When Valentino Rossi speaks, the world listens. The popularity of the nine-time World Champion is such that fans (and consequently, the media) hang on his every word. Since Rossi switched from Yamaha to Ducati, the scrutiny has become even more intense, every word and action being analyzed a million times for extra levels of meaning.
So when Rossi spoke to Italian magazine MotoSprint (English highlights over on Autosport), there was plenty for the fans and media to get their teeth into. First subject was of course the Desmosedici GP11, and Rossi's struggle to master what is proving to be a highly wayward beast. The problem, Rossi explained, is getting the bike to turn. The Ducati does not want to turn in corners, and Rossi said he was having to slide the rear to get the bike to turn through corners. The team continues to work on setup changes to alter this behavior, and Rossi told Motosprint that he believes that part of the problem will be solved quickly through electronics changes.
Fundamental problems remain, however. "The problem is that we lack handling. We need to try to make this bike turn better: at the moment the Desmosedici has a lot of understeer," Rossi told Motosprint. Major changes were needed, but with limited testing and the season just a week away, there is little time to develop and test those changes. For now, Rossi's only option was to adapt his style to the bike, and try to find further setup changes to help the bike to turn. Rossi's hope was that the cooler temperatures at Qatar and the upcoming European rounds would make the Ducati a little easier to handle.
Rossi also told Motosprint that he was aware he had his detractors among racing fans, especially among a specific section of Ducati fans. Those Ducati fans, Rossi believes, have become so used to having him as a target, that they are finding it hard to get used to seeing the Italian aboard their beloved marque.
Perhaps one of the reasons that some of the hard-core Ducatisti are so opposed to the coming of Rossi is that his signing is blamed for Ducati's withdrawal from World Superbikes, its spiritual home - an accusation which is not entirely unjust, as Alan Cathcart explained so adeptly in last week's issue of Cycle News. To appease these Ducati fans, Rossi once again repeated his ambition to race in World Superbikes, expanding on his previous commitments. Last year, Rossi said his only interest was in racing one or two races in World Superbikes, but Rossi told Motosprint that he may well end his career in World Superbikes once he retires from MotoGP. That will be later, rather than sooner, however. Speaking at the launch of the Speed Master Moto2 team, Rossi's best friend Alessio "Uccio" Salucci told the media, including Italian website GPOne.com, that Rossi would like to spend two years' racing World Superbikes, adding that it would be another five years before Rossi was ready to make the switch. With MotoGP about to make the switch to 1000cc, perhaps the MotoGP class could turn out to be the ideal preparation for World Superbikes ...