MotoGP's 2011 Silly Season - the period during which contracts are negotiated and hammered out for the 2011 season - got underway a little early. In fact, it got underway shortly after the 2010 Silly Season was over, some time around early September 2009, shortly after Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa signed one-year contracts with their current employers, Yamaha and Honda respectively. Their signings effectively meant that the contracts of Jorge Lorenzo, Dani Pedrosa, Valentino Rossi and Casey Stoner will all finish at the same time, at the end of the 2010 MotoGP season, leading to a feeding frenzy of speculation, rumor and argument over who will be going where for 2011.
Most of this speculation has surrounded Valentino Rossi. The Italian has been linked with a switch to Ducati, an extension of his Yamaha contract, a return to Honda, a career jump to Formula One with Ferrari, and even retirement to go race in WRC. Most of it has come from the ever-industrious Italian media, but Rossi himself has not been shy of using the media to his own ends on occasion. He has himself hinted both that he has offers from Ducati and that he will end his career at Yamaha, two seemingly mutually exclusive possibilities, as well as flirting cautiously with both Formula One and retirement. Any and all such pronouncements have been pounced upon by the press and sliced, diced and analyzed for any indication of what The Doctor's true intent might be.
No longer, however. According to Motorcycle News, Rossi will no longer make any more pronouncements on his future until a deal is done. "I have decided not to speak any more about 2011," MCN quotes Rossi as saying. Rossi's concern is that everything he says can be taken in many different ways, both good and bad.
Rossi's decision, though wise, is unlikely to put an end to the speculation. Though the Italian may stop responding to questions about his future, the press - egged on by the fans - will find a hundred other sources to fuel the rumors. Senior figures at Yamaha, Ducati, Honda, Ferrari, and any other organization with a shot at Rossi will be asked for their opinion of the situation, and the feeding frenzy will continue.
Nevertheless, the decision is a good one, if only for Valentino Rossi's frame of mind. The last time the nine-time World Champion was subject to such intense speculation was at the beginning of the 2006 season, when the Italian was considering a switch to Formula One. Partly as a result of Rossi's loss of focus during the pre-season, the 2006 Yamaha began the year with serious chatter issues and the factory Yamaha team spent the first half of the year chasing a competitive bike. In the end, Rossi lost the championship to Nicky Hayden, who triumphed after a long year of consistent podiums and despite one or two team problems of his own.
Th lesson of 2006 was not lost on Valentino Rossi, and the Italian's preparation for the season has been impeccable ever since. The speculation about where Rossi could end up in 2011 poses a similar threat to his frame of mind, and it is clearly one problem that he neither wishes nor feels capable of dealing with while facing what is almost certain to be the strongest challenge to his supremacy that he has ever faced.