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David Emmett

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As we mentioned last week, Andrea Dovizioso agreed to take the factory Ducati seat vacated by Rossi’s departure for Yamaha. His signature, it appears, was subject to certain conditions, though. According to reports in the Italian media, Dovizioso demanded guarantees of support and development from Audi before putting pen to paper.

Italian TV station Mediaset is now reporting that Dovizioso has now received those guarantees, and has signed a two-year deal to ride for Ducati in 2013 and 2014. Ducati’s choosing Dovizioso over Cal Crutchlow – Dovizioso’s British partner at the Tech 3 squad had earlier been offered the ride at Ducati – is an indication of the the future direction of the Bologna factory.

The deal appears to signal that Ducati has accepted that they need to focus their development on building a bike to suit a traditional Grand Prix style, as displayed by the Italian. It is perhaps a signal to Ducati’s new owners Audi that they understand the magnitude of the problem, and that the loss of Valentino Rossi is being taken very seriously indeed.

After official confirmation from Ducati that Valentino Rossi would be leaving at the end of the season, now comes the official press release from Yamaha, announcing he has been signed to a two-year deal to race for them in 2013 and 2014.

The Italian will line up alongside Jorge Lorenzo for the next two years, and the press release makes their goal very obvious: winning the triple crown of rider, manufacturer and team championships. The press release from Yamaha can be found after the jump.

Valentino Rossi’s imminent return to Yamaha – to be announced on Friday morning, Yamaha and Ducati having been forced to move the schedule forward once news of the switch leaked – will accelerate the final movements in MotoGP’s silly season, with the remaining open grid slots on prototype machines likely to be filled in very short order once the Rossi announcement has been made. Rossi’s return to Yamaha will be heralded much as his departure for fresher pastures at Ducati was, only this time the roles will be reversed.

First, Ducati will issue a release thanking Valentino Rossi for his time with the factory, and shortly after – minutes, rather than hours, – Yamaha will issue a press release welcoming Rossi back to the fold. The difference, perhaps, is that this time a love letter such as the one Rossi wrote to Yamaha after he left in the middle of 2010 is unlikely to be forthcoming.

With Rossi at Yamaha, that leaves five prototype seats still open: The factory Ducati left vacant by Rossi’s switch to Yamaha; the as-yet unfilled second Monster Tech 3 Yamaha seat (the first seat is for Bradley Smith, who will be moving up from Moto2 as provided for in the contract he signed with Herve Poncharal in the middle of last season); the San Carlo Gresini Honda bike currently being ridden by Alvaro Bautista; and the Ducati junior team seats, in a yet-to-be-decided structure with one or more yet-to-be-selected teams. So who will be filling those seats? And where does that leave the riders left standing once the music stops?

It is a bit of a risk, announcing that Valentino Rossi will be switching to Yamaha just a couple of days after getting caught out by a hacked Twitter and email account. This time, though, confirmation is coming from multiple sourcesincluding our own. Rossi will be leaving Ducati for Yamaha at the end of this season, with an official press release expected from Yamaha on the morning of August 15th, the Italian national holiday of Ferragosto, and the day before the paddock assembles at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the Red Bull Indianapolis GP.

The story we published yesterday about Valentino Rossi having been spotted at Yamaha’s European headquarters by former racer Niall Mackenzie turns out to have been incorrect. We, along with the French publication Moto Journal and the German-language magazine Speedweek were victims of a hoax. A Frenchman, speaking perfect English, had compromised the Twitter account of Niall Mackenzie and linked his own email address to it, so that the attempts we made to verify the news led to a single, incorrect source. The person having compromised the account  later confessed to one of the journalists involved in researching the story that it had been a hoax, and apologized for the inconvenience he had caused.

Signs that the story was factually incorrect had come out earlier. Valentino Rossi’s manager Davide Brivio posted a denial on his Twitter page late last night, saying “for sure he didn’t visit Yamaha HQ – he is on holiday!”

UPDATE: Sources confirm that Valentino Rossi was not at Yamaha HQ, and the news of his appearance was a hoax caused by a hacked Twitter account.

Valentino Rossi is set to make a return to Yamaha, abandoning Ducati after two long and difficult years of failure. The Italian was spotted at Yamaha Motor Europe’s headquarters at Schiphol-Rijk, an industrial estate next to Amsterdam’s Schiphol airport, by former racer Niall Mackenzie, who was visiting the Yamaha HQ while negotiating a deal for his younger son Tarran to race in Superstock next season. The Scotsman posted the sighting – naming only a ‘well-known Italian’ wearing ‘a big smile on his face’ – on his Twitter page, but when contacted by Thomas Baujard of the French magazine Moto Journal, confirmed his report to the magazine.

