Is PSRT Yamaha just what the Doctor ordered… or will Rossi be the weak link?

A satellite team move may have been unthinkable a couple of years ago but could Valentino Rossi be Petronas SRT Yamaha's weak link in 2021 MotoGP?

After more than 200 races, five world titles and a start-to-win ratio that even today remains at 33%, Valentino Rossi has (probably) contested his final race for the Yamaha Factory.

A 12th place finish wasn’t quite the fairytale conclusion he would have hoped for, one that rather summed up both his and Yamaha’s season that seemed to be going backwards, even ignoring the dreaded ‘rona that struck to stutter the momentum further.

By all accounts, we haven’t seen vintage Rossi much over the past three years and while his performances at Jerez and Misano showed glimpses of his best, as someone rather cruelly pointed out, watching Rossi celebrate and everyone lavish a podium on a race-winning bike was a sad sign of the times.

Nonetheless, the career continues into 2021 and he isn’t exactly going far - popping down the pit lane to Petronas SRT Yamaha, to be exact.

By all accounts, Yamaha made the right early call to drop Rossi for 2021 on the strength of his results, something even the most die-hard Rossi fans will broadly agree was correct. Whether Yamaha did the right thing in signing Fabio Quartararo instead of Franco Morbidelli is more debatable but if you or me was deciding in January 2020, we’d have done the same thing.

He may have won his first premier class GP title on a satellite Honda, but the notion of Rossi riding for a satellite team post-Yamaha would have been unthinkable just a couple of years ago. 

However, by all intents and purposes, this will be a Yamaha Factory effort in all but livery and on the strength of 2020 alone, the Petronas SRT Yamaha is far from a ‘wooden spoon’ and is probably part of the reason why Rossi was willing to continue  - let’s just say it’s hard to imagine Rossi in Tech 3 Yamaha colours.

So while Rossi might have seen a satellite move to be a downgrade too far previously, he finds himself facing up to the opposite problem - is he deserving of a very lucrative seat?

Even though this season has seen the very definition of a satellite entry blur as manufacturers see greater benefit in treating two teams as entering four factory bikes, rather than using it as a tenuous link to breed new talent or house a wealthy journeyman, Petronas SRT Yamaha could happily operate as a manufacturer in its own right.

With some immense backing from Malaysian oil giants Petronas and some very notable names pulling the strings in Johan Stigefelt, Wilco Zeelenberg and the charismatic (and influential) Razlan Razali, who has literally built a race circuit (Sepang) and created a MotoGP team on the strength of his passion alone, Petronas SRT pretty much just needs the equipment from Yamaha and nothing else.

Take a look at the final 2020 MotoGP standings - Petronas SRT Yamaha finished second in the teams’ standings, a full 60 points clear of the Yamaha Factory. It’s going to make for some awkward Zoom chats between Lin Jarvis and Yamaha bosses.

What will it take for Valentino Rossi to impress Petronas SRT Yamaha?

As such, whereas Rossi might have elevated a satellite team as recently as 2018, he finds himself under pressure to impress his new employers… 

To his credit, Rossi has been honest in his appraisals and says he will stop when the results and motivation go south. In short, he has a few points to prove in 2021 but, pitch it correctly and he could market himself as the ‘old dog underdog’.

Trouble is, Petronas SRT Yamaha might take a bit of impressing. Indeed, it might be aligned with Yamaha to the extent it gets spec-machinery and has no qualms delegating one of its seats to a Yamaha protege but the team is otherwise independently well-funded and has been unequivocal in stating it wants to be a rung on the ladder to the top, not the doormat on the way to a career’s end.

It goes a long way to explaining why Rossi was unable to bring much of his own crew with him, a sticking point in the negotiations for months. Petronas SRT calls the shots on its operation, it doesn’t care if your name is Valentino Rossi.

That’s not to say he isn’t welcome and Petronas SRT will enjoy the exposure and the commercial lucrativeness it brings, but Rossi finds himself with a very high standard to maintain in a team that won six of this year’s 14 races, something he hasn’t done since Assen 2018.

If he can’t measure up to new team-mate - and protege - Morbidelli then 2021 will be his last in MotoGP, which of course would just be in time for his VR46 team to step up to MotoGP in 2022.

Valentino Rossi, Team Principal… it has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?
 

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