'Doctor' Rossi offers best medicine for Formula One health

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 07 September, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 07 September, 2005, 12:00am

Unless you are a motor racing enthusiast or over a certain age, you probably won't have heard of John Surtees. Yet the British speedster is something of a legend to petrol heads and for good reason. He's the only man to have won the world championship on both two wheels and four.

He triumphed seven times on a motorcycle, winning the 350cc title three times and the premier class 500cc four times in a golden period between 1956 and 1960. After switching to Formula One he became world champion in 1964. Quite an achievement, and one you imagined wouldn't be repeated in the modern era. However, the news coming out of Italy in the past week makes you wonder if his unique achievement could be under threat.

The danger man is Valentino Rossi. The Italian is not so much a racer as a high-speed artist on his Yamaha. He dominates the top class of motorcycle racing, MotoGP, in much the same way Michael Schumacher has in F1. Now the hot gossip is that he's going to head to F1 in 2007. He's had a go in a Ferrari, now it's been announced he will test regularly next year. The teams' technical director, Ross Brawn, says he is as fast as anyone through a slow corner; he's just got to master the faster ones.

It's got tongues wagging that he could be the man to replace Schumacher at the end of his contract. That would depend on Ferrari having a proven race-winner in the other car. Hence the reason Kimi Raikkonen has been denying all week he is considering moving to Ferrari in the future (the fact that Fernando Alonso could be crowned world champion this weekend despite the Finn driving the fastest - and most fragile car - might make Kimi take a long hard look at his options).

Trust me when I say Rossi's defection would be the best news possible for the four-wheel fraternity. 'The Doctor', as he is known, would dispense the best medicine possible - entertainment. For my money, he's an even more worthy champion than Schumacher. Rossi has now won four straight titles and is heading towards his fifth. But it is the way he's won them that sets him apart.

He won the first three on the all-powerful Honda machine. He evidently got bored with such dominance and decided on a new challenge, moving on to Yamaha. I can't imagine Schumacher deciding his recent domination was getting a bit dull and it might be more of a challenge if he tried his luck with Red Bull. No one gave Rossi a prayer of winning again on a new bike, but as the season progressed it became abundantly clear he was going to hold on to his crown in some style.

Like Schumacher, he plays hard to succeed (just ask Sete Gibernau). He doesn't mind roughing up his opponents on the track and he is certainly the master of mind games. To be a dominating champion requires this self-centredness and self-assuredness.

But Rossi is a personality in a way that Schumacher isn't. You can't help but warm to this Italian as he joyfully makes his way through the season.

Whether it's the wild wigs he has been known to wear on the podium or the increasingly wacky victory celebrations he indulges in, there's never a dull moment.

His legions of fans love him for his extrovert ways. Italians treat him as a sporting megastar. F1 fans, suffering a drought of racing mavericks, would love him, too. It's all become a bit too corporate down the paddock of late. The only question that remains is, will he be quick enough?

Well the man hasn't failed to rise to any challenge to date, and if he does prove his worth, the prospect of an Italian hero in an Italian car will be too tempting for Ferrari.