As nearly everyone who cares about this sport already knows, Valentino Rossi has taken on a new crew chief, Silvano Gambusera, replacing Jeremy Burgess with whom he has worked for 14 seasons, winning seven top-class championships. I want to address some of the nonsense being said about this.
The first point is that both men are professionals in racing. Both are highly competitive people. If either of them thinks a change will improve his chances of success, he will make that change. When Rossi joined Ducati, his success ended. To rejoin the top group, he returned to Yamaha. Now that even that change has not succeeded, he is changing his crew chief.
Racers race to win, not to participate. With no possibility of winning, there can be no motivation for such intense personalities. They are poor candidates for aging gracefully.
Like neurosurgeons, these men have extraordinary self-confidence, and they are accustomed to acting upon it decisively. True or not, they know they are right. That is just what Rossi has done now. It is not our place to judge him or to apply to him our personal sentimentalities. Yes, JB was surprised, but you can be sure he understands 100 percent.
“In the last few races,” Rossi said, “I’ve felt I wanted to work in a different way.”
There can definitely be “a different way.” Here is an example: About 20 years ago, before rear suspension anti-squat was generally understood, bike setup was based on ride heights and spring and damping rates. Yet such settings didn’t always work; a bike “built to the numbers” might still mysteriously head for the outside as it accelerated off a turn. Even 10 years ago, top teams were still trying to control this squat-and-push problem by brute force—with rear springs too stiff to squat. But the new way of working was to begin with correct rear anti-squat geometry and only then move on to other variables. More controllable bikes and quicker lap times rewarded those working in the new way.
I doubt Rossi expects such a leap from Gambusera, with whom he worked only briefly some time ago. But just a change can bring a new point of view. As I am fond of saying, a fresh look can bring more result than weeks of staring. As Burgess himself has said, speaking in this case of Ducati, “What do you do when you have a problem? You do something.” In other words, inaction achieves nothing.
Like all the others on the Yamaha YZR-M1, Rossi has had problems with braking. Cal Crutchlow has spoken of special problems in the early laps when fuel load is heaviest. An alternative tank was developed, used first by Jorge Lorenzo but then by Crutchlow, as well. In a conversation this week, Rossi told my CW colleague, Matthew Miles, “It is correlated from the tires. With this soft front tire, I suffered very much, especially with my style to brake. Also, because I am [taller], I put the front tire under stress. This was the main problem.”
There may or may not be a parallel between Rossi’s actions and those of Giacomo Agostini in his final racing seasons. Just as Rossi disliked sharing the Yamaha he had developed with his increasingly successful teammate, Lorenzo, so Agostini disliked seeing his MV Agusta teammate, Phil Read, winning races on the late four-cylinder MV. Ago left for Yamaha, where he won two more championships (350cc in 1974, 500cc a year later). Then came Ago’s “time of musical bikes,” when he rode an MV in some races, a Yamaha in others, and even bought a privateer Suzuki RG500 just in case. He was looking for answers. He was changing everything, but the one thing he could not change was himself.
Lastly, many careers end because a rider’s style no longer works with what motorcycles and tires have become during his career. At first, he can achieve a workable compromise through setup changes, altering the latest equipment to “feel” more like what he grew up with. Some said, for example, that John Kocinski tried to turn every bike he rode into the Yamaha TZ250 on which he learned. But a time comes when setup can no longer accomplish this, and the rider becomes less comfortable, less confident. What he feels to be strange, the younger riders around him consider normal. They are able to exploit the changes, but the veteran rider just loses confidence.
In 2014, we will see. The above are not predictions, just a menu of possibility. Don’t count Rossi out; he has surprised us before.