After a four-month delay, Valentino Rossi will finally get his 25th season of grand prix racing underway at this weekend's Spanish MotoGP.

The 41-year-old had planned to use the opening rounds to decide on his racing future, after losing his factory Yamaha seat to Fabio Quartararo for 2021.

However, the calendar chaos caused by the coronavirus pandemic means it's now widely expected that The Doctor will accept Yamaha's offer of factory support at the satellite Sepang team next season.

Numerous details need to be agreed between the main parties - Rossi, Yamaha and Sepang - including how many of the Italian's mechanics will join him in Petronas colours, but an official announcement is expected at any time.

Either way, this season will be Rossi's last at the official Yamaha team, which he first joined after sensationally leaving Honda as the reigning triple world champion at the end of 2003.

A thrilling victory on his M1 debut proved the foundation for Yamaha's first premier-class title since 1992. Three more world championships followed before Rossi made a miserable switch to Ducati, then returned to Yamaha in 2013.

While a tenth title has remained out of reach, by Assen 2017 Rossi had won a record 89 MotoGP races.

Although absent from the top step ever since Rossi still finished third overall in the 2018 standings. But there was no sugar-coating last season, which finished with a demoralising 16-race podium drought and just seventh overall in the standings.

Winter testing has looked more promising, but tyre wear issues that held Rossi back for most of last year also reappeared at what should have been the final pre-season test in Qatar.

The five-month break since is the longest Rossi has been away from the world championship since his debut in 1996 and he's feeling fully recharged for this weekend's Jerez contest, which will begin with an official test on Wednesday.

Jerez will also be the first race weekend for Rossi with his new crew chief David Munoz.

"Finally we can enjoy MotoGP again!" Rossi said. "Sincerely, it‘s a great relief for me, because I missed my M1 a lot, and I think the fans will also be very happy.

"Tomorrow we'll start with the first test sessions in Jerez. The steps we made in Sepang and Losail during the pre-season were positive, but that‘s quite a long time ago now.

"We still have to be organised and work hard tomorrow to start the Spanish GP with a good understanding and a good feeling. Anyway, I'm ready to start this new season with my team. We will do our best!"

Rossi may have started over 400 grands prix but even he won't have experienced anything like this weekend, which will take place without any fans and with a strict safety protocol of Covid-19 testing, social distancing and PPE for all paddock members.

"It's a special and exciting moment: we are about to restart the 2020 MotoGP season," said Monster Yamaha team director Massimo Meregalli. "A lot of people within our team and also of other organisations have worked around the clock to make this happen, and we are all very thankful to them.

"The operations within the paddock will be slightly different, following the Covid-19 prevention measurements guidelines. This may take some getting used to, but change can be good.

"During lockdown we have taken the opportunity to analyse how we communicate in the garage, and we think that the amendments we‘ve made since then could be improvements that we should keep even when the Covid-19 prevention measurements guidelines become less strict.

"We will get our first try tomorrow, so then we will know more.

"It's positive that we have the opportunity to start the race weekend off with two test sessions prior to the two free practice sessions on Friday," he said. "That will be useful for the riders so they can get their confidence and speed back after such a long period of not being able to ride their M1s.

"Maverick and Vale are both fired up and ready to hop onto their bikes, and also the rest of the team is impatient to get started and do what we love the most, so let‘s go!

Vinales, who will remain at Yamaha alongside Quartararo next season, finished third overall with two race wins in last year's world championship.

 

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