Much has been made of the way Valentino Rossi recently, openly, criticized Ducati, and the bike he's been given to race this season in MotoGP. I guess one way to look at last season was, it was lost to Ducati Corse's misguided 'frameless' design. But now that Ducati's reverted to the aluminum beam frame du jour, Rossi's running out of excuses.
I was rankled, a little, by a passing comment he made (now that I'm looking for it, I can't find it) to the effect that the bike must suit Nicky better than it does him, because Nicky's finishing in front of him -- and we all know that I can usually kick Nicky's ass -- those weren't the words (the comment was translated from Italian anyway) but that was the sentiment.
It has, no doubt, been a difficult couple of years for Rossi, coming back from injury and failing to come to terms with either the GP11 or GP12 bikes. But frankly, the way I saw the results last year, looking at all the sessions, I didn't see Nicky as clearly slower than Rossi. Lorenzo flat out beat him as often as not in the sessions just before his 2010 mid-season, leg-breaking high side.
If I had to bet I would probably bet that Rossi will win again in MotoGP -- but it's clear that Rossi's no longer a rarefied alien but is once more merely a denizen of Earth, along with several billion punters.
This begs two questions. The first is, What does MotoGP do now? The entire sport's spent about ten years riding Rossi's coat-tails -- basking in the reflected mass-media attention he attracted (attention that has been denied motorcycle racing since the days of Ago vs. Hailwood.) As an outsider looking in, I don't have any reason to think that MotoGP's major stakeholders had any strategy to leverage Rossi's personal popularity or transfer any of Rossi's personal brand equity to the sport as a whole. Let's call that an 'F' in Communications Strategy.
The second question is, how will Rossi himself handle normalcy -- or what passes for it in the MotoGP paddock? He has been one of his sport's handful of Brahmins since he was a teenager. He has been subject to a high degree of scrutiny, to be sure, but he's been given a lot of latitude and openly criticizing him has been seen as a 'career-limiting move' not just in his teams, but anywhere in the sport.
Frankly, a lot of the Rossi japes that make him so popular with fans strike me as pretty conceited. I've always been in the 'anyone but Rossi' camp. But even I have to admit that, no matter what happens between now and Rossi's final MotoGP race, in the long run he'll be remembered as one of the all-time greats.
The thing is, if he cares about the medium term, it may be time for Rossi (and Ducati, for that matter) to formulate a MotoGP exit strategy that maximizes memories of the good times, and minimizes the recent past. Surely those rally cars are looking good now?.. and there's even a seat for Uccio as navigator.
Mike Hailwood is Rossi's only rival as the all-time GOAT, and the clincher -- besides Hailwood's strong run in F1 and F2 cars, and his George Medal for bravery -- is his 1978 comeback win on the Isle of Man.
What do you say, Vale? Time to take a few years off and race cars? Then bring a Ducati to the TT? That would redeem both the Rossi and Ducati brands in one fell swoop. Win a race that makes MotoGP seem like a video game, then quit again, literally at the top of the mountain.
It'll never happen, of course. And anyway, it won't solve MotoGP's short term problem, which actually gets worse and worse with each race that the sport's biggest star languishes in mid-pack. Communications strategy is what I do, but I'm not sure I'd relish that assignment.