Valentino Rossi has acknowledged he is one step closer to retirement. In an interview to be broadcast Italian TV channel Mediaset, the Italian said that the early tests and the first six races of 2014 would be crucial to the future of his career. 'In 2014 I need to be at the front, closer to the first three', Rossi said, referring to the Spanish trio of Marc Marquez, Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa, who dominated the 2013 MotoGP season. He has not lost his appetite for racing, Rossi told Italian TV, but he was not content just to circulate. 'I would like to continue for another couple of years, but only if I'm competitive.'
The announcement does not come as a surprise, coming hard on the heels of Rossi's decision to drop Jeremy Burgess as crew chief. At Valencia, Rossi had explained that move as the need to find 'a new boost, some more motivation.' 'I know that it is a key moment because I have in my mind that I want to try one time in another way and I think this is the moment,' Rossi told the media. In the interview with Mediaset, Rossi skirted round the affair with Burgess, while hinting at deeper-seated problems. 'Explaining too many details of what went wrong would be a problem. It's better to think this is just a rider tantrum,' Rossi joked. The decision to drop Burgess looks increasingly like eliminating the final variable before reaching a conclusion about his own ability.
Rossi had already told the press at Valencia that the first few races of 2014 would be crucial, but he had now set a deadline. The date of that deadline is in itself ominous: the sixth race of the 2014 season will be at Mugello, the circuit which is closest to Rossi's heart, and a track where he once dominated, winning seven races in a row between 2002 and 2008. It is also the circuit where Rossi broke his leg in 2010, the first injury of his career serious enough to force him to miss races. If Rossi cannot stay with the three Spaniards at Mugello in 2014, then a retirement announcement seems inevitable. Sunday night at Mugello could be a very emotional experience indeed.