VALENTINO ROSSI is recovering so well that he may be back in a fortnight, to race at the German GP at the Sachsenring. That was the rumour circulating at Catalunya. Much more plausible, however, was the one that broke the previous week – that he had signed to join Marlboro Ducati next year, giving way at Yamaha for young rival Jorge Lorenzo.
See the full Valentino Rossi Misano test gallery here.
Although no official confirmation was forthcoming at the circuit, Italian Press reports put the sign-on fee at 15-million Euros, and insisted that the deal was already done.
It’s a story that has been coming back week by week since rumours began at the third race of the season. But it gathers strength with each return, and is now considered a fait accompli by racing cognoscenti.
Only hints were forthcoming at Catalunya. Rossi’s crew chief Jeremy Burgess was back for the first time since Rossi crashed four races ago, tending to the factory’s substitute rider. He shrugged off questions about whether he would move with Rossi, but said: “I would say that a decision is imminent, so to speak.”
Ducati’s official line was that nothing had been decided, but a source close to the team said that only details remained to be worked out ... one detail being how the official announcement would be handled.
As reported previously, the move makes sense for many reasons: mainly Rossi’s aversion to sharing a pit, the bike he developed and a reduced (for him) overall fee with Lorenzo.
For Ducati, it fills a hole left by the imminent departure of Stoner to Honda; for sponsors Marlboro it makes sense of their recent contract renewal with the team until the end of 2012.
As for Rossi’s return to close his account with Yamaha, suggestions of a return to Germany, six weeks after the injury, seem premature: his own cheerful messages have stuck with Brno as the return date, in the middle of August.
Footnote: Rossi was reported in Spain for the Catalan GP, but not for the race. Instead he had gone to his Ibiza holiday home to continue his recuperation.
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In 1997, 12 years ago, Valentino Rossi hinted at his dominant future of the MotoGP class with his first World Championship but few of us could have predicted Rossi's sheer brilliance and utter dominance of every GP class he's raced in since.
We take a look at Valentino Rossi's second season in GP125, aged just 18. The cheeky Valentino and extravagant podium celebrations were beginning to emerge as the care-free Italian young-gun went about his racing with ruthless efficiency.
Now, in 2009, Valentino Rossi is still producing the magic he showed us in his first season in the MotoGP paddock 13 years ago.
During the 1997 season - Rossi's second season in the GP125 Championship - he smashed the opposition, winning 11 out of the 15 races on his Aprilia, with the only other winner being Nobby Ueda who won 4 races on a rival Honda machine. Rossi made it to the podium in 13 of the 15 races and won the championship by almost 100 points over second-placed Ueda.
We've gathered together some great images from the 1997 season for you to browse. It was the start of the emerging Rossi era, and quite frankly, 12 years on, we don't want it to end.
At the start of this year, some brave souls picked Rossi as their potential champ, with the one big question mark being the Yamaha M1. As history now states, Rossi did indeed win MotoGP at his first Yamaha attempt, in what will go down as one of the great team efforts ever. We show how the balance of MotoGP power was shifted, as Yamaha brought the mountain to their own new Mohammed. O
ur man Niall Mac swept into the Valencia MotoGP with a mission in mind - cornering the King of Cornering, Valentino Rossi. Niall was, as ever, successful, as he lightly grilled the new champ on both the sunburst and moonshine sides of his character. So, over to Niall...
"I first met Valentino Rossi just over ten years ago at a mutual sponsor's barbecue near Imola. He was there with his father Graziano, who informed me that young Vale was doing OK racing mini bikes and hoped that one day he would ride a 125cc GP bike. I shook his hand and wished him luck, never thinking for a moment that the young enthusiast might turn out to be a GP winner. Sixty-eight victories and six world championships later I caught up with him in Valencia, after final qualifying. Once again I found him polite, helpful and relaxed. Spookily he reminded me of my very own doctor..."
WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST CHILDHOOD MEMORY OF THE GP PADDOCK?
I have some pictures of me with my father Graziano in the Imola paddock when I was a very small child in 1980. My first real memories are from the Italian GP at Mugello in 1993 when I was fourteen. I had paddock passes and it was like paradise.
DID YOU KNOW THEN YOU WANTED TO BE PART OF GPs?
Yes, for sure. It was a big dream that one day I could become part of the paddock and be a Grand Prix rider.
IS THERE ANYONE THAT IMPRESSES VALENTINO ROSSI?
Oh yes, for sure. I like many sports including football and I particularly like Ronaldo, so when it is possible I go to see him play. In motor sport I am a big fan of the World Rally Championship and I think drivers like Colin (McRae) and Carlos Sainz are impressive. When I competed in the UK round of WRC a few years ago I met many of the drivers and it was there I realised how good they were.
