Valentino Rossi has rejected the contract that Ducati CEO Gabriele Del Torchio offered him in a private meeting during the U.S. Grand Prix weekend at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. The nine-time world champion is returning to the official Yamaha factory team, where he will be paired with current MotoGP points-leader Jorge Lorenzo for the 2013 and ’14 seasons.
Del Torchio said that the terms he was allowed by Audi to negotiate with Rossi were extremely attractive. Rossi is smart, and he knows that, at age 33, he only has a couple of years left as a top rider. On various occasions, he has stated he plans to quit motorcycle racing at the end of the 2014 season, but that he wants to go out in a grand way. Apparently, the Ducati is not the bike that would allow him to finish his career in flying colors.
At one time, Rossi and his crew had mocked Casey Stoner, saying that the handling problems the current MotoGP world champion had experienced while at Ducati could be fixed with a snap of their fingers. Stoner accomplished more at Ducati than most people appreciate, pushing beyond bravery on what objectively turned out to be a difficult-to-tame machine generated by a project with more than one flaw.
I personally do not agree with the theory (which Rossi supported) that put all the blame on the original carbon-fiber chassis. We now know a lot about structural design, and that chassis made smart use of both the engine as a structural element and the carbon-fiber elements that completed the package. Going to a conventional aluminum twin-spar chassis not only threw away an advanced design but, most importantly, did not address the inherent geometrical shortcomings that appeared to be (and still are) at the roots of the bike’s dynamic limits.
Did Rossi push the carbon bike far enough to fully explore and analyze its limits and, possibly, come up with the right suggestions to solve the problems? Were his opinions or those of his crew rejected by Ducati? We may never know.
Now, Rossi is headed back to Yamaha, the Japanese company with which he won four world titles. That will make his life a lot smoother because the 1000cc Yamaha YZR-M1 bike is the best-balanced and dynamically predictable mount on the grid. Rossi is still the smart kid, able to put his hands on the best equipment in the paddock to achieve his goals. Remember when Rossi stomped his feet for the Bridgestone tires while still under contract with Michelin, and Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta allowed him to get the Japanese rubber despite the rules that were in place at the time? Well, Rossi is doing the same thing again in an attempt to stage a grand finale in a glory of fireworks.
But it won’t be easy. Even on an almost-perfect Yamaha, the road will be rough, and Lorenzo will be difficult to beat—unless Ezpeleta steps in as the director of the closing scenes of the Valentino-Rossi-as-a-super-hero movie.
And what about Ducati? Maybe they should attempt to convince Stoner to rethink his retirement from motorcycle racing. He is still the best.