Valentino Rossi's Peter Pan-like ability to remain competitive through his late thirties leaves fans and paddock insiders alike wondering if and when the nine-time world champion will retire. The subject comes up every two years or so, when Rossi's contract (and that of others) comes up.
Though it looks for now as if Rossi will continue, who to replace him with is an interesting question. Should Yamaha go for a veteran to partner Maverick Viñales? Or should they pick young talent for the second seat, and allow them to develop?
Last year, I spoke to three different factory bosses about how they viewed the issue, and how they go about developing talent for their own factories. The interview with Ducati boss Paolo Ciabatti was published last summer, but at the beginning of 2017, I spoke to Livio Suppo, then Repsol Honda team principal, about how his experiences of bringing on young talent, and the problem of finding a replacement for Valentino Rossi.
Too early to tell
His initial response to the question of replacing Rossi was simple. "I don’t need to speak about it," Suppo said. "He still has this plus one year of contract. But I think generally speaking, again underlining that it’s a little too early because we know Valentino – we never know if Valentino will continue to race or not. I think if he’s still competitive like it is now I wouldn’t be surprised if he decides to renew again the contract."
But Suppo acknowledged that this is a decision which will have to be taken at some point in the future, as even Valentino Rossi can't go on for ever. "Having said that, the day that sooner or later Valentino will stop, assuming that they have Maverick in the team, I would bet on a young rider," Suppo said. "I think that when you have a rider like Maverick that clearly is strong enough to challenge, I think a young rider is an option."
"At the end of the day, if you are lucky enough to find a really strong young rider, look at what Marc [Márquez] did in 2013. He won the title. They won. So at the end it depends a lot on the situation. There are periods of time in which like it or not there isn't a super strong rider coming from the small classes. That can happen. Other moments in which there are several young riders very fast, like now. If you look at what Zarco and Folger are doing, looks like everybody criticize Moto2, but at the end of the day Moto2 guys are not that bad in MotoGP. So it depends. But anyway, I’m curious to see when Valentino will retire. I think if he continues to be so fast, I don’t think he wants to stop."
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