The Italian dream had always been the image of Valentino Rossi racing – and winning – for Ducati. Following 2012 that dream is now a nightmare both parties will hope to forget…
“We win together, we lose together” That’s what Ducati president Gabriele Del Torchio said when asked about Rossi’s future at the Italian team towards the end of 2010. If they won, the Ducati/Rossi partnership would go down in history as two of the greatest names in the sport coming together and finding success at the very pinnacle of two-wheeled motor racing. If they were to lose, then both parties’ lasting legacy would be put in doubt.
Lose they did; just two podiums in two years – and neither of those were the top step – yet the blame has landed fully at Ducati’s door. Whether Ducati became complacent because, well, it’s Rossi, he could win on a push bike or whether it was simply a case that the Ducati didn’t suit Rossi’s style – no matter how many swing arms that threw at the thing – isn’t clear, but the expected success simply didn’t come.
Now Rossi returns to Yamaha; the lions cage from whence he came – and which he used to rule – but a new lion prowls there now. Although Rossi was partnered with Jorge Lorenzo in 2009/10, Lorenzo is a different to rider now; relaxed, more confident, more able and now a two-time champion. The task of beating him will be one of Rossi’s toughest yet.
The question marks over Ducati’s ability to compete with the Japanese manufacturers Honda and Yamaha remain but now Rossi himself has an important question to answer. Does he still have the winning edge or have two seasons on uncompetitive machinery robbed him of his best years? Probably not. The last time Rossi was on the competitive Yamaha in 2010 (before he broke his leg) he was winning races and looked likely to push Lorenzo all the way for the championship; Rossi’s star is too bright to have dimmed completely since then.
Ducati’s bank balance may have taken a boost the moment Rossi was pictured on a desmosidici and the two Italian icons came together just at the right time for the Bonomi family, who sold Ducati to Audi last summer – at a profit needless to say. Their racing reputation has taken a hard hit however; no wins since Casey Stoner’s fourth consecutive Australian Grand Prix victory in 2010 and worse still, over two years together they managed to make the great Valentino Rossi look average at best.
One thing is for sure, Ducati won’t sit back and feel sorry for themselves – they will be fired up more than ever to fight back and prove they can beat the Japanese without Valentino Rossi. As for Rossi himself, he’ll no doubt be in the hunt during 2013 to claim back his crown. He’ll have to beat three highly motivated Spaniards to do so; two-time champ Lorenzo, the ever-present Dani Pedrosa and the most exciting young rider to enter the premier class of Motorcycling since Rossi himself; Marc Marquez. MotoGP took a knock in 2012 when the two-time champion Casey Stoner announced his retirement, but with Lorenzo, Pedrosa, Marquez and a resurgent Rossi, MotoGP looks to be stronger than ever and 2013 is likely to be a superb year of racing.
A quick prediction: Valentino Rossi will be champion of 2013. You heard it here first.