In The Paddock
One good thing about Covid-19—if that’s how you see it—is another year, or at least part of a year, of Valentino.
The great man had planned to use the first half of 2020 to check himself out, to measure if he was fast enough and keen enough to carry on. By the summer break at the latest, his results and his feelings would have revealed all.
But there wasn’t to be that first half and, by now, the second half is also in serious doubt. The latest news is of cancellations, thus abandoning Dorna’s hopes of running a full 20-round season. The German and Finnish GPs, and the Dutch TT, are officially off the calendar.
The remaining 17 GP races are in serious doubt. There is some potential to start going in Austria in July, with no spectators and skeleton-staff pit crews, with other rounds penciled in, and it may be necessary for the FIM to adjust its minimum quorum of 13 races to declare a championship.
Whatever does finally happen, it doesn’t look like 2020 will offer the veteran multi-champion any period of grace for his crucial decision.
So, in an official Dorna interview in the last weekend in April, he announced that—like the racing and the rest of normal life—his decision would also be deferred. Now he will assess his prospects during the first races of 2021. He will, by the way, be 42 years old by then.
Well, of course, it is good news. The spectre of racing without Rossi—Dorna’s great fear—has been hanging around for many years now, to the growing dismay of all concerned. He admitted, in the same interview, that he had seriously considered quitting back in 2012, after the two-year Ducati disaster, until just one outing on his old-friend Yamaha restored his shattered confidence.
The ghost has become a monster, to be fought off with sticks. Walking sticks, in this case.
Or eventually Zimmer frames.
But if Captain Tom, the now world-renowned British ex-soldier who raised millions of dollars to support the British National Health Service, can do more than 100 laps of his garden at 99, then what might not be possible for the longest-serving GOAT in any sport apart from golf?
I first felt dismay at the news—where would this leave Yamaha, which has promised Valentino a full factory bike come May?
All the more, how about Fabio Quartararo, blocked for another year. But, of course, this is not so. If Rossi does race on, it will be on a guaranteed full factory bike, and (given a dearth of other options) with Petronas.
Regardless of the fact that Razlan Razali, the Malaysian team principal, revealed to the Italian website GPOne that he hadn’t had so much as an SMS message from Rossi about this plan, for he added that, given Rossi’s marketing value, all options remained open.
And so much for the Petronas team’s supposed role in training young riders. After just one season, it’s morphed into a sort of Yamaha pension scheme. Something perhaps for Quartararo to look forward to. Twenty years down the line.
Intriguingly, that means he might even have Lorenzo back as a teammate—Jorge “retired” precipitately at the end of last year, after his own confidence- and body-bashing Honda year. But as soon as he got back on a Yamaha M1 in his role as test rider, he started to make noises about changing his mind.
But never mind. Quartararo is just the youngest of a small handful of young riders who should have been disputing the championship in 2020, whose ambitions have been put on hold, at a crucial moment in the development of their careers.
But as always, Rossi’s the important one, for all the right and quite a few of the wrong reasons. Win or lose, he still matters more to more people than any other rider.
He’s always professed himself not particularly interested in records, but here are a few he might still think about.
The oldest premier-class champion was the first, British ex-bomber pilot Les Graham in 1949—a relative stripling, at 37 years and 340 days. A youngster compared with Valentino.
But Vale will have to go on a couple more years to challenge the oldest race winner in the class, another Briton. Fergus Anderson, winner at Montjuic Park in Barcelona on his Moto Guzzi in 1953, aged an impressive 44 plus 237 days. And a lot longer to match the oldest ever GP winner Arthur Wheeler, at who took 250 honors in Argentina in 1962, aged 46 and 70 days.
Looks like Vale shouldn’t even be thinking about retirement until 2026 at the earliest.
Let’s hope that suits Yamaha, Petronas and the rest. Because it will suit most of the fans down to the ground. CN