Cycle News - Archive Issues - 2000's

Cycle News 2005 10 05

Cycle News is a weekly magazine that covers all aspects of motorcycling including Supercross, Motocross and MotoGP as well as new motorcycles

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Page 90 of 91

By IN "HE PADDOCK MICHAEL SCOTT Should I Stay or Should I Go II he stay, will he go? Will he stay, will he go? That's the frenzy of the moment in MotoGP racing. There is no question who they're talking about. It's Rossi, as usual. Rossi, and the Ferrari Farrago. Since the championship is a foregone conclusion, and Valentino's rare crash at Motegi a mere postponement of the inevitable, the story is getting plenty of prominence. This was boosted by statements from Ferrari at the Monza Formula One Grand Prix, where Ross Brawn was quoted as having arranged a test every four weeks for the tousledhaired biker during 2006. Rossi played it down at Motegi, as much as he could. He had seen the story, but nobody had spoken to him, he said. (Though it wasn't clear, in his not-q u ite-perfect English, whether he meant that it was the errant journalists who hadn't spoken to him, or Ferrari). Anyway, he wouldn't have time to test once a month. (He didn't mention, however, that there might be other times he would be able to test twice a month). Anyway, it all had the feel of a smokescreen. Because it is impossible not to believe that Rossi wouldn't jump at the chance to drive a Ferrari Formula One car. The fact that the story got so much airtime in Formula One is a tribute to Rossi's star quality, as well as a revelation that over in F I, they haven't got an awful lot to write about - not in terms of personalities, anyhow. He'd be snapped up there, for commercial reasons alone. Are there any other reasons in F I ? But there are all sorts of questions arising, and doubts that, just because he can ride a motorcycle as though he has his own personal laws of physics that he can bend to his will, that he can be half as good in a car. Especially right at the top end of FI, where he will have to master radically different braking distances and W understand the intricacies of speed-variable aerodynamic forces, not to mention a hundred other subtle areas of understanding and control. And, as David Coulthard was qUick to point out, build up some neck muscles damn quick, to withstand the G-forces of cornering. Personally, I see no reason why he shouldn't be successful. He is a talent of gigantic proportions, with all the gifts of mechanical understanding and race-craft apparently built in. And a fast learner at that. Why shouldn't he, in three years or so, master this new but still closely related craft? But right now, it doesn't matter. In a larger sense, the lesson of the whole Ferrari Farrago is another demonstration that Rossi signed with Yamaha for 2006 to ride in his own colors, in a so-called (rather notional) satellite team. This would leave the Gauloises-painted "factory" team to take its pick... from the losers. Altadis naturally feels that when it bought the factory team for two years, even though riders weren't then signed for 2006, it would automatically get Yamaha's best. This is currently in the hands of the lawyers, with Altadis threatening financial penalties (probably including withdrawal of sponsorship) against Yamaha. What it signifies here is the same as the Ferrari stuff. It's a matter of opinion whether Rossi is getting too big for his boots, or if he is merely acting professionally, making the most of his possibly fleet- of how big a star MotoGP's resident genius - named recently as one of all sport's top 10 earners - has become. And a firm indication of the potential of even more in the future. In his meteoric rise to world fame and power, Valentino has dragged MotoGP up with him. But the reality is increasingly obvious - he has now become much bigger than the sport itself. There's another highly important hubbub in MotoGP, this one behind closed doors. It also concerns Rossi. And Yamaha. And their sponsors, Altadis, owner of both Gauloises and the satellite team's Fortuna brands. This has been running for some time, so perhaps you know the outline - ing earning potential. It's a matter of fact that he's once again proving bigger than the sport. Or at least bigger than his own factory team, which is again caught in a quite unexpected and uncomfortable bind. The last time was when they thought they'd signed Nicky Hayden, only to lose him back to Honda. So, to return to the original question at the top of the page: Will he stay, or will he go? Valentino might be tempted to have a go at the new 800cc bikes in 2007. I'd be prepared to bet there'd be bigger things on the table for him by then. And, as we know, he's easily bored, and likes a new challenge. Even his autobiography is called: "What if I hadn't tried it?" So the real question is different. Not will he go, but what will MotoGP do when he does go? Rossi will leave a massive hole, of unprecedented proportions. That's what I mean when I point out how he is bigger than racing. With him gone, it will not just be diminished. It will be hugely reduced. If not shattered. Or, to put it another way, cut back down to its real size again. This might actually be a good thing. Making my annual visit to a World Superbike race recently, I commented that the only thing missing was a Valentino Rossi. Everyone within that paddock seemed to think that was, by and large, a good thing. It may be significant to note that SBK recently went through a similar process, cutting itself back down to size, with unexpectedly successful results. It will certainly be extremely painful. When Rossi goes, he will take away vast coffers of sponsorship money, huge hillsides full of spectators, and uncharted millions of TV viewers. Because there's nobody among the current crop of would-be champions who can command anything like the worldwide attention that Rossi can - not Melandri, not Biaggi, not Edwards, and certainly not Gibernau. Nicky Hayden comes closest, but so far he ain't going quite fast enough. And some tip Dani Pedrosa as MotoGP's next giant talent, and while he certainly has plenty of that, he still has a very long way to go before he can be considered anything other than a personality vacuum. Rossi at the same age was already a teen idol. There is one comfort. Inevitably, lap times will continue to drop, with or without Rossi. Although there will be a discontinuity - 990cc to 800cc - to take into account. But there's always someone to force the pace, and none of the good riders have done anything this year other than go faster than they did last year. In this way, and only this way, the sport is bigger than Rossi. eN CYCLE NEWS • OCTOBER 5, 2005 91

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