Scuderia Ferrari Marlboro team principal Stefano Domenicali believes reigning six-time MotoGP world champion Valentino Rossi "would have been an excellent F1 driver" had he chosen to switch to four-wheels.
Domenicali was speaking after day one of Rossi's return to a Ferrari F1 car, at a special two-day test session at Mugello. The test is Rossi's fifth with Ferrari but, this time, it really does seem to be "just for fun" - both Rossi and Ferrari reflecting on what might have been, rather than what might happen.
"With a lot of work I could have become a good F1 driver," Reuters
reports Rossi as saying, after he had set a best Thursday lap time within 1.5sec of the past Mugello best by Ferrari F1 drivers Felipe Massa, Kimi Raikkonen and Luca Badoer. "It is hard to say if I would have become a winner or not, but the potential was there."
Domenicali - who guided Raikkonen to the 2007 Formula One World Championship and took Massa to within one point of the 2008 crown - believes Rossi would have been "excellent".
"Vale would have been an excellent Formula One driver, but he chose a different road," Domenicali declared.
Rossi first drove a Ferrari F1 car in 2004. Further private tests followed before Rossi took part in his most 'serious' F1 outing, a multi-team test at Valencia in 2006, seen by many as the make-or-break moment for Rossi in F1.
Driving alongside the majority of the F1 grid, Rossi finished the test twelfth and within 1.5sec of fastest man - and reigning F1 champion - Fernando Alonso (Renault). Rossi's best lap was just 0.711secs from Ferrari legend Michael Schumacher.
However, direct comparisons were difficult because most drivers were using the new-for-2006 2.4 litre V8 engines, while Rossi was given a 3 litre V10 engine "limited to reproduce the conditions set out in the 2006 regulations". Rossi's chassis was also of an older design, but that didn't stop speculation of an F1 switch reaching fever pitch in the weeks and months that followed.
Nevertheless, the #46 committed his future to MotoGP on the eve of his home Italian Grand Prix in June of 2006 and didn't return to an F1 car until today.
"It's two days of pure fun for us and Vale, although we're doing serious work; you can see that how he prepared himself physically," said Domenicali of the Mugello test. "He's part of our family and that's why we wanted to give him this opportunity; we're happy to be together once again; two Italian symbols like Ferrari and Valentino Rossi."
Rossi has a Yamaha MotoGP contract in place until the end of the 2010 season, by which time he will be 31-years-old. Rossi has indicated that his post-MotoGP plans are likely to involve rallying rather than Formula 1.
John Surtees is the only person to win world titles in both 500cc/MotoGP and F1.