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Valentino Rossi: “Antonelli can be the future Italian hope in F1”

by Alejandro Alonso Lopez

Photo: Valentino Rossi

Motorcycle racing legend Valentino Rossi would be keen to support Andrea Kimi Antonelli’s pursuit of a Formula 1 career, but rules out expanding his VR46 Academy to four-wheeled competition.

The seven-time MotoGP champion-turned-sportscar racer spoke to Formula Scout at Barcelona, where he was racing in the GT World Challenge Europe Endurance Cup, having recently been training in go-karts with Mercedes-AMG F1 junior Antonelli.

“I’m very happy to know Kimi because on the paper he can be the future Italian hope in F1. So we stay a bit together sometimes, and he is a great guy I like a lot, we enjoy,” he said.

Rossi also commented on the possibility of expanding his VR46 Academy to four wheels, which he first labelled as “a good idea”, given his increased involvement in car racing in recent years.

The 44-year-old Italian started his racing career in karting back in the early 1990s, and won a regional championship before switching to two wheels.

He founded the VR46 Academy in 2013 to support Italian riders and help them reach the pinnacle of motorcycle racing. Through it, he provides coaching and organises training sessions. One of his pupils, Francesco Bagnaia, became MotoGP last year and leads this year’s world championship.

Rossi also set up a team under the VR46 Racing name to race in the supporting Moto3 series in 2014. It expanded into Moto2 – the next tier up – in 2017 but those two squads ceased operations at the end of 2020 and ’22 respectively as Rossi’s efforts moved to bringing his VR46 Racing outfit up to the top level. The team debuted in MotoGP last year, and is already winning. 

While initially enthusiastic, Rossi ended up acknowledging he and his team would most likely be unable to provide drivers with the same level of support they can to their riders. Therefore, such a step for VR46 is not on the cards at the moment.

“Italy is very strong at motorcycles because we have always very strong riders, but less in cars, because there is a lot of time that we don’t have an Italian driver winning a F1 race, for example.

“I think we are strong in motorcycle for the academy because we know a lot of people and it is our world. With the cars, I think it can be more difficult, so I think that we will continue just with motorcycles. But supporting and helping Kimi, why not, because we hope he can arrive in F1.”

Italy has had seven F1 drivers this century, three of whom debuted in the 1990s and between them took four wins. Antonio Giovinazzi is the nation’s most recent representative on the grid. He made two F1 starts in 2017 after being GP2 championship runner-up the year before, then had a full-time seat from 2019 to ’21. His best result was a fifth place.