MotoGP’s factory Yamaha team has ended speculation about one of the sport’s brightest young talents and hinted at the end for arguably its biggest ever star.
In two quick-fire press releases, issued one after the other Wednesday, Yamaha first announced that Petronas Yamaha’s Fabio Quartararo would join the factory outfit after the upcoming season, and then that Valentino Rossi would ride “his last full season” for the team.
Separately, Maverick Viñales signed a new contract taking him through to the 2022 season.
But the door to Rossi’s riding future was left slightly ajar with a promise of full factory support – most likely taking Quartararo’s seat at Petronas – should the rider known as “The Doctor” decide to continue in 2021.
In Yamaha’s press release, the seven-time premier class champion reiterated that he was in no rush to commit.
“Yamaha asked me at the beginning of the year to make a decision regarding my future,” he said. “Consistent with what I said during the last season, I confirmed that I didn’t want to rush any decision and needed more time.
“Yamaha has acted accordingly and concluded the ongoing negotiations.”
MotoGP expert David Emmett, editor of MotoMatters blog, summed up the factory team’s dilemma.
“Yamaha chose to focus on the future, however much it pained them to have to make this choice,” he told CNN.
“They had two young, fast riders in Maverick Viñales and Fabio Quartararo, who could be their long-term future, and they had Valentino Rossi, a rider of legendary status, who, while clearly still competitive, was nearing the end of his career.
“If they chose to keep Rossi, they would risk losing out on either Viñales or Quartararo, either of whom could be the key to winning the championship.”
Yamaha Racing managing director, Lin Jarvis, explained the team’s thinking.
“The totally understandable decision of Valentino to assess his competitiveness in 2020 before making any decision about 2021 was something that Yamaha respects and also wholeheartedly agrees to,” he said.
“While we have total respect for and confidence in Valentino’s abilities and speed for the 2020 championship – at the same time Yamaha also have to plan for the future.”
The upcoming season, which gets under way in Qatar on March 8, will be Rossi’s 25th in the World Championship, his 21st season in the premier class and his 15th year with Yamaha.
Rossi’s hunger for racing has appeared undiminished, however, in spite of disappointing results last term. Retirement is not guaranteed.
“The real question is whether he still believes he is competitive … and he will only know that once MotoGP has returned to familiar territory in Europe,” Emmett told CNN.
“By the time MotoGP leaves Mugello or Barcelona, he will know whether he can win another race. If he doesn’t believe he can, he will retire.”
Rossi hinted that he wants to continue in 2021.
“Before doing so, I need to have some answers that only the track and the first few races can give me,” he said. “I’m happy that, should I decide to continue, Yamaha is ready to support me in all respects, giving me a factory-spec bike and a factory contract.”
Should he end his illustrious MotoGP career, Rossi’s future may yet be on four wheels.
“Retirement is not the end of racing for Valentino Rossi,” Emmett says. “‘The Doctor’ won a GT3 race in Abu Dhabi and he has expressed an interest in endurance racing in cars.
“His next challenge could be trying to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans. And knowing Valentino Rossi, you wouldn’t bet against him succeeding.”