Reading Between the Lines of Valentino

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Handwritten and then reproduced by Fiat-Yamaha, Valentino Rossi included an open letter with the announcement of his departure from Fiat-Yamaha to Marlboro Ducati. In his own words Rossi documents his “relationship” with the Yamaha YZR-M1, and is quick to point-out that it was Rossi’s direction and input that turned the bike into the weapon of choice in MotoGP. Reading the letter, it might be a bit strange as to why the message was included with the official press release from Yamaha, but peering between the lines some parting words can be inferred from Rossi, and perhaps greater insight into what makes a nine-time World Champion.

It’s of note that Rossi starts the letter with the premise that things have changed considerably in Yamaha since he joined the team in 2004, and then centers his letter around the development of the M1 race bike. Rossi is of course right: things certainly have changed in the Yamaha camp, with the team favoring fresher talent over the Italian.

As he points out, when Rossi joined Yamaha in 2004 he was moving off the motorcycle in the MotoGP paddock, while Yamaha was mired with a race package that could not be described at competitive. Rossi’s letter is a very tactfully written reminder to Yamaha that much of the company’s success in MotoGP is tied to the Italian, and what he’s brought to the table with his talent.

Talking about “my M1,” Rossi speaks about the years of development it took for him and his team to hone the M1 into the motorcycle that it is today, and for as much as this serves as a reminder to Yamaha of Rossi’s value beyond just racing on Sunday, it also serves as a prod at Jorge Lorenzo. For as long as Lorenzo remains at Yamaha, and rides the YZR-M1, he will always be riding “the bike Rossi built.”

In many ways Lorenzo is the reason for Rossi’s departure to Ducati, as the Spaniard has not only shown himself capable of challenging Rossi on the track, but also now Lorenzo is receiving greater status and position in the MotoGP paddock. Rossi’s letter is shot across Lorenzo’s bow, saying to the young Spanish rider that even if he wins this year and the next, it will be on Rossi’s coat tails.

If the Lorenzo really wants to be a Champion, and compare himself to Rossi, he will have do what Rossi has done before, and now sets out to do again. Noted during his move from Honda, it’s not enough for Rossi to win, the Italian wants to win when the odds are stacked against him. Rossi’s move to Ducati isn’t about more victories, more euros, or more championships. It’s about a legacy. It’s about living the legend that involves winning with no excuses.

Rossi’s parting words to Jorge Lorenzo is that as long as soon-to-be World Champion rides the Yamaha YZR-M1, there will always be an asterisk next his name.

Letter of Departure by Valentino Rossi:

“It is very difficult to explain in just a few words what my relationship with Yamaha has been in these past seven years.

“Many things have changed since that far-off time in 2004, but especially ‘she’, my M1, has changed. At that time she was a poor middle-grid position MotoGP bike, derided by most of the riders and the MotoGP workers. Now, after having helped her to grow and improve, you can see her smiling in her garage, courted and admired, treated as the ‘top of the class’.

“The list of the people that made this transformation possible is very long, but I would like to thank anyway Masao Furusawa, Masahiko Nakajima and ‘my’ Hiroya Atsumi, as representatives of all the engineers that worked hard to change the face of our M1. Then Jeremy Burgess and all my guys in the garage, who took care of her with love on all the tracks of the world and also all the men and women that have worked in the Yamaha team during these years.

“Now the moment has come to look for new challenges; my work here at Yamaha is finished. Unfortunately even the most beautiful love stories finish, but they leave a lot of wonderful memories, like when my M1 and I kissed for the first time on the grass at Welkom, when she looked straight in my eyes and told me ‘I love you!’”