STM: How Long is Rossi for MotoGP?

May 28, 2013
Frank Melling
Frank Melling
Contributing Editor| Articles|RSS

Our Memorable Motorcycles expert, Frank Melling also is the organizer of the British vintage motorcycle extravaganza known as Thundersprint. Melling began riding five decades ago and remains as much in love with motorcycles as when he drove his first bike into a cow shed wall aged ten. In the last 50 years, Melling has competed in every form of motorcycle sport and now declares himself to be too old to grow up and be sensible.

Cal Crutchlow on the podium at Le Mans.
The MotoGP paddock is rife with rumors of Cal Cruthlow joining Suzuki in 2014, but Mr. Melling’s wrinkled GP insiders say not so fast…

Wrinkly Rumours 2 – How Long is Rossi For MotoGP?

Two weeks ago, we exclusively broke the latest MotoGP rumor, gossip and fantasy analysis from Jerez via my unsurpassed network of aged GP groupies – who just happen to have very good connections in the Grand Prix world.

Fourteen days is a long time in GP racing and many things, it seems, have moved on. First, let me deal with the rumor which other, less well informed, fantasists are brokering: Cal Crutchlow riding a Suzuki.

Younger journalists, without the wrinkly connections, are writing about this as if it is a done deed and Crutchlow has already put pen to paper. This is utter, complete and total tosh and nonsense and not worthy of even a decent fantasy.

Cal might well ride a Suzuki in 2014 but his signature will only go on to the Hamamatsu contract when there is a very large sum of money written on page one. Crutchlow is hardly broke but he is also getting older by the minute and he needs four or five big, seriously big, paychecks to fund a long-term retirement program.

Big in this case doesn’t mean what the blessed Casey Stoner of Australia would earn – $15 million a year – but it does mean big in terms of $3 million-per-season. So, five years at $3 million is $15 million and that’s not too bad, especially when the value of his personal sponsors is added to this figure.

Cal also faces the same concern as every other professional motorcycle racer: a forced early retirement. Despite being titanium tough, the chances of a career terminating injury are credible every time Cal sits on the bike.

At the other end of the scale, Valentino Rossi looks down on a fortune reputed to be in excess of $120 million. Better still, having tossed the Italian tax evasion authorities a check for $60 million in 2007 – a gesture which ended all investigations into alleged unpaid tax and, as a worthwhile byproduct, avoided jail if he had been found guilty of the accusations – Vale is now a very squeaky clean multi-millionaire.

Rossi is also becoming increasingly domestic by the minute and is in the process of completing a new mansion in Tavullia, just outside his home town of Urbino – providing his neighbors don’t take him to court for breach of planning regulations.

This area is a stunning part of Italy – near to all the action on the Adriatic coast but utterly timeless. You can sit on the same window ledge where Duke Guidobaldo of Urbino debated the finer points of art with Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino (the Divine Raphael) in the early 16th century and walk through the streets which have housed a university since the same period.

Rossi remains the brightest star in MotoGP, but how long will
the Doctor toil without wins aboard the Yamaha?

Although I wouldn’t expect Vale to be enrolling soon as a freshman, Rossi’s cultural roots are well and truly tied to the baked, brown earth of this area of eastern Italy – and they are a hugely important part of his life.

Vale is still fit, healthy and a true hyper star. This means that there are a lot of attractions away from MotoGP. He has won everything, done everything and is widely acknowledged as the most complete motorcycle racer of all time. What he doesn’t like is not being a winner. Two years on a Ducati saw a lot of heavily worn leathers, and plenty of time in the Clinica Mobile unit, but precious little success.

Vale, and his huge band of acolytes, turned on Ducati with enthusiasm and so the nine-time World Champion went back to Yamaha for, I understand, the Rossi equivalent of two balloons and a goldfish. So, Yamaha got a true superstar on the cheap and they were also in the perfect no-lose situation. If Rossi won it was proof positive that the Yamaha YZR-M1 was the best bike in MotoGP and if he didn’t there was equally strong evidence that, at 34 years of age, Valentino was past his sell-by date.

