The news that Ducati had finally come clean and admitted they have signed Valentino Rossi and Nicky Hayden for the 2011 MotoGP season set the Internet abuzz this morning, after US magazine Cycle World published an interview with Ducati CEO Gabriele del Torchio. In that interview, Del Torchio reportedly said that he looked forward to "Valentino Rossi teaming up with Nicky Hayden."
The news that Valentino Rossi is signed is barely news at all, as rumors that an announcement is imminent have been spreading among MotoGP fans and media for the best part of two months. So many people have let so much slip in off-the-record comments and briefings that it had gone well beyond rumors, even tempting both the Motorcycle News and Asphalt & Rubber to print that an official announcement was imminent. So when Del Torchio let the news slip in the interview with Cycle World, the only surprise was the manner in which it happened, in a magazine interview rather than an official press release.
This also appears to have surprised the PR people at Ducati. For just hours after the Cycle World article appeared on the internet, Ducati have issued a press release denying that Del Torchio made any admission that Rossi had been signed at all. The full text of the press release reads:
Regarding the recent allegations attributed to Gabriele Del Torchio - Ducati CEO and President, Ducati states that no agreement has been reached with the riders Valentino Rossi and Nicky Hayden for the future Moto GP season, although our interest in these riders remains.
We would like to say that the recent news which has appeared on the US website Cycle World and other websites has been misreported and must be attributed to the many rumors circulating lately.
Whether and when an agreement is reached, official press releases will be issued.
The press release is unambiguous in its denial, which offers two possible explanations for what happened here. Either Cycle World's European editor Bruno dePrato made the comments about Rossi and Hayden up, or Del Torchio got carried away and forgot that the announcement had yet to be made. The first explanation, though plausible, seems rather unlikely: Cycle World is a highly reputable print magazine in the US, and would be unlikely to risk its reputation just to sell a few extra copies. Their European editor will want to interview Del Torchio and other motorcycle CEOs in the future, and is unlikely to jeopardize his future chances by inventing a story for short-term news value. On the other hand, Gabriele del Torchio is a highly successful CEO of a major motorcycle manufacturer, and as such, is well used to meeting the press and dealing with their questions. He is quite used to keeping his story straight for the media, and should be perfectly capable of keeping confidential details to himself, and only giving away the information that is ready for the public domain.
These two stories are mutually exclusive, both of them cannot be true at the same time. A good journalist - we would expect no less of someone on the payroll of Cycle World - will either have a sound recording of the interview, or will have taken copious notes, which are legally admissible as evidence in such situations. And so merely publishing the audio of the interview would clear the matter up immediately, but given the nature of such interviews, this would be both unusual and unlikely to be appreciated by the interviewee, as such face-to-face interviews are usually conducted with the tacit understanding that interviews are cleaned up before publication.
There is, of course, a third possibility, and perhaps more plausible explanation for what happened. Del Torchio may have spoken to Cycle World for a story due to be published in the magazine. Given the usual printing lead times for magazines, news is often imparted before official announcements, as both parties understand that the news won't hit the press stands until after the official announcement has been made. However, with the unstoppable rise of the internet, magazines are starting to run a dual-pronged strategy: publish news and items both online and in the magazine, with the articles adapted for the medium in which they are to appear. It is plausible to conjecture that the online version of the magazine article got put online in a more extended version than was intended by both Del Torchio and the article's writer. Del Torchio may have made the statements in the expectation that they would not appear in public before Rossi and Ducati officially announced their betrothal, on the Sunday night after the Brno round of MotoGP.
The latter possibility is merely speculation on my part, and is completely unsubstantiated by any fact. But nobody in a position to know seriously doubts that Valentino Rossi has signed for Ducati, and we are merely awaiting the official confirmation. Neither Cycle World nor Gabriele del Torchio are likely to have acted in bad faith. The most convincing explanation of the chain of events is surely human error. Incompetence trounces conspiracy, and has throughout human history.