IN YOUR OPINION WHICH IS MORE DIFFICULT, WRC OR F1?
F1 is also incredible but in my opinion you have to work much harder in WRC. F1 is very like MotoGP, the tracks, the lines, the power and the braking is very similar. In WRC everything is continually changing and car control is much more difficult. For me it would be much more difficult to reach the top level in WRC.
WHO IS THE BEST EVER RIDER?
I think it could be between Lawson, Rainey, Schwantz and Doohan because I saw them all racing. But then some people will say Agostini, Hailwood or Surtees, although I don't know because I didn't ever see them race. This will always be a difficult question to answer.
FROM THE PAST, WHO DO YOU THINK WOULD HAVE BEEN THE TOUGHEST RIDER TO RACE AGAINST?
Over one race I think Kevin Schwantz would have been the hardest but he was never very consistent. Over a season I would say Wayne Rainey would have been the toughest to fight with for a championship.
COULD YOU STILL ENJOY SKIDDING ROUND A MUDDY FIELD WITH YOUR FRIENDS ON PADDOCK BIKES?
Of course. I have two or three friends that I know would always have a good time riding with me on any kind of bike. What we really like to do is ride Supermotard bikes with motocross front tyres and enduro rears, but not on asphalt, only sliding around off road. I do this in the winter for fun but also because it is good training. For this I use a factory YZ450F. We also still ride mini bikes (minimoto), as this is still a great passion of mine. On some Sundays in the summer we get up early and do some riding on the road. I have an XJR1300 which I find more relaxing to ride on the road than my R1, which is too fast.
CONSIDERING YOUR SUCCESS YOU APPEAR TO LEAD A SIMPLE LIFE. WOULD YOU AGREE?
In racing I try 100% but afterwards I try to keep my life exactly as it was before. I have the same friends and do the same things that I have always enjoyed. For sure my life has changed and sometimes it is a little difficult, for example I'm not able to go where there are a lot of people.
IS THERE ANYTHING YOU SPEND TOO MUCH MONEY ON?
I love to buy cars, music and shoes, which I think is normal!
I LOVE GRAZIANO BECAUSE HE LIKES TO SLEEP IN HIS CAR. HAVE YOU EVER DONE THIS AND WOULD YOU NOW?
Yes. I have done this in another part of my life when I was a young Valentino Rossi but not any more. Graziano is a fantastic guy but maybe a little strange and he likes to make a point. I am less strange than him but whatever he wants to do is fine by me!
LAST YEAR THE M1 HAD ONLY ONE PODIUM. WHAT WAS IT THAT MADE YOU THINK YOU COULD WIN ON IT THIS YEAR?
I had a lot of doubt about this bike but when I began talking with the Japanese and Davide de Brivio at Yamaha I loved the way they were thinking and the determination they had about how to get back to the top level. Yamaha had just been through a bad year but I didn't think the M1 was that far away from the Honda.
DO YOU THINK THIS YEAR WOULD HAVE BEEN POSSIBLE WITHOUT JEREMY BURGESS AND HIS TEAM?
I tried 500% to get Jeremy to come with me to Yamaha but he said no and told me I was crazy. But I decided I would still go alone to Yamaha but thankfully after a long fight Jeremy and the guys decided to come with me.
DOES THAT MEAN IT WOULD ALSO HAVE BEEN POSSIBLE ON THE DUCATI, SUZUKI AND KAWASAKI?
No, I really believed it was only possible to beat Honda if I was riding for Yamaha.
Niall, uncharacteristically, Found himself in the odd position of having to give something away before he got out of the gravitational field of Valentino Rossi and his minders.
"One question for you, Niall?" said Vale.
"Er, Yes...?" replied Niall.
"Can I keep this funny Scottish hat?" asked Valentino Rossi, sheepishly.
"Deal!" said Niall - who had earlier, of course, put the hat on expenses.
"CIAO!" waved Vale, on his way to even greater greatness.
GP wonderboy Valentino Rossi may have more than mercurial innate talent to thank for his dominance not just of 500s this year but in 250s and 125s in years gone by. The gangly superstar can be seen conducting his own weirdo ritual before he straddles his NSR500. Rossi hunkers down and grabs the right footrest of his bike almost as if he's shaking hands with the fearsome beast which could bite him so badly should it not be placated and revered by its rider before being mounted.
For a few seconds Rossi bows his head and silently contemplates the bike which is soon to determine his fortunes. But Rossi being Rossi, it's difficult to tell if this is a sincere gesture or simply another caper to a) gain more publicity and b) outpsyche his rivals, few and far between though they are. Whatever the case, there certainly appears to be some logic in praying that the bike you are about to ride will be reliable and not hurt you too much. After all, having a lucky bike is going to be a lot more effective than having lucky socks isn't it?