Valentino Rossi has the same smiling look as a rider who has just signed his first MotoGP contract, the only difference is that this morning he signed up to race what will be his 22nd season in the premier class. In 2000 he made his debut in 500 with a satellite team and next year it will be like coming full circle, wearing the colours of Petronas.
"I am very proud of this decision, I wanted to continue racing - he says - This year my plan was to see if I was still competitive but it went differently. I've been in the factory team for a long time, since 2004, but this step is good for me and I have to thank Lin Jarvis and Yamaha for providing direct support. In the end it won't change much, only the colours of the bike, Petronas is a high-level team that has already achieved important results ”.
How did this decision come about?
“In a normal situation I would have asked Yamaha to wait until the Mugello race, because last year I was often in difficulty, I didn't feel good on the bike, I wasn't fast enough to stay on top. At my age you ask yourself certain questions, especially when you see that you are 7 years older than the second oldest rider (laughs). You start to think maybe it's time to stay home. But in my heart I knew it wasn't like that. Of course, it's not like 10 years ago when I was winning 10 races a season, but if you are physically well it is the motivations that make the difference. Precisely for this reason I decided to change crew chief ”.
But then you discovered that there would be no more space for you in the factory team…
“One day Lin called me and told me he had to come to Tavullia to talk to me, I realized it wasn't good news. I always say he came to fire me (laughs). I expected it, Quartararo had incredible results last year and I understood that it would be difficult for me to keep the position. So Lin gave me the news and I immediately replied that Yamaha would then have to do a third factory bike, I put some pressure on him and he said yes. We started working on this project right away”.
You will have Morbidelli with you...
“It will be nice to be with Franco, no one would have believed it if they had said it only 5 years ago. I'm happy to be able to work with him and improve each other ”.
How do you still have this enthusiasm at 41 years old?
“Maybe it can be a lesson for other riders, the proof that you can continue racing in MotoGP for a long time. I still enjoy being here, this is my life. The passion for motorcycles was born in me when I was 2 years old and it's still the same, that's what makes the difference. My dad Graziano put me on a bike when I was very small, it wasn’t normal in those days, I think I was the first of the generation of riders who started very early. I think Graziano enjoyed seeing what disasters I could do (laughs). Now, in MotoGP, there is a lot of pressure, you have to lead a life as a sportsman and it's not easy but I keep feeling that particular pleasure when I get on the bike, I'm happy. When you lose that feeling everything becomes more difficult”.
So why did you take so long to sign?
“I was having fun (laughs). In truth we were in no hurry, I had said at Jerez that I would race 99% with Petronas in 2021, for me things were done but there were many things to sort out in a contract between three parties ".
Won't it be strange to be on a different team with different people?
“It doesn't worry me, first of all because the heart of my team will be the same, with Munoz and Flamigni. Unfortunately, Alex and Brent won't be there and I'm sad about that, but it wasn't possible to take them with me. Then I know many people who work in Petronas well: Zeelenberg was in the factory Yamaha team, I raced together with Stigefelt in the European Championship in 1994 and Roger, who takes care of logistics, was with me at the time of Honda. It will be like being at home”.
Speaking of teams, when will VR46 enter MotoGP, perhaps with Yamaha?
“I've already talked to Jarvis about the bikes, why not? But first we will have to decide whether to enter MotoGP, maybe there will be the possibility in 2022, but it would be a big step. We'll see".
What will it be like in a satellite team?
“It will be like 500 in the Nastro Azzurro satellite team with a factory bike. They told me that I was the only one to have won a title in the premier class in a satellite team, which means I'll try again next year (laughs) ".
Meanwhile, you are back on the front row at Barcelona…
“It was a good Saturday, I’ve been feeling food since yesterday, immediately competitive, and today I further improved the bike and my riding. In FP4 I kept a good pace and in qualifying I managed to give my best without making mistakes ".
What do you expect from the race?
“The choice of tyres will be very important, I'll make it tomorrow after the warm-up, hoping that it won't rain tonight. The soft is better at the start of the race, but the medium guarantees greater consistency. We'll see".