Photography by Gold & Goose
When Valentino Rossi announced yesterday that he was parting ways with Jeremy Burgess - his crew chief of 14 years - it stunned the MotoGP paddock and had many asking why? After all, Burgess is one of the most respected crew chiefs in MotoGP – if not the most respected. Add to that the fact Rossi and Burgess have been viewed as an inseparable pair – Batman and Robin, Cagney and Lacey - and there were many more questions than answers.
Mostly the reaction in the paddock has been negative with the majority critical of Rossi’s decision and the way it was handled in yesterday’s pre-race press conference. To clarify the situation, Yamaha held a press conference today in Valencia with both men present. The first question: Clarify whose decision this was?
“Was more my decision because we already spoke with Jerry [Burgess] with all the team especially about next year and Jeremy already said that he wanted to stay,” Rossi said. “Also, Jeremy have some more question mark for the future, but he didn’t say yes or not, he just say that he want to wait for next year. I also want to wait for next year. I mean, in my mind, I want to continue, but I will decide also after next year. After the first races. Depends also from the result.
“So was more my decision. And yesterday we spoke together I tried to explain that I need to change. That I need something different. Like Jerry said, a new boost, some more motivation, and we decide to do like this.”
The million-dollar question was how did Burgess feel about getting the axe? And did he see the axe man coming?
“Look, clearly it blindsided me,” Burgess said. “I was not expecting it whatsoever. I knew yesterday afternoon when Valentino [Rossi] invited me into his trailer, we weren’t going to get the Christmas bonus.”
Burgess was also asked if he thought that he was paying for a comment that he said earlier in the year, when he said, “It could be maniacal if Valentino could win again?”
“But for me I think perhaps the words of won’t win again, perhaps clearly I said we won’t win again until we start winning races and getting on the podium,” Burgess said in correcting a journalist. “That was the entirety of that statement. I don’t believe that I would be paying for that. I think we all know in racing that you have to win races before you win championships.”
With the news of his termination of employment, did Burgess have any plans of going with another team or retiring?
“I haven’t made any plans for the future at this stage,” Burgess responded. “My intention originally, obviously, was to continue next year and depending upon results and desire. Our contracts are year by year so of course we are at that liberty to make a call.
“And yeah we’ve been four years chasing rainbows. We haven’t nailed anything decent in four years. So these are long periods in racing and it becomes more difficult and more difficult. I’ve read many sports biographies and quite often, in many cases, that the top sportsman in the latter part of his career may have a change of caddy or a change of coach. This is what we are working on now. We’ve always worked on fixing the problems and we’ve worked for four years trying to do that and this is part of that fix this is the next step to try and get Valentino back on top and extend his career and be competitive.”
Making this announcement at the beginning of the race weekend caused a big stir so Rossi was asked why he announced it when he did. Why not wait until the end of the weekend.
“Because some f#*king journalist say in the newspaper,” Rossi responded. “If not, was normal anyway a part from the joke. I think in my mind the decision last week and I don’t want to stay one weekend with Jeremy working with him and knowing this inside of me and don’t say to him. So I’m not able you know to joke like this. So I think that the first time I see him I have to say to him.”
Burgess cut in before the next question to have his say.
“I’d say that I would prefer it as it happened,” Burgess said in defending the timing of the announcement. “I think it’s a far better way to do it rather than sign off on Sunday night and say, ‘right, ciao, it’s all over.’ I’m more comfortable like this than I would have been had it been a Sunday night decision, which I think it was going to be at some stage.
Rossi said that the decision was based on the fact that he needed “a boost, a change.” If he felt that he was missing something in his current relationship with Burgess as his crew chief, whose fault was it? His or Burgess’?
“I don’t know… this is a good question,” Rossi responded. “For me I want to say maybe both. But now the level is raised a lot for sure, especially the top three are able to ride these bikes are very fast. So also the lap time every time in the track is improve a lot. So is a great challenge for me, for us, we hope. That is difficult. But I don’t have any particular issue or regrets or problem with the way to work of my team and especially of Jeremy.
“But I know that is a key moment. So because I have in my mind that I want to try one time in another way I think that this is the moment and just for that.”
He was then asked if he felt that he can still fight with Marc Marquez and Jorge Lorenzo?
“Yes,” Rossi responded simply.
The other big question was what would happen with the rest of the team with the Burgess-Rossi split.
“Yeah, I have to speak with the rest of the guys,” Rossi answered. “But I’m happy with all the team so if all the other guys decide to continue with me then nothing change. But I don’t know if somebody decide to maybe make something else because Jerry is not with us. But if they want to continue, I’m happy with everybody.”
Burgess won’t be working with Rossi at the post-race test on Monday. But the Italian legend said they had a few options to work without the Australian in the garage – as they had done in Brno earlier this year.
Now that the 14-year relationship between Burgess and Rossi was coming to an end, Burgess was asked to take a trip down memory lane and speak of his best memories of their time working together.
“Ah, there are so many,” he answered. “I mean clearly South Africa in 2004. Phillip Island with the penalty was a great race. And there’s been just so many, many battles to sort of list them off one after the other would probably take too long.”
To maybe narrow it down, Welkom (South Africa) was brought up again as maybe the one.
“Welkom was very good yes, but also winning the championship for Yamaha was great too,” Burgess said.
Besides specific races, what was the best thing about working with Rossi?
“Yeah, I mean 14 years, 80 odd Grand Prix wins - it’s basically over five a year. So those figures are good,” Burgess responded. “What we’ve done I think has been terrific. I’ve enjoyed every bit of it. Obviously, I was always getting closer to the end of my career and was making determinations on an exit policy based on Valentino’s competiveness and Valentino’s time in MotoGP. So as Valentino said, I was constantly moving the goal posts a bit in terms of commitment. But I’m comfortable with everything. Pretty good set up around me at home, so I’m alright in that area.”
What was the worst moment of their 14-year history?
“I can’t think of one offhand,” Burgess answered. “No it’s been a very, very good 14 years. I think its tough to pick a bad moment. I think perhaps the outcome of cleaning the grid in Qatar was probably a moment that perhaps we got carried away with a little bit.”
And finally the big question based on Burgess’ long career with other great champions… Wayne Gardner, Mick Doohan, or Valentino Rossi?
“Again, very hard,” said Burgess. “I was asked this only last Sunday for a television program in Australia. You won’t be able to mention motorcycle racing at any time in the future without mentioning the name Valentino Rossi. So clearly to have won championships in all the categories places him in a more select group perhaps than [Wayne] Gardner or Mick Doohan.”