Losail, Qatar - Motorcycle Grand Prix great Valentino Rossi, who turned 39 on 16 February and is about to embark on his 23nd season of world championship racing, has finally confirmed (albeit indirectly) that he plans to retire at the end of the 2020 season.
After the news broke that Tech 3 team principal Herve Poncharal, who has been racing Yamahas with factory assistance for 18 years, had accepted an offer ‘too good to refuse’ from another manufacturer, and would part ways with the Triple Tuning Fork at the end of the 2018 season, the rumour mill went into overdrive.
Would Rossi’s VR46 outfit, already active in Moto3 and Moto2, grab the two slots on the grid (and the two spare 2019-spec Yamaha M1s already on order for Tech3), put two of his proteges in their saddles, making ‘The Doctor’ the elder statesman of motorcycle Grands Prix that he so richly deserves to be, as did his hero Giacomo Agostini?
Would he, hell.
Rossi is notoriously reserved about his future - he prefers to do his talking on the circuit - but when asked a direct question he usually gives a straight answer.
“I didn’t expect Poncharal to leave Yamaha,” he said when asked about the possibility of a VR46 satellite Yamaha team. “We thought about it, and it would have been a great opportunity, but in the next two years we will not make a MotoGP team with Yamaha.
“I'll probably race for the next two years, so hopefully we'll talk about the team later when I stop - but not in 2019 or 2020."
To be the greatest
So there you have it; Rossi will be out of contract at the end of this season but his team-mate Maverick Vinales has already signed for another two years and it is likely that Rossi will do the same before or during the season-opening Qatar Grand Prix weekend of 18 March - if only to prevent openly ambitious Frenchman Johann Zarco grabbing the seat out from under him.
Rossi has a very good reason not to quit: the 15 world titles of his idol are logistically out of reach because it is no longer permissible for a rider to compete in more than one class in the same season (‘Ago’ won both the 350cc and 500cc championships every year from 1968 to 1972 inclusive) but Agostini’s absolute record of 122 Grand Prix victories is not.
Rossi now has 115 GP wins to his credit, and it is not inconceivable that he could win eight of the 38 MotoGP races to be run between now and the end of the 2020 season. That would give him a total of 123 Grand Prix wins - and make him indisputably the most successful rider in the history of motorcycle Grands Prix.
Would you quit, if you were Rossi?