test rider Dani Pedrosa will make a debut competitive outing with the KTM RC16 by entering the tenth round of the 2021 MotoGP series: the Michelin Grand Prix of Styria at the Red Bull Ring, Austria on August 6-8.

The 35-year-old MotoGP Legend retired from full time racing with 31 victories and 112 podium results from 13 seasons in the premier class between 2006 and 2018. Since 2019 he has been an integral part of KTM’s development program for MotoGP and with the KTM RC16 that made its debut at the 2016 Gran Premio de la Comunitat Valenciana and then joined the grid on a permanent basis in 2017.

Pedrosa finished in the top five of the MotoGP championship 11 times from 13 campaigns and was a three-time runner-up. The Spaniard’s last Grand Prix was almost a thousand days ago with the 2018 event at the Circuit Ricardo Tormo in Valencia where he classified 5th. He has since shared a race track with the current MotoGP field at both IRTA and private test days. Red Bull Ring will represent his first race with KTM.

The long-term Red Bull athlete will steer an adapted development version of the KTM RC16 to gain further valuable data in Grand Prix conditions.

Dani Pedrosa:
“It’s been super-interesting to be part of this project from the beginning with KTM in MotoGP and being able to share my experience with them. Step-by-step we did the best we could and now it’s interesting again to go into a race because it gives you a different perspective compared to a normal test. It has been a long time since my last race and, of course, the mentality for a GP is very different to a test. My focus for the GP is to try to test the things we have on the bike in a race situation. I wish to understand the requests riders might have for different sessions and technical features. Watching from home I can sense the improvements in the bikes and the racing but in order to understand more about MotoGP now, the new technologies and how to race and use strategies against the others we’ll make this wildcard. It’s difficult to talk about my expectations after being so long away from competition. It might all click into a racing mentality or it might not but we’ll try to enjoy the weekend as much as we can.”

Mike Leitner, Red Bull KTM Race Manager:
“It will be curious to see Dani in MotoGP again. He has been away from racing for quite a long time but it will be valuable to have him in garage at Red Bull Ring to analyze the strong and not-so-strong parts of our KTM RC16 package in GP conditions and it will give him a good indication for his testing work. Dani has had a big influence in our MotoGP project thanks to all of his experience. The company was working and pushing hard to follow his requests, along with Mika’s [Kallio]. Dani was a good reference as he retired at the end of 2018 while still at the top of the sport and we can see some of his influence in the current success of the KTM RC16. He will have a mixture of the current race bike and some small upgrades and he will have some testing to do during the weekend but we also don’t want to overload him. We want him to enjoy the Grand Prix! There are a lot of young, strong riders in MotoGP at the moment, so he will be busy but this is a good way for him to learn more and feel the current benchmark in the sport and this will help us for future testing.”

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