Master and the apprentice: united for 2021

Rivals on track, close friends off it - and now Valentino Rossi and Franco Morbidelli will be teammates next season

Valentino Rossi and Franco Morbidelli: great friends, respectful rivals and now 2021 teammates. After months of speculation, The Doctor and Petronas Yamaha SRT have finally confirmed they are joining forces next season as the Independent Yamaha squad get set to attack their third year in MotoGP™ with an all-Italian line-up.  

The nine-time World Champion and the 2017 Moto2™ World Champion have been close for a long time, and it was a friendship that was cast into the public eye when the VR46 Academy was set up in 2014, an initiative that Rossi and his team created to help fellow Italians on their path to the premier class. Morbidelli was pretty much the reason why the VR46 Academy was sprung to life, and it was the relaxed, lovable number 21 who brought the set-up their first World Championship title.

Francesco Bagnaia, Franco Morbidelli, Valentino Rossi, Gran Premio TISSOT dell'Emilia Romagna e della Riviera di Rimini

Partnering Rossi in the premier class is something Morbidelli could have only dreamt about back in 2014. One, because reaching MotoGP™ – the pinnacle of motorcycle racing – isn’t something that happens to everyone. Of course, Morbidelli’s searing talent and hard work saw him rise to Moto2™ superiority and subsequently, a MotoGP™ star. And two, because he – like most of us – probably thought Rossi wouldn’t be racing at the age of 41. He’ll be 42 by the time the season is in full swing in 2021, yet more testament to Rossi’s continued motivation and ability to be competing with the next generation of scintillatingly fast MotoGP™ riders.

2020 has seen Morbidelli pick up his first premier class podium and victory. His San Marino GP performance was about as perfect as it gets. The only thing that would have made that Sunday afternoon on home soil sweeter was if Rossi would have joined him and fellow VR46 Academy star Pecco Bagnaia (Pramac Racing) on the rostrum. As we know, Rossi finished P4 – less than half a second from his first podium of 2020. Redemption can be made in 2021 though, a Misano podium for Rossi and Morbidelli in the same colours will be a sight to behold. Hopefully, in front of a jam-packed Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli.

“When I say that I need to thank all the people that have believed in me, for sure at the top there is Vale,” said Morbidelli, speaking to after his Misano victory. “Thanking him is not enough. He has done so much for me and having the chance to race with him is a blessing. He’s definitely a legend and the best of all time.

“And having the chance to race against him in front of the world, it’s just great. To have the chance to fight with him and beat him, because I truly want to beat him, because I want to show him that he made a good choice in believing in me. It’s a great feeling and yeah, I hope to have many more battles with him.”  

Battling with his close friend is something that is now a given in 2021. They’ve done it this year, but doing it in the same colours is going to be extra special for both of them. Undoubtedly, Rossi and Morbidelli will be getting the best out of each other in 2021 and it’s hard to find any negatives to the deal, whichever way you look at it. Experience vs youth, two friends driving each other on in a fantastic team environment, two rivals striving for race wins and another World Championship crown – a mouth-watering prospect.

In Rossi, Petronas Yamaha SRT are getting one of the greatest riders of all time. In Petronas Yamaha SRT, Rossi is getting a powerhouse MotoGP™ team that will give him the best chance to fight for victories and a title alongside a hungry, ambitious friend and rival.

Master and the apprentice: united for 2021.

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