The Italian Almanac

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Valentino Rossi

Hard Driving

Valentino Rossi has admitted he is struggling to get used to Ducati's notoriously hard-to-handle race bike and that it is now too late for him to fulfil Italian fans' dream of seeing him switch to Formula One and Ferrari.

''We are trying to work out how (Casey) Stoner rode the bike,'' the 31-year-old said in an interview after clocking disappointing times in tests. Australian Stoner, who joined Honda in the close season, won the 2007 world championship with Ducati but a series of other riders have failed to be competitive on the distinctive red Italian bikes.

Italy's nine-time world champion Rossi said the shoulder he had surgery on in November is still not fully healed ahead of the season-opening Qatar Grand Prix on March 20. He previously said he does not expect to be fully fit until April or May.

The Italian, who frequently performs well in rallies in the close season, also conceded that switching to Formula One was no longer an option for him. ''I had two chances to join Ferrari but now it's too late,'' he said, adding that he might have a semi-retirement in Superbikes when he eventually decides to quit MotoGP.