Probably the dream scenario was that Jorge Lorenzo would win the World Championship with Vale riding shotgun and Crutchlow doing an admirable job in upper mid-field. However, sometimes dreams don’t come true.

The word on the wrinkly grapevine is that Yamaha is getting somewhat irritated with issuing the same excuse-laden press release race after race regarding Rossi’s performance. There’s only so many times you can hype up a rider, and then have him not deliver, before the song starts to sound tired and dated.

For his part, Lorenzo has been left very exposed. Pedrosa and Marquez are two serious World Championship contenders race-after-race and so Jorge has a tough day at the office every time the starting lights go out. If, towards the end of the season, he ever needs support it won’t be there with the current Yamaha factory team.

Now, here is where things get complicated. Rossi is in the first year of a two-year contract. However, if he were to retire from motorcycle racing then noone can, or will try to, enforce the second year.

Crutchlow’s Tech 3 team is widely reported to have a signed letter of intent from Pol Espargaro for 2014. The hugely talented Espargaro will effectively fill Crutchlow’s place in Tech 3 because Bradley Smith has a watertight two-year contract covering 2013 and 2014.

At the end of the season, Crutchlow will become a free agent and he will want a well-paid factory contract wherever he goes. Putting to one side Cal’s brilliant second place at Le Mans, he has outridden Rossi all season – and on the slowest of the satellite bikes. It’s worth remembering that Ducati and Honda both provide their top satellite teams with the latest factory machinery whilst Tech 3 has to make do with equipment one level down. On equal machinery, there is not a molecule of doubt that Crutchlow would run in the front group and be providing vital support for Lorenzo – and maybe even more.

The thinking money was on Crutchlow moving to Ducati but the rumor regarding a Stoner return to Ducati is still alive and well. This means that Suzuki, with some healthy sized numbers on the check, might well take Crutchlow’s signature – if Stoner did make a comeback.

But here is a really interesting scenario. Rossi is not only a great, maybe the greatest of all time, rider but he possesses a brain equaled by few of the Professors at Urbino University. If Vale starts to believe that he will never be World Champion again, and he – not anyone else – will have to know this as fact, then he will not race in the 2014 MotoGP World Championship.

What he will do is open to question, but Vale is ferociously fast in a rally car and it may well be that World rallying, or events like the Dakar Rally, provide the challenge he needs.

So, Vale hangs up his leathers and the ultimate biking superstar rides off to a new life and we all forget his three rubbish years and remember the golden days with Honda and Yamaha. In normal circumstances, this would lead to a severe dose of discomfiture, but with a ready-made replacement available in Cal it might well be smiles and cuddles all round.

However, there is one enormous problem – and that is timing. Cal thought, was certain in fact, that he had a 2013 Ducati ride last year. He resigned from Tech 3 and Herve Poncheral was planning his leaving party. Then he found that his absolute 101% certain contract didn’t exist and he had to go back to Tech 3. Crutchlow won’t be burnt like this again. Whoever wants his signature is going to have put not only their contract, but their money too, on the table. No warm words, smiles or promises: only bankable offers will be considered this time.

The next question is where do we go from here? A lot depends on how much patience Yamaha has with Rossi’s current performance. The next GP is Mugello, Vale’s favorite race in the calendar, and if he isn’t on the podium here then there will be a lot of questions being asked.

The immediate, and simple, fix will be to make Crutchlow a de facto factory rider by providing him with the same specification machines as Lorenzo and Rossi. Yamaha always cite a lack of budget as the reason for not following this policy so the answer is to give Rossi the second-tier equipment and Cal the latest factory bikes – albeit with Tech 3 paint jobs. Currently, this would be an unthinkable heresy but MotoGP racing is a brutal, cold and cynical business and if Cal can deliver, and Vale can’t, there will be no loyalty shown to the Italian Superstar.

If this does happen, I am confident that Vale will read his horoscope and conclude that his MotoGP career is over. I expect the decision to be made by the first of the fly-away rounds at Laguna Seca, so the press conferences in sunny California could well be the most interesting of the year.