Why it's not unreasonable for Rossi to stay in MotoGP with VR46

Although all indications are that Valentino Rossi will announce his retirement from MotoGP upon his return from holiday, it doesn't appear to be the simple formality results would suggest.

Why it's not unreasonable for Rossi to stay in MotoGP with VR46

A series of events over the last few weeks centred around what was previously thought to be a solid title sponsorship deal of his graduating VR46 team could mean that Rossi will race in 2022 after all, campaigning a VR46 Ducati with his brother Luca Marini as his teammate.

The 42-year-old Italian is racing in 2021 in Petronas SRT colours, after the factory Yamaha team opted to replace him this year with Fabio Quartararo - the current championship leader and leading contender for the premier class crown.

Rossi, a seven-time MotoGP world champion, is going through the most difficult moment of his 26-year championship career in 2021. After nine grand prix races to date, he is 19th in the overall standings with just 17 points, having finished in the top 10 only once at Mugello.

The Friday of the last round at Assen marked four years since his last victory in 2017, while his last podium finish was in the second round of last year at Jerez.

Since embarking on this SRT project, Rossi has always stressed that he would only consider extending his career as a MotoGP rider if the results went his way, something that has clearly not happened. Speaking at Assen, Rossi maintained that he would communicate a decision on his future when he returned from the summer break.

"I always said that my decision would depend on the results, it will be difficult for me to race next year," he said.

Valentino Rossi, Petronas Yamaha SRT

Valentino Rossi, Petronas Yamaha SRT

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

That Thursday morning, VR46 confirmed the deal that made the team's move from Moto2 to MotoGP official, as a customer of Ducati. Of particular note in the statement was a quote from Abdulaziz bin Abdullah Al Saud, the Saudi prince who, in theory, has been the driving force behind the deal with Aramco, the team's main sponsor.

"It would be fantastic for me if Valentino Rossi could compete in the coming years as a rider for our Aramco Racing Team VR46 alongside his brother Luca Marini, who is already competing this year under the sponsorship of our brands," he said, in a statement that caught Rossi himself by surprise.

However, in recent weeks a series of events have taken shape that have been significant enough to force him to extend his career, which based on his communication - both verbal and non-verbal - does not seem to be a laughing matter.

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The root of the confusion stems from the theoretical contract which stipulates that Saudi oil giant Aramco will become the main sponsor of VR46's MotoGP project when it enters MotoGP in 2022. Since the news broke in the last week of April, no statement from the company has validated the deal, merely Rossi's testimony that he has the approval of the prince, who owns Aramco. In fact, all the press releases concerning this new alliance are signed by Tanal Entertainment, a conglomerate of companies owned by the Saudi prince.

Since then, Aramco itself has repeatedly sought to disassociate itself from the alleged link, through various statements.

"Aramco, one of the world's largest energy and chemical companies, confirms that it has not entered into any strategic agreement with the VR46 MotoGP team or any other MotoGP affiliate," the petrochemical company said in a statement sent to Motorsport.com.

"This note is in reference to Tanal Entertainment's press release issued on Wednesday 28 April, without Aramco's knowledge. Aramco has never had any commercial agreement with Tanal Entertainment, the MotoGP championship or any of the teams participating in it.”

Aramco signage at Imola for F1's 2021 Emilia-Romagna GP

Aramco signage at Imola for F1's 2021 Emilia-Romagna GP

Photo by: Zak Mauger / Motorsport Images

Furthermore, during the Dutch Grand Prix, Aramco CEO Amin Hassan Nasser was one of Pramac's guests at the Assen race. Throughout the weekend, the senior executive held several meetings in which he made it clear that the company he heads has neither signed with VR46 nor intends to do so.

Following the arrival of Liberty Media as Formula 1 rights promoter in 2017, Aramco has been expanding its presence at grand prix events to become one of F1's main sponsors. Being a newcomer to MotoGP, which initially plans to field Luca Marini and bring up Marco Bezzecchi from Moto2 as its pair of riders, it's hard to see VR46 fitting with Aramco's sponsorship strategy without Rossi in the saddle himself.

At this point, one wonders what could have happened to bring the maze to this point. It's a tangle that seems difficult to resolve, especially since Rossi has been defensive whenever he has been questioned about the Aramco/VR46 deal.

"We are going in good faith, I talk to the prince often and everything is fine," he remarked at Assen. It seems clear that there is a major discrepancy between the perspective of the two sides.

"I would love to be wrong, but I have the feeling that the deal has not materialised," a source privy to the mess told Motorsport.com.

It's at this point that it would begin to make sense for Rossi to consider joining his brother at VR46, with the intention of attracting the attention of sponsors who would make the project viable.

For all that Moto2 race winner Bezzecchi would merit a MotoGP berth, the pull of the #46 is still infinitely greater than that of Rossi's 22-year-old protege. 

Marco Bezzecchi, Sky Racing Team VR46

Marco Bezzecchi, Sky Racing Team VR46

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

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