In 2003 following months of speculation, it was confirmed that Valentino Rossi would leave Honda to ride the under-performing Yamaha, a career-defining move.
Valentino Rossi made history in 2004, winning the championship for Yamaha, a bike which before Rossi rode it had just two MotoGP wins since the class moved from the 500cc machines. Yamaha had not won a title since Wayne Rainey in 1992.
In Rossi’s first four seasons in MotoGP, he won three world championships with Honda, one with the 500cc machine and two with the Honda RC211V, he dominated with Honda winning 33 races in 48 starts with a win record of over 50%! Rossi was clearly established as Honda’s number one man, however Honda didn’t seem to show this grace to him. Honda angered Rossi with a decision to supply similar machinery to all six RC211V riders in the 2004 season, it was seen as an attempt to undermine Rossi’s number one status.
Rossi declined a contract with Honda at the 2003 Pacific GP, saying, “The contract I was offered by Honda at Motegi, was unable to accept and I did not sign it, I don’t know what people are saying because I don’t read the newspapers, but I can tell you that I have not signed for anybody, that is for sure.” It may be true that he hadn’t signed for anyone at that point, but we now know he was deep into discussions with Yamaha who would allow him more freedom.
Honda and Rossi had a contract dispute stemming from concerns over Honda’s attitude. Their insistence on commercial control over the Rossi brand ruined relationships between the pair, something which we have seen Yamaha allow to grow into the huge ‘VR46’ brand we see today from merchandise to Dainese jackets to full replica liveries, Yamaha capitalised on the brand which Honda tried to take.
In the opening round of the 2004 season at the Phakisa Freeway in South Africa, Valentino Rossi would achieve something no other rider has achieved, he became the only rider in MotoGP history to win the last round of the previous season on a manufacturer (Honda, Valencia 2003) and then win in their debut with a new manufacturer, a magnificent achievement, on the cool-down lap you could tell how much it meant to Rossi who stopped at the side of the track and cried tears of joy.
Rossi would go on to win a total of 4 titles for Yamaha including 2004, his first year with the manufacturer and has won 56 races for them so far making this 2004 move one of the best of his career, cementing himself as a Yamaha legend, he turned a motorbike which was incredibly slow and tricky to ride round to a multiple title winner, the Yamaha saw Jorge Lorenzo win three MotoGP titles and has won races with multiple riders.
Featured image – www.motogp.com