That is the question posed by La Gazzetta dello Sport. In an article here, the Italian sports paper states that Rossi has compared the situation at Ducati to a similar one at Ferrari, a slump that Ferrari emerged from in just months with the help of Fernando Alonso. The big question of course is where the Italian is going to land next year. The situation is complicated, and yet simple at the same time. The sort of thing a sheet of paper with plus and minus columns might sort out. Here’s how we see it:
Yamaha – plus or minus?
The bike – Initially developed by Rossi, for Rossi, this is a love story interrupted. We all saw the quiet moment, the kiss on the fairing and the hand written note to the racebike from Rossi when he left. It’s a working package, well developed and happy on current tire choices. So this one is easy – a win for the plus side
The company – They may have been in a tiff when Rossi left but they gave him what he needed and it was at Yamaha he secured his GOAT status. Years later with a lot of water under the bridge, can he trust them to give him what he needs now? If he makes Lorenzo unhappy (a virtual certainty should he begin to win races), will they step up and continue to give him equal equipment? Historically this is rarely the case with any manufacturer. His return to Yamaha is officially being welcomed with open arms. But it’s hard to imagine there is the same joy for Rossi the company once experienced. Yamaha’s acceptance of a Rossi return is certainly this time tied to his bringing money. It’s a cliche but as the old saying goes, marry for money and you’ll earn every penny. No longer a match made from mutual respect (or a mutual desire to beat Honda), that makes this part complicated. We’re calling it a minus.
The team mate – Lorenzo say’s he would welcome Rossi back. What he doesn’t say but everyone knows is this time it’s on HIS terms as the number one rider. Rossi say’s he wants a competitive team mate. Historically, the translation for this is “so when I beat him it it looks more like a great victory”. If he doesn’t beat him, a fate easily determined by access to electronics and new parts, this time the line in the sand (or the wall in the garage, so to speak) would be up to Lorenzo. And Lorenzo has the talent, the mental poise and the support to hold his ground for as long as it takes. We’re calling this one minus
The money – While we don’t know the actual numbers, this much is clear – While Ducati’s offer is according to Rossi himself, less than he initially contracted for 2 years ago, Yamaha’s offer is less. If Yamaha contracts Rossi, it’s for the price of a less than mere mortal rider. An extrordinary rider for ordinary money, regardless of it being about the money or not, is a strong minus. GOAT’s are highly paid athletes. This is not the time of Agostini when wins were all that mattered. In 2012, money is the accepted yardstick of success.
The offer – (team mate only, no first rider position possible) – No discussion needed here. Big minus. Ducati’s offer is as the number 1 rider on a famous, Italian, factory team. Could any great athlete, let alone a GOAT athlete still presumably capable of great victories, mentally accept subservient status? Difficult at best. A dish best eaten with a side of “my future performance can even the score and then we can speak about co-number one riders” For him or any great athlete to mentally make peace with the position, demeanor and occasional heartbreak of #2 status, this is easily the worst part of the working deal in 2013. Minus.
The legacy – If Rossi goes back to Yamaha he goes without his reputation as a development magician and he breaks the perceived promise to Ducati fans and Italians in particular that he would develop the Ducati’s ridability. Ducati fans and Italians will brand him a quitter. Will all be forgiven if/when he wins on the Yamaha? Minus.
The pressure – Even to a man used to being stalked by the press, living with this right now has to be excruciating. The press has been relentless. If he goes back to Yamaha the pressure goes down significantly. Plus
Ducati – If he stays?
The bike – Not much needs to be said here, Rossi’s translated words to La Gazzetta della Sport: “The trouble is that we have not grown over time – That said – The problem is always the same: this bike does not have sufficient footprint on the front, but if you solve, then the situation would improve a lot, because for the rest is fine.” This one is a minus
The company – Ducati is Italian and understands the legacy of Rossi in his country. Rossi is, even now, even at legendary Ducati, bigger than the bike. And, the Ducati offer comes from the heart, no one has tarnished honor on the line, there are no old vendetta’s or disagreements to bury and new management represents the possibility of support and technology that simply was not possible when Ducati was a small company, on it’s own and on the market. They really want him and for the right reasons. Given the combination of cultural understanding and new to the situation resources, this one’s a plus
The team mate – Nicky Hayden is by all accounts the perfect wingman. He is loyal, respectful and understands his role within the team as #2. It’s hard to think of a better situation for Rossi than Hayden as a team mate. Big plus.
The money – Ducati’s offer is the better of the two and more in line with Rossi’s status. And, there doesn’t appear to be a new negotiation with a new major sponsor. Finally, Ducati’s offer is not based on needing Rossi to pay the bills. They want Rossi, but they don’t need him. More money. More respect. Less complications. Plus
The offer – This one is simple – #1 rider. What has not been spoken of (for Yamaha either) is what the PR schedule is, something that for Rossi in the past has been a deal breaker. We suspect there will have to be some give in this area, with both manufacturers, and more so if he makes a new contract with some one like Monster. Either way the Ducati offer as undisputed #1 rider rates a plus
The legacy – Here it gets complicated. Stay at Ducati and potentially retire as a loser? (well, maybe, see “wildcard considerations below”) Fix the problem and become a hero? Win on 3 bikes and accomplish the dream? Or – Go to Yamaha and win races.Yawn. With Stoner gone it’s expected. (Does anyone really think that Rossi has lost his touch?)But do it in red and that’s what fairy tales are made of. It’s a gamble, with no clear answers. Minus
The pressure – Right now this is as high as it get’s. Going to Yamaha opens the valve but only for so long. Still, staying at Ducati leaves this gauge pegged. Minus
Wildcard considerations –
- The lure of winning on three different bikes. Topping Agostini (and everyone else, it’s never been done before) It’s Rossi’s Holy Grail.
- Italian pride. If he does stay at Ducati, the Italian company, he’s taking the high road – messaging, “I had an out, I could have left, and with Yamaha I could have won. But I stayed”
That brings the total to Yamaha 2+/ 5- and Ducati to 4+/3-
So it boils down to this — with a good bike and a relief to the pressure, is the Yamaha worth the legacy and the lower team status.
Or, stay at Ducati and risk it all? On paper it seems simple. In reality it’s a brutal decision but in the real world, the easier one to live with. After all, Audi has pretty good race cars. With 4 wheels looking certain to be Rossi’s next chapter we wonder if that might be worth a plus sign?