Valentino Rossi’s new MotoGP team Petronas SRT Yamaha held its 2021 season launch on Monday morning.
The seven-time premier class champion’s move from the official team to the satellite squad might have looked on paper like the start of a lower-pressure farewell lap when it was announced, but SRT is still a MotoGP winning operation.
The man Rossi swaps seats with – Fabio Quartararo – won last year’s first two races and was the initial title favourite, while team-mate Franco Morbidelli took three victories on the way to second in the championship.
So can Rossi end what’s now a three-and-a-half year win drought with Petronas? Our writers give their verdict.
He’ll star but his winning days are over
Time catches up with everyone. Race wins are beyond Rossi now, but he’s still better than the majority of his wretched 2020 season made him look.
The time had come for the man who has carried MotoGP on his charismatic shoulders throughout the 21st century to free up a seat in the Yamaha factory team.
But it’s great that he’s been able to move across to a proven race-winning outfit and stay on a factory-spec M1.
Rossi deserves to race on in MotoGP for as long as he wants. If he’s having fun, he has a place in that paddock and on that grid.
Hopefully the move to Petronas is reinvigorating, and even if he’s not winning, we can see him much closer to the sharp end. He’s certainly still capable of podium finishes.
A first win since 2017 is a step too far. But I’d love to be proved wrong.
HE’LL BE REINVIGORATED
Contrary to the opinions of some of my colleagues, I actually think that 2021 will produce something of a reinvigoration for Valentino Rossi, as he sees his whole team environment turned upside down for the first time in years.
Since he made his move from Honda to Yamaha at the end of the 2003 season, Rossi has spent 15 of the past 17 years in the same team.
He’s become accustomed to the engineers around him, he’s become comfortable with the key people both in the team management and on his side of the garage, and he’s uniquely familiar with the Yamaha M1.
So, how’s that going to change in 2021? Well, the definitive key factor is all about Rossi’s motivation for going racing. He’s insisted for a long time now that, at 42 years old, he is racing only for one thing: the love of it.
That’s a hard thing to find in a high-pressure factory team, especially when things aren’t going well (and they haven’t been at Yamaha for quite some time). Sure, he’s Valentino Rossi, and sure, he’s already done all he needs to do to justify his place in the team – but that still doesn’t take away all the pressure to succeed.
But Petronas Yamaha is a very different environment. It’s grown accustomed to success, sure, but race wins are still a treat, not an expectation. This team knows how to celebrate and it knows how to have fun.
Rossi will go into a young garage, both literally and and in terms of mentality – and that’s something that MotoGP’s very own Peter Pan figure will feed off.
He’ll gel well with the practical jokes and the daft humour, and it’ll remind him of why he goes racing: to have fun.
The other side of the garage won’t hurt, either – because he doesn’t so much have a team-mate as a best friend who goes racing with him. Morbidelli is literally the reason that the VR46 Academy exists, and it’ll play further into Rossi’s sense of fun to have his mate alongside him.
Having a team-mate who isn’t an enemy combatant will make things easier from a technical perspective, too.
If Rossi can tap into some of the knowledge that took Morbidelli to second in the championship last year – and convince the Yamaha engineers that his hands-off approach is the key to success in a satellite team – then race wins might well be back on the cards in 2021.
This demotion’s the right compromise
Did Rossi’s recent form warrant him continuing as a works Yamaha rider beyond 2020?
No – in fact, if not for Rossi’s existing prior two-year deal, Quartararo really should’ve been in that seat last year already.
But did Rossi’s form, coupled with his prior accolades, warrant him remaining on the MotoGP grid this year? Yes.
A Petronas ride is a good compromise. The world of MotoGP – and us media are included in that – will probably never say no to another year of Rossi starpower, but he also remains competitive, which is an increasingly impressive feat given his age.
And there are no Moto2 riders he’s really blocking by hanging on to this seat – maybe his own protege Marco Bezzecchi, but Bezzecchi wouldn’t have been first in line for a Petronas Yamaha vacancy anyway.
The only bit of the current arrangement that really appears unjust is Rossi getting the works-spec bike over Franco Morbidelli, but with Yamaha you never know at all whether that’s a blessing or a curse.
Time to win as a team boss, not a rider
I absolutely do not begrudge Rossi a place on the grid and think the pace he’s still capable of is remarkable for a 42-year-old who’s been in the series for 21 seasons.
But it’s not the pace I want to see from Valentino Rossi.
The fact Yamaha won (substantially) more races than any other manufacturer last year and Rossi contributed none of those seven victories says all that needs to be said.
I’d love to see him doing a substantial number of wildcards at favourite tracks for maybe even years to come, but that SRT bike is a winning one and I can’t see him winning on it given his recent seasons’ form.
From a reader interest in MotoGP point of view, I’m obviously delighted Rossi’s still racing!
As one of the thousands of people drawn into MotoGP in the first place by Rossi’s antics and brilliance, it just saddens me that any new fans coming to the championship for the first time now will miss all of that. His 2020 ended with a string of crashes and two 12th places finishes, a painfully far cry from his glory days.
And Rossi doesn’t need to be racing to be relevant in or even winning in MotoGP now. His work with the VR46 Academy and racing team is extraordinary and will surely result in future championships for his proteges.
He’s going to be the highest-profile and most popular team boss in motorsport and has a whole new life to excel in. I’m looking forward to that being his full focus.