Nine-time Motorcycle World Champion Valentino Rossi was on the verge of making his Formula 1 World Championship debut with Sauber in 2006, according to former Ferrari President Luca di Montezemelo.
Rossi enjoyed several tests with the Maranello outfit during the 2000s and considered making the switch to Formula 1 after running competitive times.
Had Rossi chosen to leave MotoGP and make the jump to F1, di Montezemelo said there were plans to place the Italian rider at midfield runners Sauber before a potential move to Ferrari in the future.
During this time, Yamaha feared the switch might happen and signed up then young Spanish rider Jorge Lorenzo – a decision which would ultimately lead to one of motorsports fiercest intra-team rivalries.
Rossi ultimately rejected Ferrari’s contract offer, which led to the Scuderia signing Felipe Massa.
Di Montezemelo insists the decision to try and hire Rossi was based on the potential of the sportsman and not for publicity reasons.
“Everyone knows that it was not a publicity operation, Ferrari did not need it,” he told Autosport.
“At the beginning it was almost a courtesy to the desire of a great champion.
“I saw that he was going strong, especially he lacked continuity, but he had a lot of potential and desire.
“At one point we thought, he would do a year at Sauber, but he was smart and preferred to remain number one in motorcycles than fourth or fifth in cars.”
Rossi would once again come close to making an F1 debut for Ferrari in 2009 as a replacement for the injured Massa, but Ferrari eventually chose Luca Badoer, before turning to Giancarlo Fisichella.
At the end of 2019, the Italian got the chance to try out contemporary F1 equipment after spending time at Valencia’s Ricardo Tormo Circuit with Mercedes’ seven-time F1 World Champion Lewis Hamilton.
Rossi got behind the wheel of Hamilton’s title-winning W08 from 2017 while the British driver would get his first chance to ride a MotoGP bike on the Italian’s M1 Yamaha.
Hamilton has yet to reaffirm his commitment to Mercedes ahead of the 2021 F1 season.
For his 20th MotoGP campaign, Rossi will make the move to Yamaha’s Petronas SRT outfit alongside Franco Morbidelli.