Ducati welcomes Rossi

Valentino Rossi will join Ducati in 2011, creating an Italian MotoGP ‘dream team’ that has been a much talked-about possibility for several years. Rossi’s departure from Yamaha was officially announced at the Czech Grand Prix on August 15.

Next year the reigning MotoGP World Champion will join 2006 title winner Nicky Hayden at the Marlboro-backed factory Ducati team.

Rossi had his first dalliance with the so-called ‘Ferrari of motorcycling’ towards the end of 2003, when he was on his way to winning a third MotoGP crown with Honda. That deal never came to pass and instead the Italian went to Yamaha, where he won another four MotoGP titles. Although rumours of a Ducati switch have been a regular talking point in recent years, it was only earlier this season that the move became a serious proposition.

Several factors allowed Ducati and Rossi to put together a deal. At the end of last season Rossi backed himself into a corner when he announced that Yamaha must choose between him and his fast young team-mate Jorge Lorenzo. Yamaha’s mind seemed made up when Rossi broke his right leg at Mugello earlier this year, while already trailing Lorenzo in the points chase. Soon after that Honda announced that it had mounted a successful swoop on Ducati’s star rider, 2007 MotoGP World Champion Casey Stoner, leaving the way clear for Rossi and Ducati to join forces.

The marriage is a dream come true for Ducati and for MotoGP rights-holder Dorna. “By uniting two Italian icons we hope to create a great story for Ducati and for MotoGP,” said Ducati president Gabriele Del Torcio, who played down suggestions that Rossi might continue his occasional outings in a Ferrari Formula 1 car.

The two-year deal – believed to be worth £12 million – will place enormous strain on the small Bologna factory which employs a thousand staff, a hundred of whom work in the racing department which has strong links with Ferrari. Hayden perhaps summed up the situation best when he said: “Valentino coming to Ducati will put a lot of pressure on the factory. I mean, if he’s not winning, the fans are gonna burn the factory down.”

Nonetheless, Rossi’s speed and development genius will be a huge boost for the brand, which has struggled to produce consistent performance from its fickle Desmosedici V4. In 2004 Rossi turned Yamaha’s fortunes around. The previous year the company hadn’t won a single GP, but Rossi won first time out on the YZR-M1 and went on to win the 2004, ’05, ’08 and ’09 crowns for the factory.

Ducati is convinced Rossi’s input will quickly bear fruit. “Sure, with Valentino the bike will improve,” said team manager Vito Guareschi.

Rossi is currently banned by Yamaha from commenting on his move to Ducati, but he is already saying his farewells to the Japanese. “Unfortunately even the most beautiful love stories finish, but this one leaves a lot of wonderful memories,” he said at Brno. “When I came to Yamaha in 2004 the M1 was a poor, middle-of-the-grid bike, derided by most MotoGP riders. Now, having helped her grow and improve, you can see her smiling in her garage, courted and admired, treated as top of the class.”

Rossi and M1 will have their final ride together at the season-ending Valencia Grand Prix on November 7.