Despite losing his factory Yamaha seat to Fabio Quartararo for 2021, MotoGP legend Valentino Rossi will still only decide on his racing future by the middle of 2020.
The 40-year-old – who has claimed a record 89 race wins and seven of world titles in the premier 500cc/MotoGP class - has been without a victory since 2017 and suffered his worst Yamaha season with seventh overall last year.
Yesterday's contract extension for team-mate Maverick Vinales turned the spotlight on Rossi's future, with satellite Yamaha ace Quartararo long tipped to join the official team in 2021.
That deal has now been confirmed, but Rossi - the most famous motorcycle racer of all time, with legions of fans still dominating the grandstands worldwide - says he is not yet ready to make a decision on whether to extend his illustrious career.
The Doctor's main options are either retirement or a switch to the satellite Petronas Yamaha team, although it's also possible that a new 'VR46' Yamaha entry could be created for him.
'Should Rossi decide to continue as a MotoGP rider in 2021, Yamaha assures Rossi of the availability of a Factory-spec YZR-M1 bike and full Yamaha Motor Co., Ltd. engineering support,' said a Yamaha statement.
"For reasons dictated by the riders‘ market, Yamaha asked me at the beginning of the year to make a decision regarding my future," explained Rossi, a nine-time world champion and winner of 115 grands prix in all classes since his 1996 debut.
"Consistent with what I said during the last season, I confirmed that I didn't want to rush any decision and needed more time. Yamaha has acted accordingly and concluded the ongoing negotiations.
"It is clear that after the last technical changes and with the arrival of my new crew chief, my first goal is to be competitive this year and to continue my career as a MotoGP rider also in 2021.
"Before doing so, I need to have some answers that only the track and the first few races can give me.
"I‘m happy that, should I decide to continue, Yamaha is ready to support me in all respects, giving me a factory-spec bike and a factory contract.
"In the first tests I will do my best to do a good job together with my team and be ready for the start of the season."
Yamaha Racing managing director Lin Jarvis, who helped sign Rossi to the then-struggling Yamaha project back in 2004, added:
"The totally understandable decision of Valentino to assess his competitiveness in 2020 before making any decision about 2021 was something that Yamaha respects and also wholeheartedly agrees to.
" While we have total respect for and confidence in Valentino‘s abilities and speed for the 2020 championship - at the same time Yamaha also have to plan for the future. These days, with six motorcycle manufacturers in the MotoGP class, fast young talents are greatly in demand, and consequently the riders‘ market begins ever earlier.
"So, it‘s a weird sensation to start a season knowing that Vale will not be in the Factory Team in 2021, but Yamaha will still be there for Valentino, whatever he may decide for the future.
"If he feels confident and continues to race, we will provide a Factory-spec YZR-M1 bike and full engineering support. If he decides to retire, we will continue and expand our collaborations off track with the young riders‘ training programmes of the Riders Academy and the Yamaha VR46 Master Camp, and with him as a Yamaha brand ambassador.
"Anyway, that is all speculation – right now we have a full season ahead of us and I can assure the fans that Valentino will have our 100% support every day until he eventually one day decides to hang up his leathers!"
Rossi, 41 next month, will begin pre-season testing for his 25th grand prix season at Sepang from February 7-9.
The Italian began his premier-class career on a factory-backed satellite Honda in 2000, but has ridden only for official factory teams (Honda, Yamaha and Ducati) ever since.