Last year, I had written a piece titled “The peculiar case of Michael Schumacher and of Valentino Rossi. The piece was basically questioning the rationale of Schumacher returning to Formula1 racing after a three year hiatus and Valentino Rossi not gracefully retiring from MotoGP and pursuing some other form of racing such as rallying. My point was that both of them proved sufficiently that they were greats and legends even while they were racing and the only thing that they could prove (one by returning to racing and the other by continuing to race and that too on a career destroying motorcycle) with their actions was that they were no legends but simply ordinary mortals.
In this piece I shall leave Michael Schumacher out (I will write another piece on him soon) and only concentrate on Valentino Rossi. By signing with Ducati and that too immediately after Casey Stoner vacated the seat there, Rossi shot himself in his feet, hands and whatever else you can think of. Rossi has been in the MotoGP paddock since he was sixteen and at thirty two he had spent exactly half of his life in MotoGP (in its various categories such as 125cc, 250cc, 500cc, 990cc four stroke, 800cc four stroke) and in the process killed the reputations of Max Biaggi, Sete Gibernau and had he quit at the end of 2010 even Casey Stoner. But Rossi decided to rub Casey Stoner’s nose into the ground along with that of Jorge Lorenzo’s before saying an imperious bye bye to MotoGP. The Emperor leaving with his laurel wreath firmly on his head. Unfortunately for Rossi fate had another script, one that would see the hero of 16 years turned into rubbish in one year and more. In the process Rossi also destroyed the very formidable reputation of Jeremy Burgess, the man who trained under the watchful eye of legendary engine man Erv Kanemoto and then went onto produce great champions like Wayne Gardner, Mick Doohan and finally Valentino Rossi himself.
Rossi’s leaving of Honda and going to Yamaha was in itself an audacious move. By making this move Rossi became only the second rider after Eddie Lawson to change manufacturers and still win World Championships. He did one better than fast Eddie though, he won two consecutive races on two different motorcycles (even now the only one to do it) and two back to back world championships with two different manufacturers. Yamaha that was reduced to an also ran for years when Biaggi and Carlos Checa rode for them, returned to glory days that it saw with King Kenny Roberts and the legendary Wayne Rainey. In 2007 when rules were changed to bring 800cc engines in the place of 990cc engines, Ducati and the new signing Casey Stoner took risks that the Japanese factories did not take and therefore produced a new world champion in Stoner and also in Ducati. There was then the issue of tyres. Bridgestone were competing with Michelin and they favoured Ducati since all the big manufacturers such as Honda and Yamaha were firmly with Michelin. The Ducati-Stoner-Bridgestone combination took risks and managed to become an unstoppable juggernaut that steam rolled all competition into submission.
Then Rossi started kicking and crying and asked for Bridgestone tyres so that he could fight Stoner on equal tyres and though contractual obligations should have prevented this from happening, promoters Dorna ensured that Rossi had his way simply because Rossi brought more colour and popularity to the MotoGP paddock than did the rest of the paddock and all the previous generations put together. After getting the Bridgestone tyres and issuing an ultimatum to Yamaha and Masao Furusawa and getting Yamaha to do his bidding, Rossi took the title right back from Casey Stoner and convincingly at that. But worryingly for him his new teammate Jorge Lorenzo was proving to be a pain in the posterior just like Alex Criville proved to be for Mick Doohan. The global economic recession and the control tyre that was introduced by Dorna, the promoters kept bringing the Spanish matador closer and closer to Rossi’s heels. So the year 2010 was another occasion for Valentino Rossi to issue another ultimatum to Yamaha. “Me or Him” choose. Yamaha chose and wisely as time has proved. Lorenzo is a gritty rider who refuses to give up, the Jim Courier of MotoGP so to speak. He is nearly ten years younger than Rossi and for Yamaha it made sense to invest in the future rather than in the past.
Yamaha had called Rossi’s bluff and left him stranded. Sense should have told him to quit MotoGP but the red mist descended and clouded Rossi’s judgement. Stoner complaining of improper treatment at Ducati had already signed for Honda, a deal facilitated by his mentor at Ducati, Livio Suppo who himself moved to Honda in a managerial capacity one year earlier. With Suzuki deciding to run only one motorcycle for 2011 and Kawasaki having runaway from MotoGP with its tail tucked firmly between its legs and with its head held low, there was only one possibility left, other than retirement and that was Ducati. The antics of Rossi at Ducati are too well known for me to repeat them here. But we shall touch upon some salient points which are necessary for this story. What most people do not know and even those who know have forgotten is that Rossi’s crew chief Jeremy Burgess and the rest of the crew who are Australians did not commit to moving to Ducati with Rossi. In fact, Burgess and co who were the team that Rossi inherited from Mick Doohan, were very reluctant to switch to Ducati.
Jeremy Burgess made all kinds of vague noises and some of those noises included a possibility of retirement. At the same time Valentino Rossi also made noises and one heard clearly his saying that he would want to have Jerry Burgess and the crew to join him at Ducati but if necessary he would go it alone. Stoner in turn took the Ducati crew chief Christian Gabbarini and his team to Honda. At the end of the 2010 season, Stoner got off the Ducati and got on a Honda and went like a bullet, topping the timing sheets, one day after the season was over. Rossi got off the Yamaha and onto the Stoner’s Ducati and went like a slug. He finished fifteenth in a field of fifteen. Casey Stoner had won three races towards the end of the 2010 season on the same motorcycle. And thus began Rossi’s travails.
He complained about the lack of front end feel on the Ducati. He said the lack of a chassis and the use of the engine as a stressed member was depriving him of front and feel. He also said that the swing arm of the Ducati was not to his liking leading to rear end chatter. So he tested the for 2012 Ducati with a revised swing arm and immediately pronounced that this bike was “his” and that the 2011 bike suffered from total lack of development under Stoner. The complexity of the situation was that since Ducati’s 2012 bike was of 1000cc and since its mounting points for the rear swing arm were different, the engine had to be destroked to 800cc aided by the 81mm air intake restriction. But it also meant that Rossi was using new engines and with a cap on the number of engines in a season this was a problem for Ducati.
But Ducati obliged and Rossi still went like a slug. Then the experiments with a front aluminium end and then a full fledged aluminium twin spar delta box frame. The 2012 season has been underway and after Rossi still complained about lack of front end feel. For Rossi Ducati rotated the engine head backwards to move the weight to the front. At the tests at Sepang and Jerez and also in the season opener at Qatar Rossi tiptoed like a maiden in high heels on a slushy ground. In most practice sessions even Hector Barbera and Karel Abraham on the customer Ducati GP Zero were going faster than Rossi, and that is not to talk of Nicky Hayden who sat out most of the preseason testing due to injury but once on the bike went consistently faster than Rossi. After the race was over, Rossi said he cannot ride the Ducati and placed the blame at Filippo Preziosi’s door saying that I do not get what I ask for.
Through all this Casey Stoner has been laughing inside his helmet and even when he does not have it on. He has been pushing one insult after another at both Rossi and Burgess saying that he Stoner won a championship and races on the Ducati when it was operating at a quarter of a budget. Rossi and Ducati have run out of excuses. What remains now is a question. How much more humiliation will Rossi take before he finally hangs up his helmet, in shame, I may add.