Valentino Rossi will not race for Ducati after the end of 2012. Ironically, in this picture from the Dutch TT at Assen, he is followed by Casey Stoner, while will also retire at the end of the 2012 season.

Nine-times World MotoGP champion Valentino Rossi will leave Ducati at the end of this season.

The Italian bikemaker announced on Friday: “The relationship between Ducati and Valentino Rossi will finish at the end of the 2012 MotoGP championship.

“Ducati wishes him all the best in the new challenges he will face, and will in the meantime continue to do all it can to ensure growing success in the last part of the season,” the company added.

Rossi's future has been the subject of speculation in recent weeks.

Much of it has been over whether he would leave Ducati, two years virtually to the day since he joined the Italian outfit.

The 33-year-old rider has also denied rumours that he is going to retire at the end of the season from the sport he has dominated, given that he has been unable to match the championship-winning form that marked his time at Yamaha and Honda.

His last victory was in October 2010 in Malaysia and he is currently eighth in the world championship.

On July 28, Ducati announced that it had extended the contract of US rider Nicky Hayden for another season. - AFP