It is perhaps a little strange to be discussing the future of a rider who has just signed a contract to ride for another two years, but as the rider in question is Valentino Rossi, speculation about what he will do when he stops racing motorcycles is likely to continue up until the day that he finally announces his plans.
It all started, of course, with the Italian superstar's plans to switch to Formula 1 at the end of the 2006 season. The difficulties he experienced during that year, and the realization that the intense publicity under which he is forced to live his life would only be intensified in Formula 1, eventually led Rossi to change his mind, and to sign for Yamaha for another two years.
But Rossi's passion for four wheels continues. The Doctor is scheduled to test the Ferrari F1 car at Mugello on the 20th and 21st of November, and will be competing in the Wales Rally GB WRC event in December. Despite intense speculation, Rossi has already made it clear that he will not be moving to Formula 1 after his contract expires, as, in his own words, "31 is too old to enter F1."
And so WRC - the World Rally Championship - is his most likely destination. Rally driving has been his second passion after motorcycles for a long time, and Rossi has a long history of competing. Now, Rossi has confirmed to the Italian sports daily Gazzetto dello Sport that he is actively considering jumping to rally cars after he hangs up his leathers.
"I like rallies very much," he said. "I think I could make the switch when I'm finished with motorcycles. I don't know, I haven't decided yet. Anyway, I have a contract (with Yamaha) for two more years. After that, we will see."
There is one other, more intriguing, if rather unlikely, possibility. Michael Scott, writing in GPWeek, the online racing magazine, revealed that Valentino Rossi had tried to find a way to compete in the final round of World Superbikes at Portimao in Portugal two weeks ago. His motivation was cited as being "to enjoy some close racing again."
As it happens, Troy Bayliss was in no mood to engage in close racing, running away with both wins to end his stellar career on a high, so The Doctor may have come away disappointed, even if it had turned out to be possible for him to take part in the race. However, as Rossi is one of the most vocal critics of the role of electronics in MotoGP, and often bemoans the lack of close racing in MotoGP which he believes is the result, it is entirely conceivable that Rossi may instead turn his hand to World Superbikes instead.
There's no shortage of close-quarters combat in that series, with the bikes much more evenly matched, and while electronics are steadily encroaching, their role is much less prominent than in MotoGP. Once Rossi has achieved the goals he has set out for himself in MotoGP, his mind may well turn to World Superbikes, and the goal of being the first man to ever win both the MotoGP and WSBK title. Rossi's place in MotoGP history is already assured, but his sensibility of his own place in motorcycling history is well-known. And if there is one rider who could do it, who is obviously capable of winning a title in both championships, it is Valentino Rossi.
For now, any thoughts about Rossi's future are nothing more than speculation. But with a man as famous as Valentino Rossi is, the speculation is unlikely ever to end.