News that Valentino Rossi was quitting Ducati to join Yamaha came as no surprise to anyone, least of all this columnist. If there was any element of surprise at all it is that Honda should have allowed it to happen. The departure of Casey Stoner means that the biggest motor cycle company in the world now has no chance of winning the 2013 world title. Pedrosa is just not good enough and Marquez is an apprentice.
So if Honda is the loser who are the winners? Well, it has to be said that Yamaha not only have the fastest rider (Lorenzo), they now have the biggest star returned to them along with, it has to assumed, sack loads of sponsorship cash. And a lot of this is likely to be funnelled to them, perhaps in the guise of team sponsorship, something they haven’t been able to raise since Fiat two years ago, thanks to you-know-who.
Rossi is a winner. Yamaha will not be paying him the prodigious sum shelled out by Ducati/Marlboro/Generali, rumoured to be in the region of €15m, but you can bet your bottom dollar he will remain one of the highest paid sportsmen in the world, admired by the likes of Roger Federer. And lhe will have a machine on which he believes he can win. The latter point is the most important to The Doctor because beneath that sunny, funny but, in reality, impenetrable exterior lies a true racer who, like all truly great champions, never gets bored with winning.
Finally, the other winner is MotoGP. Rossi is their meal ticket, you can bet they had a hand in the deal and you can be certain that Dorna boss Carmelo Ezpeleta slept rather more easily with Rossi’s signature on the Yamaha contract than for many weeks.
Two years more of Rossi buys time for Dorna and their owners Bridgepoint who, as we have pointed out before, will want to sell in the not too distant future. Securing Rossi is one part of the puzzle, the other is a formula which will ensure full grids and exciting racing going forward. This is more problematical. The CRT experiment has been a failure, the two manufacturers that matter don’t seem to like any of the proposals for more cost effective racing and Honda is pulling Dorna’s chain by offering to fill the grid with their machines.
Although Dorna is weighed down by debt in the region of €400m, it has doubled its profits over the last few years to something around €70m and the owners are confident of getting a good price. Sports rights remain hot, unlike most other media properties whose values have declined, and Manchester United recently sold 10% of its shares for a completely dotty price. But Formula 1 had recently to withdraw from a sale of part of its parent company because investors weren’t prepared to pay the price.
So nothing is certain but who cares. Seeing Valentino Rossi once again battling for the lead is all any red-blooded racing fan wants to see. The Dr Feelgood factor is back.
The MotoGP rider merry-go-round has certainly been more interesting than the racing of late and the abrupt departure of Ben Spies to join the BMW Italia team must have been like manna from heaven for Paolo Flammini at World Superbikes. And is it more than just coincidence that WSB are more than likely to return to Laguna Seca next year?
MotoGP and WSB now share common owners. It is their expressed intention to promote the series separately but it would be too much to expect them not to get involved in deciding the rules and even having a hand in which riders went where. It is a fact that there are more bums than seats, there is less money to go round and therefore a rider who can raise personal sponsorship finds it very easy to buy himself into a team.
We are coming to one of the most interesting parts of the season. No, not who will win but who goes where? Has Cal Crutchlow blown his chance at Ducati? Will Jonathan Rea go to Gresini Honda in MotoGP? Will Herve Poncheral have a Yamaha satellite team for Bradley Smith to join? Will all the Monster sponsorship money be sucked up by Rossi? Who will partner Tom Sykes at Kawasaki, surely after Silverstone it will be the 19-year-old Loris Baz?
It is not only teams and riders who are looking to downsize their motor homes, poor things. European racing circuits are feeling the pinch as countries such as Spain, Portugal and Italy face bankruptcy. Portimao in the Algarve is teetering on the brink and while it will stage the WSB round next month thanks to a temporary rescue, probably from somewhere not unadjacent to Rome, it is unlikely to survive in its present form.
The mighty Nurburgring is struggling with debts around the €45m mark and the regional government for Valencia is not certain it will support its circuit going forward. The UK is not immune with the British Racing Drivers Club announcing this week that they have set themselves a target of raising £150m, via investment or sale, in order that Silverstone can pay off its existing debt and proceed with its development plans. A deal with the Qatar Investment Authority fell through earlier this year.
Apart from that everything is fine. And weren’t the Olympics wonderful? When is motor cycle racing going to become an Olympic sport, everything else is!