Valentino Rossi’s MotoGP VR46 team could be heading to Yamaha in the near future. Nothing is certain, but there are signs, from MotoGP itself, to GT3 racing and even industrial relations.
Valentino Rossi is a Yamaha legend thanks to his success and the longevity of that success with the Iwata factory in MotoGP. Four world titles were won by Rossi for Yamaha, in 2004, 2005, 2008 and 2009.
However, when it came to bringing his own team into the MotoGP class in 2022, Rossi turned to Ducati. Despite Rossi’s difficult personal history with the Bologna brand in 2011 and 2012, when he achieved just three podium finishes, the all-Italian setup of VR46, Ducati, Marco Bezzecchi and Luca Marini have had a solid first year together in MotoGP.
Bezzecchi, for example, scored a podium and pole position in his rookie year, and Marini went from struggling to keep a rear tire for the race distance to matching his best finishing position of fourth twice since the summer break: in Austria and then in Misano.
However, despite the success of the first year, VR46 will not receive any latest spec machinery for 2023. Marini is currently in a 2022 Desmosedici and Bezzecchi in a GP21. For next year, apparently they will both be in GP22, so neither in the last GP23, which will be reserved only for Francesco Bagnaia and Enea Bastianini from the factory team; and Jorge Martin and Johann Zarco from the Pramac team.
This is not a disaster for either Marini or Bezzecchi, as Francesco Bagnaia is just two points off the championship lead after the Thai Grand Prix, and Jack Miller is just 40 points behind. Furthermore, Enea Bastianini, on a GP21, is 39 points behind and has won four races this season.
So there are chances that Marini, Bezzecchi and the VR46 team will have a strong 2023 even without the last team from Bologna. But, in the same way that Jorge Martin feels snubbed by Ducati for being left out of the factory team for 2023 even though he will have essentially the same bike, with different paint, as Bastianini and Bagnaia, VR46 would have reason to feel mistreated by Ducati for not receiving the latest equipment, even for one of its riders.
When Andrea Dovizioso left Ducati at the end of 2020, he was given the opportunity to stay, but on a salary that he felt did not respect his abilities and that he felt reflected a lack of confidence in him from Ducati.
Similarly, by not providing 2023 Desmosedicis, VR46 could consider Ducati to have reduced their commitment to them. Once that feeling starts, it rarely fades.
At the same time, Valentino Rossi himself is, more or less, on the move.
Rossi will remain with WRT for 2023, the team he started his GT World Challenge Europe career with this year. But WRT will leave Audi and join BMW.
The main reason WRT is leaving Audi, for whom they have run factory GT3-spec R8s for over 10 years, and joining BMW is because BMW is building an LMDh prototype and Audi is not.
The move not only means that WRT will use BMW’s new LMDh in the IMSA sports car series, but also BMW’s GT3 cars.
That means Rossi himself will be racing in GT3 for BMW next year, and not for Audi. There are also motivations for Rossi to stay in WRT, such as the ambition he has already stated to race sports cars in the US. With BMW, he could also race a prototype, if he is fast enough.
Of course, the important point here for VR46 is that Ducati is owned by Audi. With Rossi leaving Audi, of course, it’s possible to interpret that as a rift in relations between the Italian team’s owner and the Italian factory’s German parent company.
The third element of this massive speculation involves VR46’s latest Moto2 sponsor: Fantic.
Fantic first appeared on the VR46 Moto2 Kalex bikes in the first race after this year’s summer break at Silverstone. It was also announced at the time that Fantic would lead the team from 2023.
Fantic has a relationship with Yamaha. The Italian manufacturer acquired Motori Minarelli from the Japanese brand in 2020 as part of an expansion of what was already a pre-existing industry partnership. Minarelli had become part of the Yamaha Group in 2002, and the takeover by Fantic also allowed Yamaha to acquire a new partner for future engine development, with electric and internal combustion possibilities.
In exchange for development collaboration with Yamaha, Fantic receives engines and chassis from Japan for its own range of dirt bikes which it then builds to its own specifications. They share basic architecture, essentially, but the details of the Fantic XE and XX ranges, and the Yamaha YZ are different.
What does this have to do with VR46? Well apart from the possibility that VR46 Rider Academy riders who are not affiliated with Yamaha could be given Fantic dirt bikes, there is also the possibility that Fantic will take over the VR46 Moto2 team with an eye to building their own Moto2 chassis. .
If this hypothetical reality were to come true, Yamaha would theoretically have a chassis that it could put any young Moto3 riders they wanted to sign on, or who had come through the bLU cRU system into the World Superbike paddock like the current Yamaha VR46. Mastercamp Moto2 rider Manuel González.
You might wonder why Yamaha doesn’t want to build a chassis for itself, but you just have to take a look at KTM. The Austrians won races in Moto2, but their priority was always MotoGP, and to beat Kalex you can’t have distractions.
In theory, Yamaha could help Fantic with the finances and other resources on a Moto2 chassis project without necessarily detracting from its own MotoGP project. All while being able to nurture, develop and promote talent to be MotoGP ready.
From the VR46 side, it means they can team up with a Moto2 team and have a place to put their emerging riders (although there aren’t that many emerging VR46 riders these days) while letting the VR46 team focus on the category of MotoGP.
So, we’ve discussed Ducati support for the VR46 team; Valentino Rossi leaves Audi; and Fantic join Moto2. What does this tell us? Absolutely nothing certain, but there is certainly a chance that the VR46 MotoGP team will switch to Yamaha, that the VR46 organization’s relationship with Yamaha will grow and become stronger, and that Fantic will become a necessary component of the Yamaha Grand Prix project.