One day, Valentino Rossi will retire from MotoGP. That day won't come next year, and if Rossi is as competitive next year as he has been this year, it probably won't come in 2019 either. But at some point, age will creep up on the Italian, and he will be forced to hang up his leathers.
When that time comes, Yamaha will be faced with a problem. Valentino Rossi leaves some huge boots to fill. Finding a rider with the same charisma and fame outside of the sport is impossible, but even finding a rider capable of matching his results will be tough. Should Yamaha poach a top-level rider from another factory? Should they give one of the Tech 3 riders a chance to move up? Or should they look to a young rookie to partner Maverick Viñales? And whoever they do choose, what role does Viñales play in all of this, and how much say does he have in the choice?
How do you replace the irreplaceable? I spoke to three factory team managers about how they see the dilemma facing Yamaha once Valentino Rossi retires. They all talked about the various options open to Yamaha, and the strategies for assembling a team. They gave a fascinating insight into dealing with rider selection for a factory team.
First up in this series is Paolo Ciabatti, Ducati Corse Sporting Director, the man who oversees the sporting side of Ducati's race department. Ciabatti talked about how he saw Valentino Rossi, and the role Rossi plays at Yamaha. He discusses the options for replacing Rossi, and the pitfalls of looking for a new rider. Ciabatti was also open about Ducati's strategy in rider choice, and why they chose Jorge Lorenzo to partner Andrea Dovizioso.
DE: If you had to replace Valentino Rossi, how would you go about it? Take a young rider from Moto2, or try to hire the best rider available?
PC: First of all, I think nobody can replace Valentino, because Valentino is not only a very talented rider, one of the best riders in motorcycle history, but he has been able to become a character outside of motorcycling world, which I don’t think ever happened in motorcycling. Maybe Giacomo Agostini in Italy in those years, because he was fast and he was a playboy or maybe Barry Sheene in England. But nobody was so very well-known worldwide I think as Valentino, even outside the motorcycle environment. So if you want to replace Valentino with somebody who has the same value, is not possible.
Now, sporting-wise, depending on who is your rider. If you already have Viñales in the team, who is only 21, 22 and he’s proving to be extremely competitive. You might want to invest in a younger, promising rider, because it’s depending also obviously on the philosophy of the manufacturer or the philosophy of the team. It’s very subjective. What can I say? At the moment we have Viñales who has been winning the first two races, surprising everyone since he sat on the Yamaha because he’s been constantly the fastest guy during the winter test, the fastest here [at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin - DE]. The only one capable probably of challenging Marquez on a track where Marquez seems to be unbeatable.
So when you have that kind of rider in the team and possibly for several years and he is so young, you can have a strategy of trying to get a promising rider. But then it’s depending, as I said, on the philosophy of the team, of the manufacturer, what your sponsor wants. Some teams have less depending on the sponsors, some teams have more. So it’s a complex answer, but the real answer is there is no way to replace Valentino with someone of his magnitude.
DE: So Valentinos are born, they come along and you have to be lucky that you happen to be living at the same time as them?
PC: You might have exceptional riders who are great riders, great characters, well-respected and loved by the fans, but nobody outside this world knows about them, except maybe in their own home country. So this is why I think the day it will happen it will be interesting to see how this sport will be considered outside of normal fans, spectators who are following motor sports because they like motor sports.
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