Valentino Rossi has decided to seek a new crew chief. After 14 seasons working together, in which the pair have amassed 7 world championships, Rossi and Jeremy Burgess are to part ways, and Yamaha are actively seeking a replacement for the Australian veteran. Rossi had taken the decision after a disappointing season with Yamaha, after being unable to match the pace of his teammate Jorge Lorenzo, and Repsol Honda's Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa.
'It is true that next year Jerry won't be my chief mechanic,' Rossi told the press conference. The decision had not been taken lightly, he said. 'It was a very difficult decision for me because I have a great history with Jeremy. He is not just my chief mechanic. He is like part of my family. My father in racing.' Rossi felt he had been forced to make a decision to try to make a change, to regain his competitiveness. 'I've decided for next year I need to change something to try to find new motivation and to have a boost to improve my level, my speed. So this will be my last race together with Jeremy.'
Rossi had made the decision five days ago, he told reporters, but had waited until Valencia to tell Burgess, once he could tell him himself. 'We spoke today, face to face. Next year will be crucial and I need new motivation. In the last few races I've felt I wanted to work in a different way. It was a difficult choice to make. Yamaha had asked me some time ago, but I decided recently.' No decision had yet been made about a replacement, and it was unclear whether Burgess would be present at the test.
News that Rossi was seeking to have Burgess replaced first emerged from Tavullia, and was reported on the PU24 website, which reports on news around the Tavullia region. That report cited Rossi's dissatisfaction with a lack of results since his return to Yamaha, and anger at comments Burgess had made in which he questioned whether Rossi had lost his edge with age. At Valencia, Rossi denied any such reports: 'I know this only yesterday from the newspaper, but no, it's not for that,' he told Tammy Gorali, MotoGP commentator for the Israeli Sport 5 channel.
The decision had been extremely hard. 'For me is a very difficult decision, in fact I need a lot of time, but was for sure very not happy, but he said he could understand. But sincerely I don't know if he will do something next year or stay at home.' Burgess had taken the news calmly, Rossi said, but he was also clearly upset by the news. Asked how Burgess had responded, Rossi replied 'Very quiet. I wanted to say to him directly, because anyway I take the decision five days ago. But we spoke together alone, and I tried to explain that I need something different for next year, something new, some new boost, some new motivation, and he said he's very sorry, because he want to continue, but he understand. But very quiet.'
It had been important to tell Burgess face-to-face, Rossi said, and it had been a very sad moment for him as well. 'It's a sad day for me, very much. But very good that we speak anyway directly together, man-to-man, face-to-face.'
Rossi had not been considering the decision for very long, however. Some months ago, he said, Yamaha had asked him what his intentions were for 2014, and Rossi had told them at the time that he wanted to continue. However, as results failed to improve much, Rossi had started to have doubts, and felt he needed to make a change before making a decision on his own future in racing. 'For me next year is very important, to try to make a bit better in the tests and the first half of the season, because I have to decide whether to continue or not,' Rossi said.
Rossi hoped that the remainder of his tight-knit crew would remain, but he said he would understand if some felt they would prefer to leave. 'We have to speak, I don't know if somebody want to change job because Jerry is not with me, or go in some other part, but I am happy if all the crew remain.'
Rossi had first consulted Yamaha about the decision, before telling Burgess himself. Lin Jarvis, Managing Director of Yamaha Motor Racing, told Tammy Gorali 'We discussed together, but basically Vale decided after much consideration, and then he shared it with the team management if we could accept his decision, and we said, OK, the relation between rider and crew chief is essential, is crucial, is most important, so if the rider decides he wants to change, you must listen to the rider.'
Jarvis told Gorali he would also be sad to see Burgess leave. 'I've known him for 10 years, closely. Jeremy's a good friend, I hope he will always remain a good friend, and I think he's a respected guy in the paddock and he's done a great deal for Vale and also for Yamaha, so I regret to see Jeremy not take that position any more. And I hope we will retain our friendship into the future.' There had not been a decision on who would replace Burgess, but Jarvis admitted he was already talking to a few people, although he declined to name any names.
Rossi's decision to drop Burgess appears to be a prelude to a decision on his own future in racing. Earlier this year, Rossi had said that he intended to sign up for another couple of years after the 2014, with an eye to retiring at the end of 2016. But as results have failed to come, Rossi must first determine whether the problem lies with him, or if it was down to the way the crew have worked.
Burgess has enjoyed great success in the premier class, winning titles with Rossi, Mick Doohan and Wayne Gardner as crew chief, and having worked with Erv Kanemoto when he was crew chief to Freddie Spencer. But Burgess is over 60, and after his wife fell ill last year, there were some thoughts he could retire when Rossi left Ducati. If Rossi is to continue racing, there are no guarantees that Burgess will not retire early.
If Rossi has doubts about Burgess, then now is the time to replace him. It is also the one major factor in the bike equation which will allow Rossi to tell if he is still capable of running with the front runners, or whether he is past his prime himself. If a change of crew chief brings Rossi success, then he knows that he can continue racing. If Rossi continues to circulate in the same position as this year, then he knows that the problem was not with the crew chief, but with himself. Burgess was the only variable Rossi had at his control, and switching Burgess out was his best bet of judging his own level again.
Yet there is also good reason to believe that the issue lies with Rossi himself. At 34 years of age, Rossi is past his peak and may just be losing his first touch of speed. That touch is the difference between winning races and missing out on podiums, a prospect Rossi clearly does not relish. If Rossi cannot be more competitive next year, then the chances of him deciding to call it a day seem very large.
Although Rossi has worked with Burgess for 14 years, it is not unusual to make a change. As in all professional sports, when the results don't come, something has to change, in search of new success. Loyalty only stretches so far in any sporting environment, and results are the only thing that count. Neither Burgess nor Rossi enjoy not being able to win, but only Rossi has the power to make a change.