Is Rossi waving goodbye to Ducati?

With MotoGP entering its mid-summer break Valentino Rossi confirmed at Laguna Seca that he will make a decision on his future within the next week.

The nine times world champion has struggled for the last two years aboard a Ducati and with a return to the factory Yamaha squad having been offered to him it is clear that he is facing a difficult decision.

Rossi moved to Ducati with a solid reputation as a rider who could transform a bike and make it competitive but having claimed just two podium finishes in time with Ducati it is clear that he has been unable to find an adequate setup for his style.

Rossi has been far from alone in struggling with the Bologna machine, only Casey Stoner and Loris Capirossi have ever really excelled on the Ducati, but his struggles have seen him fall from being the sport’s leading rider to a midfield runner. A return to Yamaha would likely offer him an immediate return to the fore but given the speed of Jorge Lorenzo a tenth title would be far from guaranteed.

Lorenzo has spoken publicly about Rossi returning to the factory squad throughout the campaign and far from looking to veto any such move the 2010 champion has spoken in glowing terms about his rival. Lorenzo clearly feel that Yamaha has become his team and not even Valentino returning to the factory could alter his status as their unquestioned leader.

This is in stark contrast to when the Spaniard initially moved into the premier class in 2008. Alongside Rossi at the Yamaha factory squad it was clear that the team felt that Lorenzo was one for the future who could replace Rossi when the Italian retied. What transpired over the following three seasons however was rather different.

Lorenzo’s performance made it possible for Yamaha to back the younger rider and when Rossi was in contract negotiations during the 2010 season it was clear that the team had decided upon Lorenzo as their future and Valentino as part of their illustrious past.

If the past and future can once more merge than Yamaha are in an exceptionally strong position. The factory has struggled to raise the necessary sponsorship to go racing in recent years and if Rossi were to return it would be unlikely that he would be unable to bring with him a wealth of sponsorship.

Ironically this factor is possibly one of the most crucial means with which Ducati will look to keep Rossi. The Bologna factory are said to have offered in the region of €15 million and valuable sponsorship space for Valentino to stay with the team. If Rossi is allowed to use his personal sponsors, and keep the spoils, it is clear just how profitable spending another two years struggling on the Ducati could be for the former champion.

Yamaha on the other hand are likely to offer him a much smaller wage packet and ask for guarantees that he can bring sponsors with him to the team.

Ducati were recently bought by the VW-Audi group and the German manufacturer has held discussions with both Valentino and the racing departments about ways in which they can improve the efficiency of the team. Given that Ducati pinned a lot of their hopes for the rest of 2012 upon a new engine development used last weekend at Laguna Seca, where Rossi struggled all weekend, however it will be interesting to see just how much stock Valentino has put in these discussions.

When Rossi makes his decision it is clear that in the eyes of many signing for Ducati would be directly related to his finances while returning to Yamaha would be a clear indication of a desire to return to competitiveness.

Elsewhere the rest of the rider market has seen lots of activity with Ben Spies announcing that he will leave MotoGP at the end of the season and Nicky Hayden extending his Ducati stay by a further two years. With Andrea Dovizioso looking to sign with the factory Yamaha squad and Cal Crutchlow having been expected to join Ducati it is clear that Rossi’s decision will have a huge impact on next year’s MotoGP grid.

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