Valentino Rossi will be leading the Yamaha MotoGP factory team in the 2019 season along with teammate Maverick Vinales. Unveiling the 2019 Yamaha YZR-M1 in Jakarta on Monday, Rossi spoke at length about the expectations from the 2019 season, including facing off the Repsol Honda riders Marc Marquez and Jorge Lorenzo, as well as the Italian duo of Andrea Dovizioso and Danilo Petrucci. Rossi, who will be turning 40 on February 16, is one of the first riders in MotoGP to have been racing for so long, and his contract with the Yamaha MotoGP factory team is through 2020. With a disappointing outing in the 2018 season, Rossi and Vinales will be looking for more victories in 2019.
"There's a lot of expectations from Jorge on the Repsol Honda, I think they have a very strong team with Lorenzo and Marquez, the strongest on paper. But also Ducati is strong because Petrucci will ride the factory bike, which is another very interesting team, both Italians, Petrucci and Dovizioso, and already they have demonstrated that they are very, very strong with the factory bike, so it will be another team which will be very hard to beat," said Rossi.
Rossi will also face two of his own proteges, his own students from the VR46 academy - Franco Morbidelli and Francesco 'Peco' Bagnaia. Morbidelli will be riding with the Petronas Yamaha SRT team, while Francesco Bagnaia will be riding the Ducati Desmosedici GP of Alma Pramac Racing. For Morbidelli, it is the second year in MotoGP after a debutant season where he got the recognition of Rookie of the Year for the 2018 season. For 2018 Moto2 World Champion Francesco Bagnaia, the 2019 MotoGP season will be his debut, and he will be looking to make some kind of impression on the Ducati.
"I think Franco Morbidelli this year is stronger than Peco, because of already one season of experience in MotoGP, and Franco will have a very good package with the factory Yamaha and Ramon Forcada, the crew chief, so I think that it will be very hard to beat Franco, but also Peco is very strong, great talent, and maybe need some more time to adapt to MotoGP, but I also expect Peco to be very strong for the second half of the season, so I think I will have to fight both, Franco and Peco," Rossi said.
Rossi and teammate Maverick Vinales are currently carrying out pre-season tests on the new M1 race bike at the Sepang International Circuit in Malaysia. After the next round of tests, the final specification for the 2019 Yamaha MotoGP bike will be finalized. The 2019 Yamaha YZR-M1 will be raced by the Monster Energy Yamaha MotoGP teammates in the 2019 MotoGP season which kicks off on March 10 in Qatar.