The Rossi-to-Ducati saga continues apace, with maneuvering for the 2011 contract negotiations taking place even on the grid of the final race of 2009. Interviewed for BBC television, Valentino Rossi got in a powerful blow, demanding that Yamaha make a decision about which of their two star riders they want to build their future on. "Yamaha have to choose between me and Jorge for 2011," Rossi told the BBC.
The Italian freely admitted he had been approached by Ducati, and that he had an option to ride there. "I could change bike, ride for Ducati and try to win the world championship with an Italian bike. That would be a great motivation," Rossi said.
At the same time, Rossi underlined his strong relationship with Yamaha. "I prefer at this moment to stay with Yamaha because the love between me and Yamaha, our relationship, is something special."
Rumors of Ducati's courtship of Rossi have triggered a feeding frenzy in the Italian media, who are desperately keen for the match up to take place. However, plenty of room for doubt remains over how serious Rossi is in considering leaving Yamaha, as the Italian is renowned for making public statements to achieve a desired effect, either from a team, a factory, a rival or even the sport of MotoGP itself. Rossi's statements fit neatly into this pattern of putting pressure on one party, in order to achieve the goals he set himself for the future.
Rossi's statements put Yamaha in a precarious position, and with a genuinely difficult decision to make. The factory is clearly looking for a successor for when Rossi retires, and had lined Jorge Lorenzo up for that role. That plan has been stymied by two developments: Lorenzo has reached the level of challenging for world titles more quickly than Yamaha had expected; and Rossi is enjoying racing more and looking fitter than he has done in years, clearly relishing the challenge and finding motivation to postpone his expected retirement indefinitely.
There is no doubt that Yamaha faces a difficult choice, and it is a complex one indeed. Rossi will continue to sell motorcycles for Yamaha for as long as his name is associated with the brand, both while he is riding and for years and probably decades to come. However, his selling power may well drop off a little once he stops actively racing for Yamaha, and if the factory is to continue to reap the marketing benefits of success in racing, it needs a rider that they can be sure can keep on winning races and championships.
Jorge Lorenzo proved that he is capable of winning races, and looks very likely to secure multiple championships. Whether Yamaha can find someone else to fulfill the role of Star Of The Future if Lorenzo leaves remains to be seen. The problem of Lorenzo and Rossi in a single team remains an intractable one. But is is one that Yamaha will have to face in 2010.