MotoGP: Lin Jarvis Talks Valentino Rossi

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After the news that Valentino Rossi was to make a return to Yamaha after two disastrous seasons at Ducati, Yamaha’s press officers were inundated with requests for interviews with Yamaha Racing Managing Director Lin Jarvis at Brno. To accommodate as many people as possible, Yamaha held a press conference to answer the questions that all of the assembled media wanted to put to them.

The subjects covered during the press conference were the motivation for signing Rossi after his two-year absence, whether Jorge Lorenzo had been consulted on the deal, and the pecking order inside the team. Jarvis also discussed the possibility of Jeremy Burgess and his crew joining Rossi at Yamaha, as well as commenting positively on Ben Spies’ performance over the past season.

But first he was asked why Yamaha had decided to sign Rossi after the Italian had left on not entirely amicable terms. “The reason to have Valentino back is the seven years of excellent history we had together,” Jarvis replied. “We had Valentino with us for seven years, we won four world titles together and we made a great history in the sport and also a lot of positive publicity for Yamaha together. So finally, the reason for having Valentino back is to come back to the good times. The divorce, I’d like to say, was not in my opinion a bad divorce. Of course, any separation has its issues, but we have remained on good terms as Yamaha with Valentino since.”

The move was not related to sponsorship as such, Jarvis affirmed. “The main motivation, the main reason for us to be here is not to get a title sponsor, our reason to be here is to promote the Yamaha brand and also to go racing, and to animate our motorcycle business in general and motorcycle sport,” he said. “And so the main motivation is to do that. Of course we’ve been looking for a title sponsor, looking for major investment over the years, and with a super team as we believe Valentino and Jorge together will be, hopefully we will have the best possible tool with which to search for investment.”

When did talks with Rossi start, Jarvis was asked. “I would say there had been some discussions in the background for some time and the real negotiation probably began in July. As you know, as Valentino clarified, after Laguna, he made his decision, in the week after Laguna Seca, and then we made the announcement the Friday a couple of weeks after that. It was quite final after that, the earlier discussions went on from time to time, but the final negotiation was quite short, because having the history we have together, we know the challenge, we know the essential elements.”

Would Jeremy Burgess and the technical crew who left Yamaha to join Ducati be invited back to Yamaha? “Concerning Jeremy and the crew, we expect that Jeremy and the crew will return to us,” Jarvis explained. “We spent seven years together with Jeremy and the technical crew. We haven’t yet finalized that, we’re going to have further discussions with Valentino, first we need to get the agreement with the rider done, then we can go for the plans with the crew and stuff.

Exactly who will be coming back to Yamaha with Rossi? “Until we fit everything I don’t know. But I would say it’s the garage crew, Jeremy and his squad.”

Naturally, Jarvis was also asked about Jorge Lorenzo’s reaction to the news that Rossi could make a return to Yamaha. “We informed Jorge, I think it was at Mugello where we had a meeting together,” Jarvis said “We informed him there that circumstances were evolving that it looked like there was a possibility that we could contract Valentino as his teammate. I think Jorge honestly would have preferred to keep Ben as a teammate, because he’s had a very good relationship with Ben over the past two years, and that’s the way that we were going as well in our early mid-season planning. But finally, he respected Yamaha’s decision to bring back Valentino, and obviously, it’s up to us to manage the situation.”

Jarvis denied that Lorenzo had a veto clause in his contract. “We never went into detail, but always in our rider’s contracts, we have the choice of the teammate. So obviously, we discuss with our other rider, because it’s obvious that we need to share these issues, but the final choice is Yamaha’s. It was the same in Valentino’s contract, and it’s the same in Jorge’s contract.”

On whether the team will have two different sponsors or not, or be split in any other way, Jarvis was clear: “We will run a two-rider team, so we will have both riders in this environment. I don’t know if the trucks will be blue next year, that depends on our sponsorship situation. Both riders will be in the factory team, on the left and right side of the garage, and whether the sponsors will be equal on the bikes I don’t know, in the past we had some variation, as an example we had Fastweb on Valentino’s bike, we had other sponsors on our other rider’s bike. So there might be some small variation, but the greater lines will be the same.”

The big question for many journalists was who had made the first move. Did Rossi contact Yamaha, or did Yamaha try to persuade Rossi to return? “Regarding the start of the discussions, Valentino made the first approach to express his interest in returning to Yamaha, the first point of contact came from Valentino’s side,” Jarvis explained.

Rossi’s signing had frustrated any hopes of either Cal Crutchlow or Andrea Dovizioso moving up to the factory Yamaha team. Jarvis expressed his sympathy at their plight, but also pointed out that even if Rossi had not come back, their first aim was to retain Ben Spies in the second Yamaha seat. “I think that both Cal and Andrea have had excellent seasons this year,” Jarvis said. “Particularly Andrea, of course having had five podiums now this year, so in terms of pure performance, he’s done a great job, so you might also expect that he might be disappointed more than anybody else that he doesn’t get the opportunity to step up to the factory team.”

