As the countdown to the start of the 2011 MotoGP season continues, the spotlight is intensifying on Valentino Rossi. The pressure created by the magical combination of two Italian legends, Rossi and Ducati, has got marketing and media machines going into overdrive. It has become quite frankly impossible not to write about it.
Rossi himself is managing the situation with great attention to detail. Firstly, with carefully selected media appearances, and secondly, with a carefully constructed media messages. So it came to pass that Rossi turned up on Italian TV, on a talk show called Chiambretti Night, in which he got the chance to talk about his shoulder, his rivals and the Ducati.
Rossi emphasized that his shoulder was still troubling him. Despite the surgery he had in November of 2010, one of the biceps tendons had still not healed correctly, leaving it a little short and leaving him with some weakness in the shoulder. Earlier in the week, at the presentation of Andrea Iannone's Speed Master Moto2 team, Alessio "Uccio" Salucci had told the press that Rossi's shoulder was recovering well, and that the nine-times World Champion would now be able to concentrate on improving the technical aspects of the Ducati, rather than just riding round his shoulder. But Rossi told Italian TV that he was still in pain from the injury, and that his doctor had told him that his shoulder was not fully recovered.
Naturally, Rossi was asked for his opinion of his rivals, and the Italian made sure he got his retaliation in first. He annointed Casey Stoner as favorite for the title, though he did so "only to jinx him," Rossi joked. He gave the Australian 10 points out of 10, saying that his speed was beyond question, but that Stoner lacked tactical acuity and racecraft. Rossi's comments on his former teammate Jorge Lorenzo left no room for doubt about the antipathy that exists between the two. "He has succeeded in uniting everyone, in the sense that everyone is united in their dislike of Lorenzo," the Italian quipped. He described the Spaniard - in barbed terms - as "not intelligent, intelligent is a big word, but cunning." Rossi rated Lorenzo as 9.5 out of 10 for the championship.
The Italian reiterated again that he would like to retire to World Superbikes once he is finished in MotoGP, though here, too, he damned the series with faint praise. "It like the Serie B," he said, comparing it to the Italian soccer league's second division. Rossi also scotched any talk of a switch to Formula 1, the prospects of which have been receding since Rossi decided to stay in MotoGP at the start of the 2006 season.
Rossi's appearance on Italian TV was carried off with the charm, with and candour that has enamoured legions of fans to the Italian. But along with the smiles, Rossi ensured he got in a few precisely aimed barbs for his rivals. Whether he can make those barbs hit home will depend on Rossi's shoulder, and on whether they can fix the Ducati. The test on Sunday and Monday at Qatar should tell us more, and the season opener a week later will leave no place to hide.