Thursday, January 21, 2010

Inside Lines: Rossi to Ferrari?

With not much of anything else to talk about in the off-season, the racing press has been speculating about whether Valentino Rossi will leave Yamaha after his contract runs out at the end of 2010 and join Ducati. Predictably, the Italian press has been eating this up, despite Rossi’s father, Graziano, denying it.

While all this has been going on, Rossi himself slipped out the back door yesterday and turned up at Circuit de Catalunya to try out a different kind of fast red, Italian racer—a 2008 Ferrari Formula 1 car.

The nine-time MotoGP World Champion is no stranger to cars, or Ferrari. In 2006, at his first Ferrari test, he lapped faster than several seasoned F1 drivers, and was only a second slower than F1 legend Michael Schumacher, who opined that Rossi would make the transition from MotoGP to F1 quickly. Rossi has been competing off and on in World Rally Championship events since 2002, winning the Monza Rally in 2006 and 2007. Now, with the end of Rossi’s two-wheel career in sight, Ferrari F1 boss Stefano Domenicali is floating the idea of a third car for Rossi in Formula 1.

Based on Rossi’s performance at Circuit de Catalunya, Domenicali’s plan might turn out to be more than wishful thinking. By the end of his first day behind the wheel, Rossi’s best lap was 5 seconds off Kimi Raikkonen’s 2008 qualifying record at the track. Not bad considering the car wasn't set up to allow Rossi to stick his left leg out in the corners.

Update: On the second day of testing at Circuit de Catalunya, Rossi knocked off a lap of 1:21.9, just a tick slower than Kimi Raikkonen’s lap record of 1:21.67, set in 2008. It’s not a strictly fair comparison, since Rossi’s car was on slicks, and Raikkonen was on the grooved tires required by the regulations at the time. But based on his fast climb up the learning curve, don’t be surprised if, when Vale retires off a Yamaha, he promptly un-retires right into a Ferrari F1 car.

Update 2: Now with video. Watch it soon, because several other videos of this have been pulled from various sites.

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