Every racer loves a new challenge.
Throughout history, the world’s most talented racers didn’t achieve great things by not challenging themselves. Generally speaking, though, even the most talented racers are usually only outstandingly gifted in a single discipline. Different types of racing take very different skill sets to do well, after all. Several talents have tried to cross over, but that’s pretty rare. So far, though, John Surtees is still the only racer to ever win both world motorcycle and Formula One championships in his career.
If you’ve followed MotoGP for a while, and/or are a huge Valentino Rossi fan, you may remember when Vale tested with the Ferrari F1 team in the 2000s. At the time, he’d already won five of his eventual seven MotoGP championships, on top of a single championship each in both the 250 and 125cc classes.
The man clearly knew how to win races on two wheels—but what about four? More importantly, what about in an F1 car, which is completely unlike any other vehicle you could drive? In 2006, the Ferrari F1 team fielded Michael Schumacher and Felipe Massa as its drivers. Like Rossi in his sport, they both got to where they were with a combination of talent and years of hard work honing their craft. You don’t simply hop into (or on) world-class racing machinery and have things go your way the first time out.
Still, talks were widely reported to be underway between the Doctor and Ferrari management at the time. Now, in an interview with Autosport, former Ferrari president Luca di Montezemolo spoke about what happened.
"Everyone knows that it was not a publicity operation, Ferrari did not need it," di Montezemolo told Autosport.
"I saw that [Rossi] was going strong, especially he lacked continuity, but he had a lot of potential and desire. At one point, we thought he would do a year at Sauber, but he was smart and preferred to remain number one in motorcycles than fourth or fifth in cars,” he concluded.
The 2006 Sauber team featured three drivers: Nick Heidfeld, Jacques Villeneuve, and Robert Kubica. Over in MotoGP, Rossi would go into the season as reigning world champion. After deciding to stay in MotoGP after all, 2006 was the year he finished second in the championship to Nicky Hayden. A mere five point difference determined the season winner.
Since then, Rossi went on to win two more MotoGP championships, train new talent with his VR46 Academy, and even swap vehicles with seven-time F1 champ Lewis Hamilton. Rossi’s not the first major racing talent to consider switching to a different top level of racing, and he won’t be the last. Remember when Marc Márquez tested a Red Bull F1 car in 2018?