November 23, 2008 Only one person has ever reached the pinnacle in both MotoGP and Formula 1 (John Surtees), the respective motorcycle and motor racing premier championships, and for the last three years, the greatest ever motorcycle racer (Valentino Rossi), has been teasing us with the prospect that he might switch to four wheels and attempt to emulate Surtees. Though he insists he’ll be staying in MotoGP for another five years, he spent two days punting the Kimi Raikkonen’s F2008 Ferrari this week and got within a second and a half of Raikkonen’s best time (see extensive image library). Fingers crossed!
Having already tested Ferrari F1 machinery during 2005 and 2006, the charismatic Italian shelved his F1 aspirations and knuckled down to win back his MotoGP crown after Nicky Hayden took the title in 2006, and Casey Stoner whitewashed the field in 2007.
His 2008 MotoGP Championship victory sees him back on top on two wheels and the test drive was billed as a reward from Yamaha’s MotoGP team major sponsor Fiat (which owns Ferrari) for his 2008 title win.
Our take is that Ferrari is nurturing the relationship because it harbours hopes that one day another Italian will pilot one of its cars to a world championship. Amazingly, despite all Ferrari’s world championships, and Italy’s motoring heritage Alberto Ascari is the only Italian to have won an F1 crown in a Ferrari (in 1952 and 1953), and only one Italian has since won the title - Mario Andretti – and he won it in a Lotus.
Given that he is supremely talented and has a host of transferable skill sets, Rossi would be a major asset to the Italian company should he ever choose to take the step.
Interestingly, the special test session was held at the Mugello circuit in the car driven by Kimi Raikkonen in the last races of the F1 Championship at China and Brazil. Accordingly, it gives a very clear comparison between the speeds of an F1 car and a MotoGP motorcycle and as expected, the F! car is MUCH faster. When Rossi won the Gran Premio D'Italia Alice at Mugello in June this year, his fastest lap on the Yamaha M1 was 1.50.032 when he was attempting to pull away from Casey Stoner’s Ducati. In the F1 test session, his fastest lap was 1.22.55 – quite some difference.
The testing started just after 11am and ended at 4:30pm. Valentino drove 320 kilometres and consulting the watch one could see that he has everything he needs to be a Formula One driver: before the lunch break his fastest lap time was 1.23.76, while in the afternoon he did it in 1.22.55.
"I'm really happy that I had this possibility and I want to thank President Luca di Montezemolo and Stefano Domenicali for it," Valentino said at the end of the day. "Driving a Ferrari Formula One car on a track like Mugello is something fantastic and incredible. It's great to work with people on such a high level, like those who were at the track with me today. We've done some pretty good work, very professional, and we tried to improve lap after lap. I'm satisfied and I hope I can do it again tomorrow."
Stefano Domenicali, Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro's team principal, was present at Mugello. "It's really nice to be here, celebrating a great season with numerous victories, here at home. Mugello is one of our tracks and also a circuit where Valentino has won several times, winning in some extraordinary races," Domenicali said. "It's two days of pure fun for us and Vale, although we're doing serious work; you can see that how he prepared himself physically. Vale would have been an excellent Formula One driver, but he chose a different road. He's part of our family and that's why we wanted to give him this opportunity; we're happy to be together once again; two Italian symbols like Ferrari and Valentino Rossi."
In the second day of testing, it rained and Rossi had several spins on the slippery circuit.
Rossi also maintains an interest in rally driving and recently competed in the Monza Rally in Italy, finishing second. He will compete once more in a championship round of the World Rally Championship in early December at the Wales Rally. Not surprisingly, Rossi is also a gun rally driver, having scored a remarkable 11th place in the New Zealand round of the WRC in 2006.