What next for Valentino Rossi as MotoGP form deserts him?

It has been a desperate start to the year for Valentino Rossi as questions over his future quickly descend on him... but what could he do next?

Valentino Rossi - Petronas SRT Yamaha

This time last year we were still awaiting the start of the 2020 MotoGP World Championship but even without the action on track, Valentino Rossi was still commanding the headlines amid a ‘will he, won’t he’ debate over his career.

Fast forward to now and Rossi, of course, has raced on but the narrative has shifted less about whether he will continue on into 2022, but when he will announce he will bring a long and glittering career to a conclusion.

Crucially though, this conclusion hasn’t been hinted at by the man himself, but more because - after a fairly woeful start to the season - it is now somewhat being expected of him. This is quite the change from times when Rossi had the media hanging on his every word as he ducked and dodged speculation about his future, or dropped in the odd red herring to get the tabloids fired up.

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If it is trial by media - and social media commentary - the decision has already been made for him.

Time isn’t kind to motorcycle racers, though it has been kinder to Rossi than most. The Italian is 42-years old and while we stop short of ever saying he is ‘too old’ - after all this is the age Troy Bayliss retired at the top of his WorldSBK game - it’s a factor in a multi-faceted smorgasbord of reasons as to why he is unable to maintain the level that distinguished his career.

At the heart of the issue, if we go by Rossi’s own words, is his failure to get his head around the soft rear tyres, though it is credit to him that he is vocal in his personal frustration at being unable to make them go the distance rather than blame anyone who will listen. Then again, it’s a two-year old mantra now, and it’s unlikely anyone else would have received the same level of patience in the boardroom.

Ironically, there has long been talk over the years that Rossi - and a select few others - have benefited from some trick rubber on his machine to help him pull off some remarkable results though this has never been formally proven and claims as such reek of cynicism from disgruntled riders.

However, these words came at a time when there was a distinct gap between the so-called ‘aliens’ on factory machinery and a satellite bunch made up of ageing motorcycles ridden by either the next or the bygone generation of riders.

With that in mind it is extraordinary to think Rossi has sustained such a high level for what has been two decades now, but recent time has shown MotoGP doesn’t ‘need’ him at the front of the field to sustain interest in the series as feared for a while, merely the close-racing and multiple potential race winners - works and satellite - it has shown in most recent years.

What should Valentino Rossi do next?

There is no standard format to ending a motorcycle career. Indeed, Rossi is fortunate in that fate hasn’t intervened and been forced to call time because of injury (touch wood), but we’re in unprecedented territory here because no-one has maintained Rossi’s level - though wavering today - for such an extended period.

As such, Yamaha’s respect for Rossi is demonstrated by the fact it is still pumping in resource for a rider that on results alone might have been dropped a while ago. While removing him from the Factory team was controversial at the time of its announcement, few would argue against that wisdom now.

While Yamaha will never admit to ‘hoping’ Rossi announces this will be his final season, Petronas SRT - which wavered initially on the prospect of giving one of the seats it is keen to develop new talent on to a rider in the late Autumn of his career - may be a little more anxious.

Rossi’s form might be disconcerting to his legion of fans, but it’s probably working in the series’ favour. Had he left on a relative high, say in 2018, it would have likely suffered from a post-Rossi slump - instead we appear to be getting a wind down in which fans are begrudgingly admitting it is time to close this spectacular chapter.

It does, however, neatly come tally up with what will be a MotoGP entry for his VR46 effort in 2022, even if the circumstances around it have become confused following an announcement it will come with backing from Saudi Arabia’s state sponsored oil giant Aramco, only for the company to say it is none the wiser.

A VR46 team doesn't necessarily install Rossi as the manager. The Moto2 and Moto3 arm of the team bears his name but he doesn’t hands-on manage it day-to-day so it’s perhaps a stretch to suggest he will be donning headphones and rubbing shoulders with Alberto Puig and Lin Jarvis straight away.

In fact, Rossi - glint in his eye very much on display - doesn’t rule out the possibility of riding a bike that bears his moniker, which could be as much an inspired decision and it could be poorly-judged. For the most part though many expect it to have Luca Marini and Marco Bezzecchi on the bike - which isn’t guaranteed to be a Yamaha - in 2022.

Traditionally Rossi has chosen Mugello to announce his future plans, though this could well be deferred to his beloved home race at Misano and - playing devil’s advocate - it would be a fitting location to confirm the beginning of the end.

Then again, no-one knows Valentino Rossi better than Valentino Rossi himself… he is shrewd, on the ball and confident in his abilities. If we’ve written him off, you can bet he will be doing all he can to prove everyone wrong.

However, while there was a recent time that Rossi would have teams queuing up with a trolley full of bank notes to get him on their books, you have to wonder whether there is anyone in that line willing to hire a rider that has achieved just a 12th place finish in the first four races of the year.

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