With MotoGP races postponed indefinitely amid the coronavirus outbreak, another uncertainty for many fans is which team their favourite rider will be with when the racing restarts.
At the moment, it is expected that sponsorships and rider agreements will expire as they would if the races were to go ahead in a usual series. But there are rumours that there could be a rule change for 2021, with rider and sponsor contracts extended rather than expired.
Valentino Rossi is a prime example of the strange and unexpected situation that the whole of MotoGP and many sports championships find themselves in. Since rookie Fabio Quartararo was announced to be moving from satellite team, Petronas SRT to factory Monster Yamaha Team in 2021, Rossi’s racing status for 2021 has remained unclear.
An obvious conclusion would be that he will swap teams with the Frenchman. But for many fans of The Doctor, it would seem unfair that there won’t be a seat for him in the factory team from next year onwards, when he hasn’t had the chance to race for much of his contract.
Equally, for many Quartararo fans, preventing the opportunity for the rising star to move up the ranks due to an unprecedented pandemic also wouldn’t seem right. Despite just one season in the premier class, Quartararo has shown the most likely signs of dethroning current champion, Marquez, and with Vinales as a teammate, could make the factory team unstoppable.
But Razlan Razali, the Petronas SRT team principal, says he will strive to keep Yamaha-bound Quartararo next year if the 2020 season is completely cancelled. In an interview with Malaysian media, Razali said he hopes to defer Quartararo’s current deal by a year if no racing takes place this year.
Yet the Yamaha team manager Massimo Meregalli dismissed Razali’s claims, responding on Sky Sports MotoGP: “I don’t want to say that it is a meaningless idea, but if the 2020 season ends like this, 2021 will start as it was written that it should start.”
In a recent interview with MotoGP commentator Matt Birt, nine-time World Champion Rossi gave his biggest hint that he would continue racing in 2021 regardless of who with, stating “I hope to continue in 2021. The situation is that maybe we don’t race in 2020, so it’s fairer for me to do another championship.”
“I have enough motivation and I want to continue.” – Valentino Rossi
On his potential retirement, Rossi continued “I am in a difficult situation because, like I said, my first option is to try to continue. In my mind, I had another year with the factory team and I needed time to decide, like five or six races, with the new chief mechanic, and some modifications in the team to understand if I can be strong.
The problem is that there’s no racing. With the virus, we cannot race. So I will have to decide before racing because in the most optimistic situation, we can race in the second half of the season, so August or September we hope. But I have to make my decision before. It’s not the best way to stop.”
With the opening eight rounds of the season postponed or cancelled, Dorna currently hopes to kick off the 2020 championship from July in Spain, with strict medical protocols and quarantine rules in place. There will likely be no crowd in a majority European series, but Dorna are drawing up new plans and yet to confirm.
Throughout the COVID-19 outbreak, it has been pointed out that MotoGP must run a minimum of 13 races to contractually make a championship, however Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta has suggested that this no longer applies since we aren’t living under “normal circumstances”.
In this case then, due to the exceptional nature of our current situation, it isn’t inconceivable to imagine current and future rider contracts amended via force majeure. But if contracts were frozen, this could significantly impact the grid – most evidently with riders such as Rossi and Quartararo, but also in scenarios such as Andrea Iannone’s, who is banned from the track until June 2021. A freeze on rider contracts could save his racing career, or backfire and freeze his suspension too.
Fans will continue to await any news, but continue wondering if next year we will see what we should have seen this year, or whether 2020 go down as a year written out of history, with no World Championship motorcycle racing.