“That said, I’d like to talk a little bit about Ben, because he’s had a torrid season this year, he’s had all sorts of unfortunate incidents, we talked about two of them just now, at his two home races, he’s had some illness problems as well, he’s also made some mistakes himself. So he’s had a hard year but he has a lot of potential, still has a lot of potential in the seven races still to go. During this season, we evaluated Cal, and also Andrea, and also Ben, and our opinion is that all three have a lot of potential, and in the process before the discussions with Valentino started, we had already discussed with Cal and with Andrea and said ‘we know you’re doing great, you’ve been a great team and we want to have you together with Yamaha, at the same time Ben Spies is our current factory rider, he has a lot of potential, much more than we are seeing today, so we are more inclined to renew with Ben. This is something we informed them perhaps five or six weeks ago. Then as the season progressed, the situation changed, and finally, the result is the result that it is. Because we never anticipated that Valentino would come back to Yamaha three months ago.”

In June, Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta had told reporters that he was sure that Rossi would be on a competitive bike in 2013. Many took this to mean that Ezpeleta had placed pressure on Yamaha to take Rossi back, but Lin Jarvis denied this outright. “Although maybe some of you may find this remarkable, I can say that Carmelo had no influence whatsoever on the entire process,” Jarvis said. “I can say that I have never discussed Valentino Rossi’s return to Yamaha with Carmelo, still not to this day. This is an interest from Valentino to Yamaha, and from Yamaha to Valentino.”

Despite Rossi returning to Yamaha, Jorge Lorenzo was still Yamaha’s main priority, though both men would be given equal treatment. “In terms of our priorities, we made it clear earlier this season that Jorge is our priority number one rider, for the current championship and for the coming two seasons,” Jarvis said. “So we consider Jorge to be the most capable rider to win world championships. So this is clear, we signed Jorge first, we had a lot of competition from Honda to sign Jorge Lorenzo, and we did our maximum that we could do to secure Jorge. So Jorge is the key for pure results. Valentino, as I said, has a seven-year history with Yamaha, and as you all know very well, Valentino has an enormous global awareness and popularity, and there’s no doubt that he did great things for the Yamaha brand, and still his awareness and popularity can bring great things to Yamaha. And I think to this sport, and another thing I would like to say is that having him on a competitive motorcycle will be in my opinion something very very positive for the sport of MotoGP. I think that this sport is going through difficult times at this moment, and it’s not aided by seeing the most popular rider in the world down in sixth place, seventh place, eighth place. So to see Valentino on a competitive bike — and whether that be a Ducati or a Honda or a Yamaha is not really relevant — but to see him in a competitive situation will bring benefit to all riders and all teams I think.”

Had Yamaha had to break the bank to secure the services of Valentino Rossi? “You can I think be quite clear that we signed Jorge and we made our maximum effort to secure Jorge, so Valentino’s situation – we will never go into financial situations – but I think that Jorge is taken care of very well, and Valentino we did not have a huge budget remaining,” Jarvis said.

And both riders will be treated equally, according to Jarvis: “Although Jorge has the number 1 tag on him because of his current championship performance and his future potential, within the team, we will treat both riders equally. They will get exactly equal support, exactly equal attention, and equal availability of parts.”

The risk of a competitive Valentino Rossi is that he could take valuable points from Jorge Lorenzo in the final stretch of the title race, as he had done in Motegi in 2010. Was that a risk? It was something they had talked about, Jarvis admitted. “In the process of discussion with Valentino, we have obviously taken the opportunity to talk about the past. I think the situation in the team will be different, I think there’s a different dynamic. In the previous team, Valentino was number 1, Jorge was the arriving youngster, and this created some obvious tensions at that stage. The dynamics will be quite different now. We have clarified the previous issues and explained obviously that we don’t want to see any situations where our riders will be, shall we say, endangering the results of the other one. So this is always difficult where you have two strong riders, so I don’t say that the next two seasons will be easy. It’s never easy to manage a team with two top riders. But I believe we can manage that.”

So Rossi would be coming  back on Yamaha’s terms and not his own? “Correct,” affirmed Jarvis.

Will Valentino be ready to win races and championships from the very start? Jarvis was asked. “I think nobody knows, and I think Valentino said that at Indy,” the Yamaha boss replied. “I read some articles done at Indy and it’s a big question for him, he’s two years further on from when he left Yamaha. Can he get used to the bike? I’m sure he can get used to it very quickly. How competitive is he? Let’s see! The young rider, Jorge has two more years under his belt now, and is not only very fast he’s also consistent. Dani’s riding superbly. Unfortunately Casey won’t be there, but there’s a lot of other young, fast riders there. So that’s a big question, not only for Valentino. My opinion is that he definitely in the first season can win races. Can he win another championship? I don’t know. I don’t think we can tell.”

When will Valentino ride the Yamaha for the first time?

“After Valencia.”

Photo: © 2012 Jules Cisek / Popmonkey – All Rights Reserved

This article was originally published on MotoMatters, and is republished here on Asphalt & Rubber with permission by the author.