By now, everyone has heard the rumors that Valentino Rossi will be leaving MotoGP at the end of the 2006 season to race Formula 1 automobiles, probably for Ferrari. Rossi has tested the Ferrari F1 machine several times in the last year, and has openly talked about the possibility of switching over to auto racing.
However, it seems that all these rumors are based on the assumption that Rossi will successfully defend his world championship title in 2006. Although that seemed a pretty safe assumption to make before the start of the 2006 season, things have changed somewhat after the first four races of 2006. As I reported in my article earlier this week, Rossi’s hopes of retaining the world title this year are starting to look rather bleak.
If Rossi doesn’t win the championship this year, will that affect his decision to stay in MotoGP or leave for Formula 1? Well, according to the rumor mill (and common sense), he doesn’t exactly have the option of waiting to see how the title race plays out before deciding – supposedly, Ferrari expects Rossi to make a decision about his plans for next year by June, 2006 at the latest. Statements made by Rossi to the European press have supported the existence of this deadline.
In the past, Rossi has shown that his decisions are at least partly influenced by the opinions of the media and the public. When publicly explaining his decision to leave Honda to race for Yamaha in MotoGP, he often cited the urge to disprove criticisms that his incredible success was mainly due to riding a factory Honda.
Therefore, it is reasonable to assume that Rossi’s decision regarding leaving MotoGP will be influenced by how he thinks the media and the public will react to him leaving MotoGP without the title. Particularly, with the recent wave of hype surrounding Honda’s MotoGP rookie Dani Pedrosa, Rossi may feel the need to prove that he is still ‘the king of MotoGP’.
Ego aside, Rossi is also well-known for his love of being challenged. This is another reason he cited for his move to Yamaha, and was likely a factor when he began considering a move to F1. Last year, he started preparing for a move to Formula 1 in a period where he may have seen little challenge in MotoGP.
This year is decidedly different, at least so far – between the fast rookies, the increased competitiveness of Bridgestone-equipped teams, and the problems he has faced with his own bike, Rossi has am infinitely greater challenge ahead of him. Next year might be even more challenging – 2007 will be the first year of the new 800cc limit, and Honda is widely expected to come out of the box with an extremely well-developed and fast racebike. Winning a title on the 800cc machine, particularly against the Hondas of Nicky Hayden and Dani Pedrosa, must have great appeal to Rossi.
On the other hand, switching to the premier automobile racing series would be an equal or greater challenge, particularly since Michael Schumacher has re-signed to race for Ferrari in 2007, giving Rossi the chance to compete against a man some would consider his counterpart in auto racing. Another point not easily dismissed is the money – salaries in Formula 1 are incredible, and it is likely that even as a rookie Ferrari driver Rossi would make twice what he is currently paid at Yamaha, and possibly even more.
Whatever decision Rossi makes next month, we hope it will be immediately announced to the public – we can’t wait to find out where he’s headed for ’07. As massive MotoGP fans, we might be a little biased, but I for one certainly hope he decides to stay in MotoGP – I want to see him on an 800 next year, dicing with Hayden and Pedrosa (or maybe running away from them)!