Valentino Rossi has made his first official public appearance as a factory Ducati rider in Italy tonight.
The Italian caused a frenzy of flash photography when he arrived at a welcome buffet ahead of the annual launch of the Ducati squad at the popular Madonna di Campiglio ski resort in Italy.
It was the first time the nine-times world champion has been seen in public in Ducati’s Marlboro red livery after he quit Yamaha at the end of the 2010 campaign.
Rossi arrived shortly before 10pm local time and was immediately surrounded by a throng of people in a magnificent function room at the Relais Des Aples hotel.
He posed for pictures with new team-mate Nicky Hayden before he also chatted and had numerous pictures taken with Ferrari Formula One duo Fernando Alonso and Felipe Massa.
In a brief discussion with Alonso and Massa, Rossi was seen tapping his right shoulder and grimacing, hinting that perhaps the recovery from his mid-November operation is not healing as well as he would like.
Rossi carried the serious right shoulder injury for most of the 2010 campaign having damaged ligament and tendons in a motocross training accident shortly after he triumphed in the season’s first race in Qatar.
He will ride his GP11 machine, which will be officially unveiled in Italy on Wednesday, at the Sepang circuit in Malaysia on February 1.
Rossi will speak about his Ducati debut in early November for the first time in a special press conference tomorrow morning (Tuesday).
He finished 15th in the test but was banned from speaking about the experience because he was still under contract to Yamaha.
Pictures by Henny Ray Abrams.