ROSSI: TO RED BULL

Valentino Rossi may yet be seen in Formula One next season, even though doors appear to be closing to the MotoGP champion at Ferrari.

Paddock rumours are gathering pace that the Yamaha rider may be on his way to Red Bull Racing next season, particularly if Michael Schumacher decides to extend his stay in the top flight and speculation that Kimi Raikkonen has already signed a contract with the Scuderia proves to be true.

Rossi has been testing sporadically with Ferrari over the last couple of seasons, although he has yet to be given the regular monthly outings it appeared he was in line for at the end of 2005. That ‘promise’ was made with Ferrari seriously considering the Italian for a berth in its 2007 line-up, but appears to have be considered only because Schumacher was showing signs of calling time on his career after a torrid 2005 campaign in which his world title was snatched away by Fernando Alonso and Renault.

Now, with Ferrari back on song and looking like the only team able to challenge the regie in 2006, and with Schumacher having taken back-to-back wins at Imola and the Nurburgring, the German’s enthusiasm appears to have been rekindled, with talk of a possible two-year extension to his current contract.

 

With the paddock equally convinced that Raikkonen is on his way to Maranello, that leaves no race place for Rossi, who is being urged by all sides to make the switch from two wheels to four before it is too late to make an impact. Ferrari’s engine links with Red Bull would conveniently provide an ideal opportunity for the flamboyant Italian to get a taste of F1 competition in a less-pressured environment, while Ferrari monitors his progress along a steep learning curve and decides whether he is the ‘real deal’ after all.

Ferrari technical director Ross Brawn has already admitted that he would like to have Rossi on his team next year, but admits that a lot of factors would have to fall into place to make it happen, over and above whether Schumacher decides to continue racing.

“Valentino’s a huge personality, and he did a very good job [in the Valencia group test], so it will be a very exciting thing to have,” Brawn said, “But you’ve got to make sure it will work from both sides, and the excitement will fade very quickly if it’s not successful. It’s very important that we want to do it, Valentino wants to do it, all the people want to do it, so it has a chance of success.”

 

Rossi is rumoured to be making an announcement regarding his future during the Italian MotoGP, at Mugello, on 4 June, but the ongoing ‘will he, won’t he’ speculation has led to speculation that his interest in F1 is fading. The Italian now has greater competition in MotoGP – courtesy of Yamaha’s problems – to occupy his mind, but Ferrari appears keen to keep tabs on him in case the ardour is rekindled at some later stage, and is no stranger to ‘placing’ drivers with customer teams, as it did with Schumacher’s current team-mate, Felipe Massa, during his terms with Sauber.

Red Bull Racing is expected to take a step forward next season, having engaged former McLaren man Adrian Newey to design the RB3, which will again be powered by a Ferrari V8. Although David Coulthard is understood to be close to signing up for a third season with the Milton Keynes-based team, there has been much speculation about the future of team-mate Christian Klien, despite the Austrian all but matching DC this year.

As well as uncertainty hanging over Massa’s future should he again be farmed out by Maranello, Klien’s former seat share rival Tonio Liuzzi tested with RBR at Silverstone a couple of weeks ago, and the internet has been awash with other names possibly being linked with the team’s second seat, most notably that of Juan Montoya, should the Colombian find his ties with McLaren severed for 2007. While RBR used the recent Spanish Grand Prix to issue a tongue-in-cheek release detailing exactly who would be in the car for the remainder of the season, Klien could find himself under pressure if his results do not improve.

Although the secondary Scuderia Toro Rosso squad was set up to help ease Red Bull’s growing list of talent into the top flight, Rossi’s arrival would see him jump the queue somewhat, at the expense of one or more of those looking to move on up. While Klien would be the obvious victim, others will be looking over their shoulders as the Austrian drinks brand attempts to ‘plug and play’ with best available combinations for its two teams.

 

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