This weekend marks the start of a new reality for seven-time MotoGP world champion Valentino Rossi, when he lines up for the first time in Petronas SRT Yamaha colours at the pre-season Qatar test.
Stepping down from factory rider to satellite status for the first time since 2001, it marks a huge change in his career – but it’s one that the 42-year-old is relishing.
He was demoted out of the works Yamaha team as it rushed to secure the signature of Fabio Quartararo for 2021 before even the scheduled start of the 2020 season.
But the last time Rossi was in an independent squad wasn’t too bad – he won his first premier class title for Nastro Azzurro Honda in 2001, his second year in the series.
With great memories from that season as he took victory in the final ever 500cc championship before the switch to four-strokes (and a move to the works Repsol Honda team), he says that those memories mean he’s kicking off 2021 upbeat about what could be.
“From 2002 until 2020, 19 seasons in MotoGP, I was a factory rider,” said Rossi in his first media interview in Petronas colours.
“But in my first two seasons, on the 500cc, I was in a similar situation, on a satellite bike.
“It’s true that it was 20 years ago and that the 500s were another world, but in that moment I felt very comfortable.
“You never know what will happen in a long career, and I think that now, for me and for the moment, it’s good for me to be in the Petronas team.
“The technical support is good, the team has demonstrated that they can win.”
While Yamaha have pledged technical support for Rossi going forward, he’s expecting to take something of a step back from development as he swaps places with Quartararo and leaves it to his replacement and team-mate Maverick Vinales to lead the way.
“From what I understand, there’ll be less people around the bike to work on it,” Rossi admitted.
“Also in the satellite team the way you work is different. You can think more about the performance of the race than the development during the season, which can be good.
“I’m happy about the technical situation because I have full support from Yamaha and the [SRT] team has already demonstrated that they can win races and bring their riders to the top.”
That was proved in style last year, when SRT took Rossi’s close friend and new team-mate Franco Morbidelli to second in the championship and three race wins.
It achieved that by specifically by concentrating on getting the best out of his year-old Yamaha and not being distracted by a new bike – something that Rossi is keenly aware of.
That prospect brings some reassurance that he can find his form again after a disappointing 2020 in which he missed two races thanks to COVID-19 and finished in his worst world championship position ever (15th).
Rossi is determined he cannot just be making up the numbers in 2021.
“Twenty-six seasons [at world championship level] is a very long time, but I’m not just racing to pass my time,” he insisted.
“This is a very important season for me, because I’m coming from two years that were less than I expected.
“The results will be the important thing, and I want to fight for the podium, fight to win races, and try to be competitive through all the season.
“I hope that even if COVID isn’t fixed, it’ll be a more normal season than last year and we can use all the different tracks in the right period.
“The target is to be competitive and strong all season long.”