Malaysia’s Sepang always has a sort of holiday feel to it. The paddock all rolls in after the previous round in Australia where they had just spend a few days off in between hanging about or chilling at beach resorts. This chilled-out vibe continues to linger in the Sepang paddock. Riders swan about in surf shorts and flip-flops, comparing tans and swapping stories that are best left at the resorts.
But one rider who probably hadn’t enjoyed the break as much as some was champion-elect Valentino Rossi. On the Saturday morning at Phillip Island prior to the second free practice, right-hand man Uccio broke the bombshell news to Vale that his Mother Stefania’s second husband of two years Mauro Tecchi had taken his own life after an apparent argument. On top of this, VR has been at the center of intense speculation among the Italian press that as reported last week, that he is about to jump ship to Ducati, following his anger at Yamaha resigning his teammate Jorge Lorenzo. Rossi has the broadest shoulders in the paddock by far and to see him apparently unaffected in an empty fly-away paddock, greeting members of his fan club and friends and family from Tavullia for his anticipated Championship-clinching weekend was refreshing to see.
Monsoon conditions greeted the riders for Sunday’s final, but this didn’t stop The Doctor from wrapping up his seventh premiere class crown with a podium position as he wanted.
The latest Ducati rumors focus on Team Manager Livio Suppo who is being moved from a more hands on roll in the garage and with the riders, to make way for current test rider Vitto Guareschi. Rossi has refused pointblank to work with prickly Suppo and this is thought to be the first of many pre-move demands by Vale before the Ducati switch can take place. Suppo has confirmed the changes, but has laughed off the possibility of Rossi switching for the beginning of next year and Phillip Morris stumping up the $15M odd need to take him away from Yamaha.
Suppo explained the changes are designed to help Technical Director Filippo Preziosi gather information more easily from the riders about how the bike is performing on track. If the Italian press rumors are to be believed with a Rossi switch next year, he will be provided with his own full works satellite team leaving the current team of Stoner and Hayden unaffected. When asked directly about the swap at the post race press conference attended by Yamaha bosses Furusawa and Jarvis, VR confirmed at the moment he is under contract to ride a Yamaha next year but a decision for 2011 and a possible change would not be made until June next year. However it pans out Rossi, as usual, holds all the cards and is sitting in pretty win-win situation. The threat to move to Ducati can be used as a lever to negotiate a better contract with Yamaha should he choose to extend his relationship with the Japanese manufacturer.
Back to the track. A monsoon downpour five minutes before the pit lane opened for the race delayed the start by 35 minutes, and as a result we saw Rossi running wide in the wet conditions at Turn 1 after the leading the race away
VR’s on-track celebration included a live chicken, complete with VR chicken-replica helmet and championship T-shirts which portrayed a large cartoon chicken with the slogan “Gallina Vecchia” and “Fa buon brood.”
from the line. Yet, in true Doctor fashion, his aim to win the title with a podium position was executed to perfection. Only this time his legendary championship on-track winning celebration was kept secret in military-style fashion. I followed his fan club organizers, who cook-up the idea’s with Vale back in Tavullia, to their chosen on-track meeting place to be greeted by a live chicken complete with VR replica helmet and fan club members ready to pull on the championship T-shirts which portrayed a large cartoon chicken with the slogan “Gallina Vecchia” and “Fa buon brood.”
When VR pulled up on his M1 he was mobbed by the fan club and a couple of dozen people who shouldn’t have been there…and presented with the Chicken and a large No. 9 egg. A matching gold championship AGV helmet again adorned with a cartoon chicken was also presented to the nine-time world champ designed, as always, by helmet painter and friend Aldo Drudi. As with these very detailed Italian celebrations, most of us were left scratching our heads as to what the whole thing was about. Until VR explained in the press conference: “In Italy we say ‘an old chicken makes good soup but can no longer lay eggs!’ I am like the old chicken but I have made an egg, that’s nine!” Hardly old at 30 years ripe with ninth worth championships to your name VR… Watch out Hallwood.
Funnily enough, the championship-winning team party took place in the ‘paddock hotel’, a.k.a. the Airport, around the swimming pool. And needless to say everybody ended up in the pool fully clothed, together with a good proportion of hotel property! The clean-up bill was presented to the new World Champion the next day, though hardly denting the Italian’s title bonus and I’m sure well worth it!