Motorcycling superstar Valentino Rossi expects at least six challengers as he targets an elusive 10th world title in a new MotoGP season dominated by riders switching allegiances and thereby changing bikes too.
After a tense rivalry over the past four years with Jorge Lorenzo, which peaked when veteran Rossi accused current world champion Marc Marquez of conspiring to help Lorenzo win the title in 2015, Lorenzo has jumped ship to Ducati.
Lorenzo’s move triggered a domino effect as Maverick Vinales joined Rossi at Yamaha, whilst Andrea Iannone made way at Ducati to move to Suzuki.
“It will be very interesting this season because three top riders change bike,” said Rossi, who last won the title in 2009, at the launch of the YZR-M1 bike in Madrid on Thursday.
“I think Lorenzo was a historical move. After eight years with Yamaha it will be very interesting, but not more easy.”
A record nine drivers won a grand prix in 2016 and Rossi expects another open championship.
“Maybe nine different riders is hard because it is very strange, but it is good for MotoGP. I think at minimum six riders can win this year.”
Rossi has finished second in the championship each of the last three seasons, but it was 2015 that stung the Italian most as he was involved in a series of bust-ups with Marquez, including kicking the Spaniard off his bike in Malaysia as Lorenzo came from behind to snatch the title by five points.
And with the far less experienced Vinales, 22, now by his side, Rossi is hoping for less drama this season.
“The rivalry on the track is always very hard, especially with your teammate.
“After there is a different relationship off the track. I think we can have a good relationship, yes (with Vinales).
“From 2013 when I went back to Yamaha my relationship with the racers was not so bad for all the years.
“We had some problems at the end of the 2015, so I think we can have a good relationship and we can work together on the bike to improve the bike.”
Rossi has even talked up Vinales as a potential title challenger after finishing fourth in the world championship last season.
Yet, even at 37, he admitted he can learn from his mistakes last season to finally land his much-awaited 10th world title.
“Last year I had good speed, I was competitive in a lot of tracks and a lot of conditions, but I made some mistakes, sometimes I was unlucky,” he added.
“It is very important don’t stop working and don’t stop improving. It is quite similar to last season, but make the small details better.”
The 18-race MotoGP season gets underway in Qatar on March 26.