The news of Rossi’s return to Yamaha has been slowly leaking out since last Sunday’s Red Bull US Grand Prix at Laguna Seca. Speculative reports have appeared in leading English and Italian media, with Italian sports daily La Gazzetta dello Sport reporting that Rossi has been offered a two-year deal with Yamaha in MotoGP, with the option of making a switch to World Superbikes, to lead the development of the all-new Yamaha YZF-R1 which is expected for 2015. Yamaha pulled out of the World Superbike series at the end of the 2010 season, citing the global financial crisis and failing to achieve their marketing goals with the production-based series.

Ducati is on the verge of a large-scale overhaul of a major part of its MotoGP strategy. In 2013, its approach to satellite teams is set to change radically, with its satellite structure set to receive factory-spec Desmosedicis that will have a much closer relationship with the Borgo Panigale factory, says Ducati boss Alessandro Cicognani. “The main goal is to have a more competitive bike,” Cicognani said, speaking to us after the race at Mugello. “In this scenario, we are thinking that the satellite team could be a help to achieve more effective results more quickly for the factory team.”

The idea is to take a leaf out of Yamaha’s book, Cicognani explained. “The strategy we are thinking about is like a Tech 3 but with factory-spec bikes, something like that,” he said, while emphasizing that the plans had yet to be finalized. “We are thinking about it. We have some ideas.”

Just one more week, and the biggest open piece of MotoGP’s puzzle should be slotted into place. On Saturday night, Valentino Rossi met with Ducati CEO Gabriele Del Torchio, to discuss the details of the offer Ducati have for Rossi, and on Sunday morning, Del Torchio told French journalist Michel Turco that he expected to know Rossi’s answer within the next seven days. The money from Ducati is generous, some 17 million euros a season (this figure has since been denied by Rossi — Ed.), if the rumors are to be believed, but the money will not be the important part of the deal.

The biggest item will be what help Ducati will get from Audi, and whether the rate of progress at Borgo Panigale can be ramped up to start rolling out updates faster, and start to change some of the things which Rossi and Burgess believe are vital before the bike can even begin to become competitive. Ducati is not Rossi’s only option, of course.

The second seat at the Factory Yamaha team awaits, though that ride is not so richly rewarded, financially at least. The offer from Yamaha is rumored to be around the 3-4 million euro mark, a pay cut Rossi may be willing to take if it leaves him capable of winning and challenging for championships again. But here, too, conditions will be key: Rossi will return as the #2 rider, Lorenzo already having clinched a two-year deal with the factory, and Yamaha having made it clear to Rossi that they saw Lorenzo as the future back in 2010, which caused Rossi to pick-up sticks and go to Ducati.

Even worse, though, Rossi may have to return alone; his crew will not automatically be rehired by Yamaha, the cost of flying them around the world being a major cost factor in the equation. What’s more, Rossi will have to bring sponsorship to the table, much more than just the amount needed to cover his salary.

Laguna Seca has a habit of throwing the Championship a curveball. The epic race between Casey Stoner and Valentino Rossi in 2008 was a prime example, a turning point in the Championship when Rossi halted what looked like the inexorable rise of Casey Stoner. Last year, too, Laguna proved to be key moment in the Championship, when Stoner stopped Jorge Lorenzo’s resurgence with one of the bravest passes in racing for a long time, through the ultra-fast Turn 1. With Laguna Seca the last race going into the summer break, winning or losing at the US GP can have a dramatic effect on the momentum of the Championship.

Whether the same will be said of Laguna Seca in 2012 will only be clear at the end of the season. But it has all the signs of being a significant moment, for more than just the five points Casey Stoner clawed back from Jorge Lorenzo. The race, if not thrilling, was at least tense: there was little between the two men for most of the race, Stoner shadowing Lorenzo closely, snapping at his heels but not quite able to attempt a pass. The turning point came on lap 18. As the leading pair plunged down the Corkscrew, Lorenzo’s sliding rear tire almost threw him out of the saddle. “I closed my eyes during the highside,” the Yamaha man said afterwards, “and I was happy to still be in the seat when I opened them again.”

Despite dominating the Championship so far, Jorge Lorenzo does not get a lot of pole positions. Except at Laguna: though this was only his third of the season, Saturday’s pole position was Lorenzo’s fourth in a row at the circuit, and he secured it in convincing style. The circuit record tumbled – it had stood since 2008, set by Casey Stoner when he looked on his way to dominating the US GP at Laguna, before his run in with Valentino Rossi of course. There has been much complaining about the Bridgestone tires of late, yet both Lorenzo and Stoner beat the pole record on the tire they will probably race on, a pole record set on super-soft special qualifiers, which at a track like Laguna Seca you could just about eke two laps out of before they were finished. In reality, there is not so much wrong with these tires.

The pole record could have been beaten by a lot more, but Casey Stoner kept running into traffic each time he went for a fast lap. Up by a tenth or more at each split a number of times, he would suddenly run into a rider cruising, or a CRT machine on a hot lap, and lose out. On his last attempt, he ran into Danilo Petrucci just before the final corner, working his way swiftly past to take pole from Lorenzo with a couple of minutes to go. But Lorenzo would not be denied, pushing hard in the final sector to get pole back from Stoner in the dying moments.