Today starts with the bombshell news story that Fabio Quartararo has been signed to the Monster Yamaha MotoGP team, just a day after Maverick Viñales inked a three-year deal with the factory squad.
Combined, this news is a huge moment for the MotoGP paddock, as it signals the end of Valentino Rossi’s factory riding position, and possibly his motorcycle racing career.
To stymie that headline, Yamaha was sure to publish a second press release on Quartararo’s news, to explain that Yamaha and Rossi were taking time to evaluate their future together.
Unpacking all of that, Fabio Quartararo’s contract with Yamaha sees the prodigy Frenchman within the factory team for the 2021 and 2022 seasons, as he will move up from the satellite Petronas Yamaha Sepang Racing Team where he showed remarkable speed.
That Quartararo would get the factory nod is not that surprising, especially since he bested the Monster Yamaha riders on several occasions last season. The surprise from this news though is the effect it is having on Valentino Rossi, and the position Yamaha is finally taking.
“The totally understandable decision of Valentino to assess his competitiveness in 2020 before making any decision about 2021 was something that Yamaha respects and also wholeheartedly agrees to,” said Lin Jarvis, Managing Director of Yamaha Motor Racing.
“While we have total respect for and confidence in Valentino‘s abilities and speed for the 2020 championship – at the same time Yamaha also have to plan for the future. These days, with six motorcycle manufacturers in the MotoGP class, fast young talents are greatly in demand, and consequently the riders‘ market begins ever earlier.”
“So, it‘s a weird sensation to start a season knowing that Vale will not be in the Factory Team in 2021, but Yamaha will still be there for Valentino, whatever he may decide for the future. If he feels confident and continues to race, we will provide a Factory-spec YZR-M1 bike and full engineering support.”
“If he decides to retire, we will continue and expand our collaborations off track with the young riders‘ training programmes of the Riders Academy and the Yamaha VR46 Master Camp, and with him as a Yamaha brand ambassador.”
“Anyway, that is all speculation – right now we have a full season ahead of us and I can assure the fans that Valentino will have our 100% support every day until he eventually one day decides to hang up his leathers!”
Rossi has made it clear that he would retire from MotoGP (and motorcycle racing as a whole) when he no longer felt that he was competitive. This has traditionally meant him assessing himself after a few of the European rounds early in the season, with decisions expected mid-season, presumably at the Mugello round in Italy.
This informal arrangement has left Yamaha in a lurch on a couple of occasions, most notbale this season as the rider market is very competitive, as Rossi’s on-track performance has not been what it once was, but his media potential with fans continues to be unparalleled.
With Yamaha playing the long game with Valentino Rossi and his post-riding possibilities for the Japanese factory, it has left the factory Yamaha squad in a lurch, as any other rider would likely have been replaced much more quickly in the team as the results waned.
This is the situation going into the 2020 MotoGP season, with Rossi still unclear on his future (many expected him to sign a one-year contract later this year, if he still felt competitive on the Yamaha YZR-M1 race bike), and Yamaha falling behind the other factories on development and on-bike talent.
This brings us to Yamaha’s second press release today, where it makes clear that Rossi is still to decide on what his MotoGP future looks like during the coming season. One thing is made clear though, Valentino Rossi will not be in the Monster Yamaha MotoGP team next year.
This leaves open the possibility that Valentino Rossi could swap places with Fabio Quartararo at the Petronas squad, with guarantees already coming from Yamaha that he will have a factory-spec motorcycle.
“For reasons dictated by the riders‘ market, Yamaha asked me at the beginning of the year to make a decision regarding my future,” said Valentino Rossi in the Yamaha press release. “Consistent with what I said during the last season, I confirmed that I didn’t want to rush any decision and needed more time. Yamaha has acted accordingly and concluded the ongoing negotiations.
“It is clear that after the last technical changes and with the arrival of my new crew chief, my first goal is to be competitive this year and to continue my career as a MotoGP rider also in 2021. Before doing so, I need to have some answers that only the track and the first few races can give me.”
“I‘m happy that, should I decide to continue, Yamaha is ready to support me in all respects, giving me a factory-spec bike and a factory contract. In the first tests I will do my best to do a good job together with my team and be ready for the start of the season.”
There is also always the possibility that Rossi could continue for another season (or more) in his own VR|46 branded team, which could create an easy stepping stone for the nine-time world champion for a post-racing career, moving from rider to a team manager role.
Whatever that decision may be, Rossi has the first-half of the 2020 MotoGP Championship season to decide whether its retirement or a new riding arrangement for his future.
Either way, the decision will rock the grand prix paddock, of that we can be sure.
Source: Yamaha Racing