Valentino Rossi’s MotoGP career is well-documented as one of the most remarkable of any motorbike racer.
The legacy he has created and maintained has cemented his place as one of the all time greats in Motorsport and when it comes to MotoGP, perhaps the greatest of all time. But one day, all good things must come to an end. And the end of the Rossi era could come in a little over a year’s time. And once it comes, his Yamaha compatriots will be forced to brave a team without him.
It is no secret that 2018 could be Rossi’s final year on a MotoGP bike. Whilst it is equally possible that he will still be competitive and stay beyond next year, he could well hang up his leathers should he prove to be less competitive than he wishes.
With Maverick Vinales at the team, Yamaha already have a great successor to the Italian legend. But that famous #46 bike will need a new rider. Whoever that may be will have the biggest shoes to fill in modern motorcycle racing. So who on earth could possibly ride that bike?
— Valentino Rossi (@ValeYellow46) September 26, 2017
The obvious choice perhaps comes from the Tech 3 Yamaha team. Johann Zarco has made waves this year, leading the opening race in Qatar (one in which he really should have won) and fighting for the victory again at Le Mans, as well as pole position at Assendon and Motegi, cementing him as a star in the making.
A couple of run-ins with Rossi aside, he has been highly impressive and has had the beating of teammate Jonas Folger for most of the year. But the German has proved equally as impressive. At his home race at the Sachsenring, Folger lead the majority of the race and only lost out to Marc Marquez thanks to a mistake, in perhaps one of the top three rides of the year.
He sits on 84 points in the standings, 33 behind Zarco. But make no mistake, he is also in contention for a factory Yamaha ride in 2019 should Rossi leave.
Beyond Tech 3, Yamaha could pick from several great riders but its questionable whether any would leave their respective teams. Marquez does not look set to leave Honda anytime soon, and the only team he has been mooted to maybe head for one day is KTM.
Andrea Dovizioso is leading Ducati’s charge and unlikely to go anywhere, and former Yamaha man Jorge Lorenzo is improving all the time at the Italian team. He also left Yamaha for a reason. He relished a new challenge and that challenge is slowly but surely being overcome.
A return to his old team anytime soon is highly unlikely, if not impossible. Cal Crutchlow is a Honda man at least until the end of 2019 and is a perfect fit at LCR and a massive help to their development program, so he isn’t going anywhere in the mid-term either.
— Yamaha MotoGP (@YamahaMotoGP) October 13, 2017
That leaves Dani Pedrosa. He is perhaps the most likely outside of the Yamaha/Tech 3 stable to move to the team. With Lorenzo leaving the Japanese team last year, a move nearly came to fruition for Pedrosa. The man they wanted, Vinales, was feeling a sense of loyalty to his Suzuki team and was unsure if he was going to leave.
They were on an upward curve and it really did look like Pedrosa could go to Yamaha. Alas it was not meant to be. Dani stayed at Honda and Maverick went to Yamaha, replaced at Suzuki by Andrea Iannone. Despite this, it is not impossible Pedrosa could head to Yamaha if Rossi leaves at the end of 2018. He could well be a major player in next year’s ‘silly season’.
The safe money is perhaps on Zarco becoming a factory rider whenever Rossi departs. He has already shown how quick he can be and will no doubt continue to improve next year. Yamaha will no doubt want to keep ‘The Doctor’ as long as possible. He has become an icon of MotoGP and they owe a lot to him for the success both have achieved together.
But even they will have to realize that one day, that famous yellow 46 will no longer be on the grid. And when that does happen, not only will MotoGP sorely miss him, but Yamaha will be heading into a totally new chapter.