Wednesday, 1st March 2006
If Ferrari intends to sign MotoGP World Champion Valentino Rossi for Formula One in 2007, they will have to overcome the best efforts of his current employer Yamaha - which believes it can persuade the Italian superstar to stay "where he belongs".
Speculation of a 2007 Rossi switch has increased significantly since his impressive performance during his latest F1 test - alongside other teams and drivers - at Valencia in February. Further tests are planned through this season and Rossi's current Yamaha contract expires at the end of the year.
Yamaha has rarely commented on Rossi's high profile F1 outings - with his 2004 Ferrari debut even rumoured to have taken place without their knowledge - but at Camel Yamaha's Milan launch on Monday Mr Lin Jarvis, managing director of Yamaha Motor Racing, surprised the assembled crowd by openly stating their exact position on Rossi's F1 tests - and how they intend to fight off the four wheel temptation.
"Yamaha's position on Valentino and car testing in Formula One is that we have one of the world's top sportsmen with us - one of the very best sportsmen in world - and such sportsmen will always look for a new challenge, an extreme challenge, the ultimate challenge," began Jarvis. "Yamaha's position towards this is that we allow Valentino to express himself and we allow Valentino to make the next challenge.
"Of course, we want Valentino to stay with us - but the only thing we can do is to put together the best team, the best bike, the best package - and we know that in his heart he is a motorcyclist. So we hope that if he has fun riding with Yamaha, and we provide him with everything we can, he will stay in MotoGP," concluded Jarvis, to a hearty round of applause.
Unsurprising, Rossi later faced a whole barrage of questions about his F1 activities - and, equalling unsurprisingly, the man who claims he never plans more than a few days ahead gave very little away... but he did dispel some myths, including the idea that he is tempted to leave because of a lack of motivation to remain in MotoGP - after six season in which he has won 53 races and five world titles.
"No" replied Rossi, when asked if will he stay in MotoGP if he loses his title this year.
The Doctor also explained why motivation isn't an issue: "In terms of new goals, there's not much - but that's not a problem," he insisted. "These years at Yamaha have been the best of my career. We all work very well together and I really enjoy it. The bike has grown over the past two years and every year it is like starting from scratch... And it is always a great fight. For example, last year I win a lot of times but always on the last lap or after a hard battle."
Rossi also added that there was "no deadline" by which he has to make up his mind about F1 or MotoGP in 2007 and neatly sidestepped a potentially 'controversial' question about whether he would advise Michael Schumacher to switch teams if he lost the F1 title again this year.
Meanwhile, Rossi's team-mate Colin Edwards didn't escape the F1 grilling either - the Texan sounding slightly surprised as he was asked for his own opinion on Valentino's Valencia F1 test.
"Oh, my point of view is that he's fast, isn't he? He seems pretty quick," said the 'Tornado. "I haven't seen everything on it, but from what I hear he's really fast in a Formula One car. I think as a racer, anything to do with an engine you have fun with and if it's a challenge, and it's a viable challenge, where you feel you can compete at the top level... You know, every person has their own path to make and if (F1) is what he wants to do then great, if not then stay on two wheels with us for longer."
And would Edwards 'push' Rossi to leave for Formula One, if Rossi asked for his advice, since it would improve Colin's own chances of taking the MotoGP title?
"Would I push him to go? No," claimed the double World Superbike champion. "I like our team just the way it is. I enjoy being team-mate to Valentino and everything to do with our team - Yamaha, the crew, all the guys. It's a good question, but no - I'd like him to stay."
Camel Yamaha team director Davide Brivio was the next to be asked about Rossi and 2007, the amiable Italian being handed one of the toughest questions - what will Yamaha do if Rossi leaves?
"Our top priority is to wait and see when Vale makes up his mind - hopefully he'll ride with us in 2007," said Brivio, before admitting: "We are really afraid of planning for a future without Rossi. If he left then we would need to make some difficult decisions."
Fortunately for Yamaha, Rossi was at least able to confirm that he will help develop their new-for-2007 800cc MotoGP machine - but warned that the change of engine capacity could hand the advantage back to his former employer Honda.
"2007 is going to be a very important time for Yamaha because usually when there is a rule change (Yamaha) lags behind Honda," said Rossi. "It normally takes a few years to catch up. Everyone at Yamaha is working on (the 800cc machine) already and certainly me and Colin will develop the bike."