MotoGP unpacked and re-assembled for the penultimate round of the 2003 season at Phillip Island today amidst continued speculation over how it will look next season.

Five-times world champion Valentino Rossi has still to make his mind up over where he'll ride next season, leaving a potential merry-go-round of teams and riders on hold.

At Motegi, Rossi was given what was supposed to be a final offer from Honda, which he turned down. However, the Italian's management then gave HRC a final offer of their own. This was discussed by senior Honda members from Europe and Japan in a teleconference held yesterday - but no decision was reached. Indeed, HRC stated any announcement would come after Sunday's race.

Prior to Sepang, the Spanish press reported a Yamaha deal had already been signed, but this was denied by Rossi. Yamaha still remain slim favourites to sign the 24-year-old, should he leave Honda, with a rumoured 10 million dollar pay deal (plus sponsorship) - plus a bare minimum of PR work - on offer.

Nevertheless, Rossi said today that he would not rush his decision and revealed that all options are still open.

"I don't understand why the other riders are waiting for me - maybe they want my bike!" he joked this afternoon. "I am sorry for them but really it is not my problem. It is a complicated situation and would take three hours to explain, but the hold-up is not about money, it is about other contract matters. I don't think it will be resolved this weekend."

However, as Crash.net reported earlier this week, the waters were muddied further when Vale was offered a 'serious' test with the Ferrari Formula One team.

Anyone who knows F1 knows that such tests (for non-drivers) never occur unless there is some form of commercial link in place - as the team itself gets little from it given the expense and effort needed - only the sponsors benefit. In other words, Rossi would need to sign for Marlboro/Ducati and/or Vodaphone for the once-in-a-lifetime test(s) to happen.

Vale has often stated he'd like to follow a four-wheel career after several more years in MotoGP, but he won't be able to drive the world championship winning Marlboro liveried F2003-GA if he signs for Honda or Yamaha. As significantly, if he turns down Ferrari now, they're unlikely to offer again.

As well as the Ferrari drive, Ducati could give Valentino a more competitive machine than Yamaha in 2004, and Marlboro could match any pay offer from the Japanese. The downside is that the fun loving Italian would have to do a considerable amount of PR work - something he hates. But if he wants to drive the fastest F1 car in the world, that might be a price worth paying...

"Maybe it's possible," confirmed Rossi when asked if he could still sign for Ducati.

Rossi now faces a difficult situation, because with so much speculation - and expectation - surrounding his future, should he stay with Honda (which he stressed is still possible) it would be massive anti-climax...

 

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