Has there ever been a motor sport World Championship more reliant upon one star than MotoGP is reliant upon Valentino Rossi?
Some people argue – with some justification – that the nine-time World Champion is better known to the mainstream than the sport in which he competes. And you only need look at a MotoGP trackside crowd to witness the sea of yellow caps and T-shirts – Rossi’s signature colour – that proves just how much he means to the sport.
Thus you can imagine the consternation among MotoGP’s owners when Rossi spends an entire season struggling to get even close to the front. Rossi running midfield, sometimes struggling to get into the top 10, is not good for business.
Rossi’s travails on Ducati’s tricky Desmosedici have been well documented. Despite several chassis redesigns during 2011 he was never able to make the bike do what he wants it to do. Halfway through the season he quite reasonably blamed his lack of progress on MotoGP’s draconian testing restrictions, introduced following the initial global economic shock in 2008.
Since then riders have been limited to just a dozen days testing, including only three one-day tests during the racing season. No wonder Rossi struggled to develop each of the new chassis he received.
So there were a few raised eyebrows when the sport’s governors recently announced a lifting of the testing restrictions, allowing factories to more than double the amount of testing time for their lead riders, if they so wish.
Cynics were quick to suggest that the rules are being rewritten in an effort to get Rossi closer to the sharp end and thus keep his legions of fans turning on their televisions on race weekends.
Obviously the rule makers reject such an accusation, while at the same time admitting that their aim is to have all the factories running close to the front, which in this case means getting Ducati up there, and thus by association, Rossi. It’s hard to argue with their thinking, even if it means bending the rules by rewriting them.
The reason it’s important to allow the actual racers to test their MotoGP machines is that most test riders aren’t a lot of use. None of the factories currently has a test rider who can lap within 2.5 seconds of the winning pace, simply because anyone much faster than that will get a job racing, not just testing. Also, the integration of each rider to his machine is much more critical than it is in cars (something confirmed to me recently by John Barnard), so test riders have a limited use in that sense too.
Next year MotoGP teams will attend the usual 12 days of official group tests, but in addition each factory will be allowed 240 tyres to be used in private tests. That should equate to something like 25 to 30 extra ‘man days’ of testing. Ducati would exhaust Rossi if he did that much testing, but they’ll want him to do considerably more than he was allowed in 2011.
The Italian is so desperate to create a competitive Desmosedici that he is delighted by the new rules and will be happier than usual to do all that extra riding. “We are behind and we cannot catch up if there is no testing,” he says.
Of course, not everyone is happy at the prospect of a dramatically increased workload, and it should be no surprise that the man most displeased is the one who dominated the 2011 season: Casey Stoner, who reckons that “being on the bike all year will destroy us”.