The 2010 MotoGP season is yet to start, but Ducati president Gabriele del Torchio and general manager Claudio Domenicali are already facing questions regarding the factory's 2011 rider line-up.
All of the MotoGP big four - Valentino Rossi (Yamaha), Jorge Lorenzo (Yamaha), Casey Stoner (Ducati) and Dani Pedrosa (Honda) - are out of contract at the end of this year, and rumours of a full-on attempt by Ducati to sign reigning seven time MotoGP champion Rossi have already started.
del Torchio did little to extinguish the flames when, according to GPOne.com
he replied “Why not?” when asked about the possibility of Rossi joining Ducati in the future.
But the seemingly never-ending talk linking Rossi and Ducati must surely grate with Stoner, who handed Ducati its first and so far only MotoGP title during his first season with the team in 2007 - and has taken 20 of Ducati's 21 800cc race wins.
Perhaps sensing the negative effect such rumours could have on Stoner and team-mate Nicky Hayden, Domenicali praised the Australian as the most talented rider in the world - and stated that he would like to keep the same line-up for 2011 - although he far from ruled out Rossi.
“Only a fool would doubt Stoner's ability. In terms of talent he is the strongest in the world,” the Italian website quotes Domenicali as saying. “Meanwhile Nicky has taught us a wonderful lesson: 'Never give up', which reminded us of Fogarty.
“But it is true that contracts are expiring this year,” he continued. “The most important thing is to keep Casey… Could we live with both Casey and Rossi? That possibility should be put to them. [It would be like having] Maradona and Platini in the same team. The coach would like it!
“We would like to continue with Casey and Nicky,” he underlined.
In an interview with the BBC last year, Rossi appeared to tell Yamaha they must chose between keeping him and Lorenzo for 2011. Rossi later stated those comments had been misunderstood.
Rossi turned down Ducati in favour of Yamaha when he sensationally left Honda at the end of 2003. The Italian superstar indicated that the Ducati/Marlboro terms had been too restrictive.