Much of the talk about Valentino Rossi and his injuries have centered on the Italian’s leg, which was broken with a compound fracture at Mugello earlier this year. Despite causing Rossi to miss several races, the Italian’s biggest physical concern hasn’t been his leg, but instead his shoulder, which he injured in April while motocross training. The shoulder has been a lingering issue for Rossi ever since his return at Brno, which culminated this weekend with the Fiat-Yamaha team actually having to setup the M1 at Aragon to work around the injury.
With a lackluster performance this weekend, not to mention a disappointing return to GP racing in general, Rossi announced after Sunday’s race that he was considering having his shoulder operated on after the three fly-away races (Motegi, Sepang, and Phillip Island), which would effectively mean that the nine-time World Champion would miss MotoGP’s last two stops at Estoril and Valencia. )
This announcement is a big bombshell for the Yamaha camp, which could see its star rider, if we can still say that, again vacating from the team to heal his injuries. However again reading between the lines of the Italian, Rossi’s revelation this weekend has about as much to do with an injured shoulder as it does with putting pressure on Yamaha to release him from his contract in time to test the Ducati Desmosedici GP11 at Valencia.
Come September in MotoGP, few riders are riding at 100%, and it’s not uncommon to see the walking wounded take to the starting grid on any given Sunday. Rossi’s injuries don’t separate him from the norm in MotoGP, although they certainly are holding him back from his normal routine of seriously contending for the top podium step on race day. Perhaps the most interesting thing to come from Rossi’s announcement is not the fact that he wants to have his shoulder operated on, but that he is considering doing it before the last two races of the season, which also happen to take place in one of MotoGP’s largest backyards.
Make no mistake that Rossi is a clever man, a clever man with a problem. Yamaha has been dangling its decision about letting Rossi test with Ducati at Valencia in front of the Italian, like a carrot to a horse, ever since his announcement that he was jumping ship for the 2011 & 2012 seasons. While no one can fault Rossi for his accident at Mugello, Yamaha has certainly been short-changed on its star power from the Italian. What everyone is thinking, but no one is saying, is that Yamaha is keeping Rossi’s contract obligations in its back pocket in order to ensure its ability to keep Rossi under control the rest of the season.
Responding at Indianapolis that he thought Yamaha needed to “think some more” about its decision to release the Italian for testing at Valencia, it seems Rossi has done some thinking himself. The peculiar thing about Rossi’s announcement is that it really isn’t an announcement at all. Instead of saying he would be missing the certain races due to an ongoing injury, he in fact has only said that he’s going to consider the possibility of missing Estoril and Valencia over the course of the next month. Putting the ball squarely in Yamaha’s court, Rossi is telling the Japanese company that its decision to hold the Italian until the rest of the year, could come with immediate consequences, and it has the next three races to reconsider its position.
Those consequences could mean leaving Yamaha to scramble once again for a replacement rider for the last two races of the MotoGP season, and of course put a blow financially on the company, as it would once again be letting down its sponsors who pay dearly to be on Rossi’s bike. The move would also be devastating to Dorna Sports, the media rights holder to MotoGP. As we already saw from Rossi’s absence earlier in the season, interest in MotoGP just isn’t the same when the Italian is missing. Not wishing to see its star rider absent while stopping in two of its largest markets, you can expect Carmelo Ezpeleta has more than a vested interest in seeing Rossi on a race bike every race Sunday until the GP season concludes, not to mention the Spanish media mogul wouldn’t mind cashing in this fiscal year on some of the Ducati/Rossi fortune that’s sure to come if the Valencia Ducati test comes through.
No one could accuse Rossi of holding back on race day, after all top-level athletes are competitors by their very definition, but it wouldn’t be beyond Rossi to be considering his long-term position. If Rossi “really doesn’t understand his relationship” with Yamaha, as he’s put it, then he likely has his future health and prospects with Ducati in mind. Those interests are of course clearly served by Rossi attending to his personal needs, even if that means doing it on Yamaha’s time.
With Jeremy Burgess missing a deadline imposed by Yamaha to make a decision whether or not he’s staying or going next year, it is at least worth pausing a moment to consider how much of that issue is a part of Rossi exerting some leverage on Yamaha. With Ben Spies likely to enter the factory Yamaha garage with his pit box entourage, the issue is not necessarily critical for Yamaha, although they would like to retain the maestro Burgess, but it does complicate the factory’s ability to sure up its future team roster.
Couple this with a rider who has a legitimate medical problem, along with sponsors and promoters who have a large vested financial interest in this team/rider tiff, throw in one of the worst financial periods for the sport and industry, and you have a recipe for a very interesting and cleverly put together bargaining position by the nine-time World Champion. Rossi has made his message clear to Yamaha, and with the next stop of the MotoGP Championship in the factory’s backyard of Motegi, you can be sure that the timing is more than apropos for the facilitation of future discussions.