Why is there such confusion around Valentino Rossi’s VR46 move into MotoGP?

Valentino Rossi insists a deal to bring VR46 to MotoGP with Aramco has been signed... despite the Saudi oil giant's claiming it is unaware of any contract

Valentino Rossi, VR46, Aramco,

It was the news many people had been waiting for. But then it wasn’t… 

Ahead of the 2021 Spanish MotoGP in Jerez a press release was circulated claiming VR46 - the team owned and managed by Valentino Rossi himself - would be making the step up to the MotoGP World Championship full-time in 2022. 

The press release said it would be bankrolled with finance from Saudi Arabia, namely oil giant Aramco, though the communication itself originated from Tanal Entertainment, a holding company belonging to Prince Abdulaziz bin Abdullah Al Suad, a member of the Saudi royal family.

While it certainly sounds official, the details in the deal seem to have caught some by surprise, with Aramco reportedly saying it has no knowledge of any contract, while the press release was especially vague, omitting quotes, which seems surprising for an announcement of such magnitude.

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Rossi himself was initially evasive about the announcement but would later go on to say he doesn’t understand why Aramco is playing dumb saying ‘we know that we have a deal with Aramco to make the [MotoGP] team," Rossi insisted. "...I don’t know sincerely [why] Aramco say that they don’t know!"

So far, so confusing... and shades of the bizarrely shortlived Onde 2000 team that had money linked to Equatorial Guinea and the 'never existed' Dominican Republic-backed JR Racing WorldSBK team that launched with Troy Corser and then stopped returning his calls.

For the most part though, this seems to be a case of certain parties failing to ‘synchronise watches’ to have a joint message across the board because few are in any doubt VR46 is indeed preparing to make the step up to the MotoGP class in 2022 as the new cycle of team contracts begin in MotoGP.

Aramco’s involvement also comes as little surprise. The firm has become increasingly visible in motorsport in the past couple of years, lending its backing to a number of F1 races, while this year will see the first-ever Saudi Arabian Grand Prix, following on from inaugural Formula E and Dakar Rally events in the kingdom recently.

However, this seemingly premature announcement has its own risks. Saudi Arabia has been accused in recent months of using motorsport as a way to ‘sportwash’ its reputation and distract from alleged human rights abuses. Grant Liberty, a non-profit organisation ‘which aims to stand and fight for human rights worldwide’ says more than $1.5 billion has been spent on what it calls ‘sportwashing’ to bolster Saudi Arabia’s global reputation.

Aligning itself with the most marketable man in motorsport is a logical move but the social media response for VR46 has been somewhat negative. 

Nevertheless Rossi is of the belief its move into sport sponsorship is a positive step towards Saudi Arabia improving its domestic situations.

"Epecially Aramco in the last years support a lot of different sports from football and also it’s very much in the motorsport. It supports also Formula 1. For us it’s an important partner and can help us to make the team in MotoGP.

“And after for the rest we will see, maybe we can do something to improve the situation. But under our point of view, our relationship is for that.”

Despite the evasiveness, those with a keen eye for detail will might have spotted Marco Bezzecchi - VR46’s Moto2 rider - wearing new stickers on his leathers saying ‘KSA New Cities’ as if to suggest there is already some money flowing from Saudi Arabia to VR46.

Will Valentino Rossi race for VR46?

He isn’t ruling it out, though as ever Rossi remains very coy about whether he will be on the grid in 2022. His words above came ahead of arguably his least convincing weekend in MotoGP when he qualified 17th and finished exactly there in a race that saw his Petronas SRT Yamaha team-mate Franco Morbidelli on the podium.

It seems VR46’s promotion is for the most part separate from Rossi’s actions. It has already dipped a toe into the MotoGP waters for 2021 by backing Luca Marini into a Avintia Ducati ride. 

It is largely expected that VR46’s entry will take over from Avintia, though it hasn’t been ruled out that it could become the official satellite effort with Yamaha amid talk Petronas SRT is considering its options for 2022 too.

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