MotoGP: Franco Morbidelli outlines importance of his friendship with Valentino Rossi
Franco Morbidelli has insisted that his friendship with Valentino Rossi will not be put at risk this season.
The two Italians join forces at Petronas Yamaha this year and it’s no secret that they're very close. Morbidelli is a member of the VR46 Academy, one of the first to join Rossi’s training programme, and has spent the last few years learning, training and travelling the world with Rossi.
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In doing so, a strong bond has been created off the track but in the last couple of seasons the pair have also been able to do battle on the asphalt. The VR46 Academy is seen as a family within the overall MotoGP family, with its members often seen together in the paddock and on the pit wall during the course of a race weekend.
Morbidelli got the better of his mentor last year and, naturally, both riders will now see each other as their first target on race day. Despite this being the case, Morbidelli has outlined that he won't put his relationship with Rossi at risk for the sake of racing, promising to keep things fair and clean.
"I hope to be fair, just and right with all my friends, not just with Vale," Morbidelli explained. "Vale is a big friend of mine and his figure is maybe even bigger than a friend and I hope to be, as I said, fair, just and right towards him in every aspect of life.
"We race against one another and to be fair, right and just with him and with me, I need to race against him, and I will race against him in the same way that I have been racing against him all my life. Nothing is going to change.
"Of course, we are fighting for something big, but we need to remember that nothing is as big as friendship and love. The human side is more important than games – this is just a game. A pretty important one, a game that we’ve done since we were little kids, but it’s just a game. It’s important to remember this when we’re fighting, and I hope we will be fighting for top spots and important things."
Morbidelli heads into the 2021 MotoGP season as one of the title favourites after ending last year as runner-up to Joan Mir. Using the A-Spec M1, which he'll use once again this season, Morbidelli won three races and was the most consistent of the Yamaha riders.
Meanwhile, Rossi endured the worst campaign of his illustrious Grand Prix career last year. The nine-time world champion finished 15th overall with only one podium and was also forced to miss races after testing positive for Covid-19.
Now the close friends will come together to try and not only to move each other forward, but to improve the M1 and bring the title to a satellite team for the first time since Rossi's 500c triumph in 2001.
There will be four VR46 Academy students on the grid this season. Francesco Bagnaia becomes a factory rider for Ducati, whilst Rossi’s half-brother Luca Marini will make his premier class debut within the Esponsorama Avintia Racing setup – albeit in SKY Racing VR46 Racing colours.
All four riders will have the chance to ride their updated machines this weekend with the first official test in Qatar.