The Story of How Valentino Rossi Almost Became an F1 Driver for Ferrari
One of two wheel's all-time greats almost went a different way back in early 2006...
Even if you don't follow motorbike racing, you know the name Valentino Rossi. A legend in the ranks of Italian sports and racing in general, Rossi has amassed a fantastic career spanning three decades that has included 7 Moto GP World Championships, 99 race victories, and 199 podium finishes. But how would Rossi's career resume have looked had he upgraded to four wheels back in the mid 2000's when he entertained a move to Formula 1? We've seen plenty of ride swaps in the past with Moto GP and F1 drivers, but Rossi's F1 outings in the early 2000's were far more serious than just a joy ride. In today's video, we're going to take a look at the story of how Valentino Rossi almost made the switch to Formula 1 in order to drive for the sports' most storied team.
Where it all started
Rossi's F1 ambitions started all the way back in 2004 when he got his first taste of a Ferrari F1 car in Fiorano. The Italian even wore one of Michael Schumacher's spare helmets as Schumi was present at the test. “Of course, it took him a while to get used to it, but he was very impressive by the end of the day." Schumacher said. At that time, Rossi was just soaking in the experience of driving an F1 car for the infamous Scuderia but that '04 test cemented a keen interest in the pinnacle of motorsport. In the mid-season of 2005, Rossi had another similar test at Fiorano but this time with Marc Gene on hand to help coach the Italian. Following his shakedown run, Rossi stated; “I wanted to get a better understanding of a Formula 1 car – it was intensive and interesting." Rossi's F1 getaways between 2004 and 2005 were in the midst of his move from Honda to Yamaha and also clenching his fourth and fifth Moto GP World Titles. The landscape in Formula 1 was rapidly changing by the time we reached the end of the 2005 season. Fernando Alonso and Renault put an end to Ferrari's five year dominance and the great Michael Schumacher was ending the near of his Ferrari tenure. This opened the door for many drivers, one of which just happened to be a World Champion of two wheels.
How Close Was Rossi to Becoming an F1 Driver?
In January of 2006, Valentino Rossi had just entered the final year of his contract with Yamaha and was looking at his career options for the future. This is where we get to the business end of just how close Rossi was to becoming a Formula 1 driver. In that year's F1 pre-season test, Rossi made his first public F1 outing at Valencia when he drove a V10 engine Ferrari that was tuned down. On the first day, Rossi was not yet accustomed to wet weather driving on four wheels as he spun off in the damp conditions. However, the 'Doctor' used all his talent and experience to continually improve and on the final day of the test, Rossi was seven tenths behind Schumacher's best time of 1:11.640. Now it is important to note that Schumacher was driving the new Ferrari F248F1 with a V8 engine, and his teammate Felipe Massa was also in the F2004 with a V8 engine and we have to keep in mind the different run plans. Regardless, Rossi was still able to finish the ninth fastest of fifteen drivers as he lapped faster than the likes of Mark Webber and David Coulthard.
Luigi Mazzola, former Ferrari engineer, said Schumacher was blown away at how fast 'Vale' was in an F1 car. "I remember Michael Schumacher, who studied telemetry, looked very surprised, almost unable to believe what he saw.” Rossi and Ferrari went their separate ways after Valencia to embark on their tasks of becoming World Champions once again. Unfortunately for both parties, they would fall short of their goals by the end of the 2006 season. Rossi entered the final race of '06 needing a second place or higher to win the championship and even though he started on pole, he ultimately slid out of contention and lost the title to Nicky Hayden. And this is where the possibility for one of the greatest crossovers in motorsport history was most viable. What we didn't know at the time was that drama was unfolding internally at Ferrari and Michael's days in the Scuderia were numbered. Ferrari chairman Luca di Montezemolo was keen on signing Kimi Raikkonen for 2007 and that is exactly what happened as Ferrari paired Felipe Massa with Raikkonen after Schumacher's surprise retirement announcement at the Italian Grand Prix. There are plenty of rumors circulating that '06 season of an internal Ferrari war between Montezemolo, Jean Todt, and Schumacher that could be a new video entirely on its own.
Ferrari were seriously considering Rossi for a seat during that period however. As a matter of fact, di Montezemolo later revealed that Ferrari had approached the FIA to see if they could change the rules in order to be able to run a third car. That's right, we could have seen a three car Ferrari squad of Michael Schumacher, Valentino Rossi, and Felipe Massa! Sadly, this chapter of F1 history never materialized as in mid 2006, Rossi announced that he had re-signed with Yamaha and of course the Iceman would go on to claim his only World Championship in F1 that next year.
Why Rossi's F1 Dream Fell Apart
When we look back at it now, had Rossi made the jump to Formula 1 for the 2007 season, it could have been one for the ages. Imagine an F1 season in which Lewis Hamilton and Valentino Rossi are both F1 rookies battling in a close championship? In a season in which Ferrari won 9 out of 17 races and claimed the Drivers' World Championship, it would have been scintillating to see Rossi in Red. Would he have the same success on four wheels as he did with two? We'll never really know but why did Rossi's F1 dream eventually fall apart? In the end, it was Rossi's ultra competitiveness that saw him turn down a chance to be in Formula 1. Since the FIA wouldn't allow Ferrari to run a third car, the Scuderia wanted Rossi to drive for Sauber instead and be a test driver at first. “I had completed a number of tests for Ferrari and we then sat down with the team management, who had worked out a very comprehensive plan to prepare for a career in Formula 1." said Rossi. “However, this plan said that I had to drive a less fast car to prepare, and I was supposed to be a test driver at first. That's why I decided to decline the offer.” It was ambitious from Rossi to want to jump straight into a Ferrari right away but that's exactly what made him so great. His drive to be the best in any type of motorsport is why he has become a legend in the sporting world and in the end it was a smart decision on his part. Rossi would go on to win two more Moto GP titles by the end of the decade while his Italian compatriots began a down turn in form that has left them without a championship since 2007. Valentino continued his love for Formula 1 however as he drove a Ferrari car in 2010 and most recently swapped rides with Lewis Hamilton back in 2019.
It really is a shame that we never got to see Valentino Rossi drive in Formula 1. Whether he would have been successful or not, a Motorbike racing superstar in the prime of his career making the jump to four wheels would have been historic. Fate had different plans however but luckily for motorsport fans, we still get to see the Doctor race in his element at the young age of 42. Rossi's failed transition to F1 means that John Surtees' record of being the only man to win a World Championship on both two and four wheels will live on for quite some time. But maybe there's another motorsport legend currently who could achieve this incredible record. He's already got plenty of championships on four wheels and I hear he's quite handy on two wheels as well!