Rossi flirted with an F1 switch through the mid-late 2000s, making his first official F1 outing in 2006 at the Ricardo Tormo Circuit in Valencia in an F2004 having already completed some private running previously.
The nine-time grand prix world champion seriously considered a switch to F1 in 2006 and had discussions with Ferrari – though ultimately opted against it when its initial offer wasn’t to join the main race team straight away.
It was Yamaha’s fear that Rossi – who’d won two MotoGP titles for it at the time having joined from Honda in 2004 – would quit to race in F1 that prompted it to sign Jorge Lorenzo for 2008 before he’d even won his first of two 250cc crowns.
Now in an interview with Autosport, di Montezemolo – who served as Ferrari president from 1991 to 2014 – opens up about Ferrari’s original ideas for signing Rossi.
“Everyone knows that it was not a publicity operation, Ferrari did not need it,” di Montezemolo said.
“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 though 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 ultimately re-signed with Yamaha for 2007 and 2008, extending his stay to 2010 before making an ill-fated switch to Ducati.
The Italian would test a Ferrari F1 car for the final time in 2010 at Barcelona, driving a 2008-spec car on GP2 tyres.
Rossi allegedly did come close to making his F1 race debut in 2009 at the Italian Grand Prix when Felipe Massa was sidelined after suffering a severe head injury in a horror accident during that year’s Hungarian GP.
This never came to pass in the end, with Ferrari sticking Giancarlo Fisichella in the car having taken him out of his Force India contract.
Current Aprilia CEO Massimo Rivola – who was sporting director at Ferrari during this period – told Autosport in 2019 he thought the suggestions of Rossi making his F1 debut at Monza in 2009 was more for publicity than a serious option.
Rossi last drove an F1 car at the end of 2019 at Valencia as part of a ride swap with seven-time F1 world champion Lewis Hamilton, who rode a MotoGP bike for the first time.