Its official: Valentino Rossi has made the bravest decision of his career, turning from Honda's biggest star to Honda's biggest rival as he accepts a challenge that in his own words is 'a little bit crazy'.

"I cannot comment yet on which bike I will be riding, but I can say that it will be a big challenge - it maybe even seems a little crazy right now!" said Valentino. "I think all the journalists, fans and everybody involved in this sport is very happy because next year will be a great fight."

Although no announcement was made, there now seems little doubt that Rossi will be on a Yamaha in 2004. Yamaha released a careful prepared statement seconds after Sunday's press conference in which they tried to give the impression that only now, with the Italian's Honda career officially over, would they try and complete their negotiations.

"When it became clear that there was a possibility that Valentino would not renew his agreement with Honda we made contact with his management team," read the statement from Fortuna Yamaha team director Davide Brivio. "I can confirm that our discussions with Valentino's management are proceeding well. With the confirmation that he shall not renew with Honda we shall proceed with our negotiations and hope to conclude an agreement within the immediate future."

But let's be realistic, Rossi wouldn't publicly announce he was leaving Honda unless he already had a deal in place - otherwise he would be putting himself in a very vulnerable position.

Let's assume Ducati, Rossi's only other race winning alternative, have accepted he won't be with them next year. Yamaha (knowing this) could effectively name their terms - if no form of binding deal was already in place - since Rossi has nowhere else to go. It is also inconceivable that having been so cautious up to this point, Yamaha would declare publicly that they were in talks, unless Rossi was sure to sign - or has done so already.

So why the delay in announcing? Perhaps the most obvious reason is that Yamaha don't want to unnecessarily upset Honda, and that all concerned wanted to give the impression that Rossi left Honda, then decided to join Yamaha - rather than being poached from Honda by a better offer from Yamaha.

Another likely reason is that, as predicted and Rossi admitted on Sunday, he is still a HRC rider until the 1/1/2004 and negotiations could now be taking place between the two Japanese manufacturers to allow the 24-year-old onto an M1 before that time.

The sooner Vale can ride the machine, the more time Yamaha will have to make major changes, but at present it looks like he won't get to ride again until January. What could well be happening is that Yamaha are, for example, willing to let Alex Barros return to Honda - and scrap his multi-million dollar contract severance fee - in return for Honda releasing Rossi early.

Other reasons could be that Yamaha simply want to put on a publicity generating press conference of their own to announce their new rider, and full 2004 line-up, with perhaps some sponsorship issues also to be resolved... or maybe Yamaha are planning to unveil a radically new machine for Rossi to develop - is this the 'crazy' challenge he is referring to?

In the meantime, Rossi has at a single stroke made the 2004 MotoGP championship the most anticipated in recent memory with Honda, Yamaha and Ducati all in with a realistic chance of regular race victories - and possibly even a three-way manufacturer fight for the world championship.

Certainly, the likes of Max Biaggi (the only rider to win on an M1), Sete Gibernau and Colin Edwards may never have a better chance of beating The Doctor - they will have a machinery advantage, but will it be enough?

On the other hand Rossi has little to lose in 2004 - he'll be hailed a hero for daring to leave Honda, something Mick Doohan wouldn't do, while if he wins races - and can defend his crown - it'll be seen as a truly fantastic achievement... and a massive embarrassment for Honda. Should Rossi fail to reach those targets, Yamaha will be blamed for failing to exploit his proven ability.

But memories are short in motorsport and while 2004 is a no lose situation for Rossi, 2005 will be - if Valentino isn't back in title contention by then, he'll have to take his share of the responsibility - but as we don't yet know the length of the Yamaha deal, Rossi might be riding a Ducati by then anyway...



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