August 6, 2005 The prospects of the World’s best motorcycle racer switching to Formula 1 Motor Racing were enhanced significantly this week when Italian World Motorcycle champion Valentino Rossi tested the Ferrari F2005 car for two complete days at Ferrari’s private Fiorano test facility, lapping fast enough for former Ferrari test-driver Jean Alesi to describe his performance as “formidable”. Apart from Rossi’s 58.3 second lap of Fiorano (Michael Schumacher's track record is 55.999), further indication of the importance of the test was evident when Ferrari CEO Luca di Montezemolo and F1 supremo Jean Todt were on hand for the drive.
At the end of the second day of testing at Fiorano, the Moto GP World Champion showed his satisfaction: “I wanted to get a better understanding of a Formula 1 car and I would like to thank Ferrari for giving me the opportunity to do so. The two days were intensive and interesting. I completed a lot of kilometres and I began to understand the handling of the car, working with the engineers and (Ferrari test driver) Marc Gené. I go back to the two wheels where there is still a long way to go to the end of the season.”
It was the second time that Rossi has driven a Formula 1 car, having put in 20 laps in April last year. Two solid days in an F1 car is more than simply satisfying a whim, leading to the heightened speculation that a deal has already been agreed to between Rossi and Ferrari. Rossi extended his MotoGP contract with Yamaha on Monday until the end of the 2006 season, just a few days before Ferrari announced it was replacing Rubens Barrichello with Felipe Massa. That Ferrari signed Massa for only one year could be co-nincidence but it has fuelled speculation Rossi could make the much anticipated move to Ferrari in 2007.
Ex-Ferrari driver Jean Alesi was quoted in Corriere della Sera, “Fifty-eight-three in the summer, meaning in non-ideal conditions – formidable.'' “Valentino makes me dream and I say he has nothing to lose. Go ahead and try it. Everyone likes him, from the Italians to the Japanese.''
Rossi left Honda after winning three world titles in the premier class, “in search of a challenge” and more than found the measure of his challenge, taking an uncompetitive motorcycle to a World championship in 2004, and developing it into a completely formidable machine in 2005. With ten rounds of the world championship run, Rossi has won eight of them and leads the title by 120 points – effectively five wins, with seven races to go.
Clearly, he will be in search of another challenge before long.
The irony is that by moving to F1, Rossi would breathe much needed life into both series – his dominance of MotoGP would end (since the beginning of 2001 he has won 48 of 74 Grands Prix, and 11 of the last 13 races) and he would focus attention on F1 like never before with his massive supporter base.
While many people believe Rossi has what it takes to make the switch, Renault F1 principal Flavio Briatore is not one of them, telling Corriere della Sera, "It would be great to have Valentino in F1, but he wouldn't have even a minimal chance of winning."
For Italian motor racing fans, the prospect of an Italian driving an Italian car to a world championship would be very special. it hasn't happened since Ascari won more than a half a century ago. And from another perspective, only one man in history has won the Formula 1 Championship and the World MotoGP Championship (then the World 500cc Championship) – Englishman John Surtees.
Now there’s a challenge fit for Valentino!