It appears that the deal is done. Italian media, including La Gazzetta dello Sport and GPOne.com, are reporting that Valentino Rossi has reached agreement with Yamaha for a new two-year deal to race in the Petronas Yamaha squad. The deal is to be announced during the weekend of the first MotoGP round once it resumes at Jerez next weekend.
The deal will initially be for 2021, with an option to extend the contract for a second year to 2022. Rossi will take a seat in the Petronas Yamaha squad alongside VR46 protege Franco Morbidelli, who should also be announcing a new contract soon.
The announcement will bring a long period of speculation to an end. Valentino Rossi appears to have enjoyed spending so much time at home during lockdown, with his family and girlfriend, giving rise to rumors he was seriously considering retirement. Rossi had previously said that he had wanted to wait until after the first few European races in 2020 before making a decision on his future.
Ducati's aggressive pursuit of both Maverick Viñales and Fabio Quartararo had already forced Yamaha's hand at the beginning of the year. The two youngsters were signed to the factory Monster Energy Yamaha team for 2021 and 2022, complicating Rossi's decision further. If he wanted to continue racing, he would have to move to the satellite Petronas Yamaha squad. Yamaha at least promised him a fully factory-supported Yamaha M1 if he did decided to continue.
The COVID-19 pandemic and the ensuing disruption to the 2020 MotoGP season wrecked Rossi's initial plans to wait before making a decision. With the first half of the season canceled, postponed, or rescheduled, Rossi was forced to reconsider his options. It would not be possible for the Italian to make his choice based on results; the criteria he had previously given to make a judgment was whether he felt he could be competitive.
Given the curtailed 2020 MotoGP season and the very different environment in which it will take place, it seems that Rossi did not feel that this year would be a good yardstick by which to judge whether he is still capable of winning races, or perhaps even a championship. And as a consequence, he has decided to keep racing for at least one more season, with an option to assess his performance in 2021 with a view to racing in 2022 as well.
So far, there are no details on what exactly is included in the deal. Previously, the sticking point between Petronas and Rossi involved the number of people the Italian wanted to bring into the Petronas squad. In all his previous moves, Rossi has brought his entire crew with him every time he has switched manufacturers.
The vast majority of his team accompanied him from Honda to Yamaha, from Yamaha to Ducati, and back again from Ducati to Yamaha. But Petronas team boss Razlan Razali told The Race's Simon Patterson that they did not want the disruption which bringing an entire garage crew in for possibly just a single season would involve. Razali told The Race that Petronas would only have room for two crew from Rossi's factory team, one of whom would almost certainly be the crew chief. How many people make the switch, and what happens to the mechanics and engineers who don't move with Rossi remains to be seen.
Rossi's deal removes one of the larger question marks hanging over the 2021 grid, but a couple of major issues remain. What happens in the factory Ducati squad, whether Andrea Dovizioso returns, and whether Cal Crutchlow takes the second seat in the factory Aprilia team will likely take a little longer to play out.
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