The start of the 2020 MotoGP season was set to decide Valentino Rossi’s next steps in his illustrious career but with the coronavirus pandemic overtaking all matters the Doctor’s decision must remain on hold.

Yamaha’s early business in the rider market caught the majority of the MotoGP paddock off guard, as the Japanese manufacturer signed up Maverick Vinales and Fabio Quartararo to its factory squad from 2021 which meant the biggest name in the sport would be changing places at the end of this year.

Where Rossi would go has already come down to two options; a full factory Yamaha at the Petronas Sepang Racing Team satellite squad for 2021 or retirement and call time on a career which has stretched into four different decades.

From the start of 2020 pre-season testing and the moment the headline-grabbing Yamaha announcements were made, Rossi made it clear he wanted to use the opening rounds of the upcoming MotoGP campaign to assess his own competitiveness, and also Yamaha’s overall performance, to understand if he should continue into next year in his strive for that elusive tenth world title.

What has followed is something nobody could have predicted, as the coronavirus crisis has spread worldwide and forced the postponement to the start of the 2020 MotoGP season.

While questions over his future would have been put to him at almost every race, Rossi had been expected to make a definite decision at his home race at his beloved Mugello for the Italian Grand Prix on the last weekend in May.

That would have seen Rossi and the rest of the grid head into its seventh round of the 2020 campaign having already covered a variety of circuits to fully test out his capabilities with the updated M1.

Rossi also said he would only consider continuing if he was competitive enough to fight for podiums, so his decision would have been largely predictable heading to Mugello with a quick glance at his results and performances at the opening six rounds.

Instead, Rossi and the rest of the MotoGP grid haven’t completed a single lap since the Qatar pre-season test concluded on February 24. And none of them will until June, at the very earliest, according to current predictions on the reshaped 2020 race calendar.

Just like the rest of the MotoGP rider market and paddock action, everything has been frozen for the foreseeable future.

Speaking to Sky Sport Italia, Rossi confirmed the situation while stuck at his home in Tavullia on the same weekend he would have been competing in Thailand at the second round of the season.

“This has messed up my plans, we will have to understand when we will be able to run. Things seem to go long, they have cancelled the European Championship in football,” Rossi said via a video call.

“As for my choice, I was hoping to decide whether to continue after the first part of the season, but now everything slips. I would like a few races to understand how competitive I can be, that would be important.”

While Rossi remains frustrated in lockdown, he isn’t blaming the coronavirus pandemic given the world faces much more serious problems with global cases of COVID-19 exceeding 350,000 and causing the death of over 15,000 people.

“Here in Tavullia the situation is difficult, unfortunately many people are sick here and also in Pesaro. We must all hold on, waiting for this moment to pass,” Rossi said. “We cheer for the people of Bergamo and Brescia. I have seen very bad images, it looks like a war zone.”

Rossi, like the rest of us, holds on to the hope the coronavirus will be beaten and normal life can resume to allow fans to wonder about race results rather the horrific COVID-10 statistics.

The postponement to the 2020 season also throws up the likelihood of the campaign being heavily reduced and altered in order to fit in as many races as possible. It has triggered ideas on double-header race weekends, two-day events and racing on multiple consecutive weekends.

Whatever happens to this year’s schedule, Rossi remains resolute on wanting numerous races before making one of the biggest calls of his career.

“This year’s goal is to have as many GPs as possible,” he said. “A double race weekend as in Superbike? It’s an idea, but you could also make a championship of 12-13 races, lose seven of them but keep the usual MotoGP format, it is not essential to do all 20 GPs.”

In such uncertain times, the Italian’s decision could be swayed by how the season is changed.

Assuming a minimum of 13 races is the objective, Rossi’s desire to complete a number of rounds before making a call would naturally push him closer to end the season anyway, giving him less chance to enjoy a fond farewell tour.

With both Mugello and Misano so close to his heart and passion for racing, if either one was dropped from his final season the denial of a final goodbye could automatically keep his mind on track.

Looking at the MotoGP calendar in a wider context, in recent seasons the 41-year-old has fared much better at circuits occupying the first half of the calendar compared to the latter part.

Of Rossi’s 13 podiums achieved across the last three seasons, only two have come after the summer break (third place at Silverstone and second place at Phillip Island both in 2017), while his sole win (Assen 2017) and pole position (Mugello 2018) where at races which look set to face rescheduling in 2020.

In these uncertain times, it is only natural for anyone to look for a sense of normality and for Rossi that has been competing in MotoGP and travelling across the world for the last 24 years.

Would Rossi really want to bow out during the most unconventional and indeterminate season, especially when a readymade plan is already available to take at Petronas Yamaha for 2021.

The same situation can also be applied to all the other riders out of contract at the end of this year, with little option but to sit and wait just like Rossi is doing.

This is why one of the biggest talking points going into the new MotoGP season has been put on hold.

 

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