Valentino Rossi reveals exactly why he turned down Ferrari F1 drive

Valentino Rossi reveals he turned down the chance to compete in F1 because he wouldn't have been driving a factory Ferrari from the start

Valentino Rossi - Ferrari F1

Valentino Rossi has shed more light on just how close he came to walking away from MotoGP during his prime in favour of a move into Formula 1… before explaining Ferrari’s unwillingness to let him drive for the factory team straight away led to him rejecting its offer.

The Italian conducted a series of F1 tests for Ferrari between 2004 and 2010 amid speculation he was angling for a full-time Formula 1 drive with the historic marque.

In that time Rossi whittled down his lap times to be well within a second of seven-time F1 World Champion Schumacher, who in turn was immensely surprised by the Italian’s instant form, as recited by Ferrari engineer Luigi Mazzola.

“I don't remember exactly how often we worked with Rossi, at least seven times,” he said. “In the first test, he showed about a dozen spins. But over time he drove really amazing lap times. I remember well when I looked at the data with Michael Schumacher in the box. Schumi had an astonished expression on his face, almost incredulous.”

More recently, Rossi got back back behind the wheel of an F1 car in December, this time a Mercedes W07, as part of a seat swap with the current force in F1, Lewis Hamilton.

Reflecting on that test compared with those of the 2000s, Rossi told Gazetta dello Sport he was definitely ready to switch to F1, but ultimately refused because he wanted to move straight into the Ferrari team, a deal the firm was unwilling to commit to.

“I had completed a number of tests for Ferrari and we then sat down with the team management, who had worked out a very comprehensive plan to prepare for a career in Formula 1.

“However, this plan said that I had to drive a less fast car to prepare, and I was supposed to be a test driver at first. That's why I decided to decline the offer.”

Would Valentino Rossi have been competitive in F1?

Much ink has been spilled over talk that Rossi would do the unprecedented in the modern era by swapping from two to four wheels, in so doing halting – or interrupting – a motorcycling career that was at the time in its prime.

With the benefit of hindsight, Rossi did the right thing. By the end of the decade he’d have notched up seven premier class world titles at a time when the Scuderia’s fortunes took a significant downturn as its Schumacher-Ferrari-Bridgestone triumvirate was dismantled by the former’s retirement and the move towards control tyres.

Rossi was nothing if not ambitious in wanting a direct route to the Ferrari F1 seat at a time when it was dominating with all the right ingredients, but it also shows some arrogance that he could expect himself to uphold the marque’s stellar reputation from the off.

Then again, it’s hard to see where else he would have gone after Ferrari B team Sauber was snapped up by BMW, while customer Ferrari-engined teams (Toro Rosso, Spyker) were indeed very uncompetitive.

Still, it’s telling that the FIA seriously looked at the prospect of allowing third cars as a way to get Rossi in a Ferrari on the F1 grid… however, rival F1 teams were never likely to permit it.

There will always be conjecture about whether Rossi would have succeeded in F1. One can believe he’d have eventually been competitive, but evolving regulations during that time – first the introduction of KERS and then V6 Hybrid power units – means Rossi’s real feel at the wheel would have been far less effective than it could ever be on a bike.

Fast forward to now and a career in sportscars inevitably awaits Rossi when he does eventually choose to walk away from MotoGP.