Yamaha announced Vinales' renewal for another two years, and the Spanish media are betting on Fabio Quartararo as his teammate for the official 2021 and 2022 team. In this case, Valentino Rossi would be put in a corner. If he wants to continue racing, he'll have to accept to do so with Petronas, a high-level team, but without the blazon of officialdom.
The Doctor, at this moment, wants to and has to wait. He has to, in order to understand what his level is, and confirm that he'll still be competitive and have his say. He's coming out of a season where his results were below all expectations, especially his own, and he has to get back on track. But the answer to his questions may not come soon. Not even the winter tests (just 6 days between Sepang and Doha) will be enough, but at least the first 3 or 4 races of the year will be helpful.
In the past, Yamaha has always had an eye out for Rossi but, this time, they chose to play according to their own rules, putting Valentino in a tight spot and forcing him to adapt to their decisions.
Then again, the decision to confirm Vinales could no longer be delayed, seeing Ducati's offer. But if Yamaha still wanted to leave a door open for Valentino, they would have, at least, avoided making it official so soon.
When it comes to results, choosing Vinales is logical and understandable. In the last 3 years, Maverick won six races with the M1, while Valentino only one, and the Spaniard rider was among the top in the Italian championship two out of three times. And let's add that the Iberian Top Gun is only 25 years old and seems to be the man of the future.
But it's not clear why Yamaha was in such a hurry to announce Vinales' renewal. They could have waited a few days, on February 6th, when the team will be introduced in Sepang, as it did two years ago. They instead wanted to put their cards on the table and logically forced Valentino into an uncomfortable position.
And all we have to do, in this case too, is follow the logic: Maverick's perfect teammate would be Quartararo. The French rider is still a promise, but he has all the qualities needed. Vinales would represent the expert rider, while Quartararo the young one. Together, they would form a very strong pair.
So there's no more room for Valentino, who gave Yamaha a great deal, but who also received a great deal, like when they took him back after his little escapade with Ducati.
This does not, however, mean that Rossi was given the boot. He may have been informed of Iwata's plans and had to make the best of a bad situation. He's the first to know that, at the age of 40, he can no longer represent the future of a company and that, perhaps for the first time in his career, he'll have to accept compromises in order to continue racing.
What Yamaha asked him to do is step back and join the satellite team. The offset would be to be able to form a team with his brother, Luca Marini, or with his pupil, Franco Morbidelli.
It would be a path the Doctor could continue, but moving slightly out of the spotlight. Petronas could not ask for anything better because the media impact of having him on the team would abundantly compensate for losing Quartararo.
But, for the first time, Rossi was affected by the market, which is a sign that times have changed. Not even legends are eternal.
Article in collaboration with Marco Caregnato