After winning his 7th MotoGP World Championship, his 9th world title in total, and his 4th for Yamaha, Yamaha's bosses were naturally effusive in their praise for Valentino Rossi. At a press conference after the race, which featured Yamaha Racing's Managing Director Lin Jarvis alongside Yamaha's MotoGP project leader Masao Furusawa, the pair heaped praise on the Italian. "Bringing Valentino over to Yamaha has been the best thing we've ever done perhaps in Yamaha's racing history," Jarvis told reporters. "It was a great decision and together we make a great team."
Both men had a difficult balance to strike, however. Rossi's 9th World Championship was rightly celebrated, and both Jarvis and Furusawa gave him the plaudits he deserved, but both men also had to be careful not to tread too heavily on Jorge Lorenzo's toes. Jarvis alluded to Yamaha's strength in depth, telling reporters that "having two riders competing for the championship is quite stressful for everybody concerned. He praised the attitude of both Rossi and Lorenzo at achieving the title, saying "I think the behaviour and maturity of the two riders has been really special."
But both Jarvis and Furusawa acknowledged the special place Rossi still holds within the team, and emphasized that they want to keep Rossi inside Yamaha for as long as possible. "I don’t think I can convince Valentino to continue racing (after 2010), but I’ll certainly do my best to make sure he’s on a Yamaha if he does," Jarvis said, while Masao Furusawa was even clearer. "My goal in MotoGP is winning with Valentino, and maybe one day Valentino will stop in MotoGP, but I’d like to ask him to complete his MotoGP career with Yamaha," Furusawa said.
A day later, MCN's Matthew Birt reported that Yamaha are trying to sign Rossi to a lifetime deal, to keep hold of Rossi's peerless marketing clout even after the Italian has retired. Just like Giacomo Agostini's role with Yamaha and the legendary Kevin Schwantz' role with Suzuki, Yamaha are keen to have Rossi help sell their bikes once the Italian has moved on to pastures new.
Yamaha's dilemma was illustrated by both a comment Masao Furusawa made, and the response from Jorge Lorenzo's manager Marcos Hirsch. Speaking about Rossi's place with Yamaha, Furusawa told the press conference "Valentino is a very, very important rider for Yamaha, and also Jorge is, but especially Valentino." On Wednesday, Hirsch hit back in the Spanish press, telling the leading Spanish sports daily AS.com "I find it hard to believe that Furusawa said that, as he hasn't said them to me. That is something he can do next year, when we discuss Lorenzo's contract renewal."
Hirsch's thinly-veiled threat is a reference to the prolonged and difficult negotiations that preceded Lorenzo's contract extension for the 2010 season. "This year, in Donington, [Furusawa] cleared up some statements he made at Laguna Seca," Hirsch told AS.com. But Lorenzo's manager also pinpointed the problem facing Yamaha quite clearly: "[Furusawa] made it clear that he knows that they have a problem. Lorenzo is the future for Yamaha, but they have been overtaken by the future."
The statements by both Yamaha and Marcos Hirsch are the very first shots in a long war of attrition likely to be fought over the 2011 contracts. Yamaha faces an impossible balancing act: keeping hold of the man who has sold and will continue to sell thousands upon thousands of Yamaha motorcycles without losing the man likely to replace him. In the end, they will almost certainly be forced to choose between one or the other. Valentino Rossi has already proved that he is a candidate for the greatest motorcycle rider of all time, while Jorge Lorenzo has some way to go to achieve that, despite showing every sign of being capable of it. It's going to be a very long and very ugly Silly Season for 2011, and the absurd thing is that it's already started.