It’s been long-anticipated but Valentino Rossi, a colossus of MotoGP, finally announced his retirement from top-level racing at a special press conference in Austria this morning.
After 25 years at the pointy end of his game, Valentino Rossi will be shifting his focus from competing to managing a team which could dramatically extend his presence in MotoGP.
The charismatic Italian has also expressed interest in competing in car racing after he retires from the MotoGP paddock, telling media recently that he is considering a switch to GT3 racing.
Rossi, 42, had a stellar career which includes world championship wins in the 125, 250, 500 and MotoGP classes. With nine championship wins in total, he has been the most successful racer of the modern era and indisputably the greatest rider of his generation.
Born into a motorcycle-racing family, Rossi’s initial interest was in go-carts but he started racing 125s in 1996 and won the 125 world championship on an Aprilia in 1997. He switched to 250s in 1998 and won the world championship in 1999.
In 2000 he entered the 500 two-stroke cauldron for Honda under the guidance of Australia’s Mick Doohan and with the help of Mick’s chief engineer, Jeremy Burgess, he came a very respectable second to Kenny Roberts Jnr. This was followed in 2001 with his first world championship win.
The change to four-strokes in 2002 made no difference to his performance and he won in that year as well.
At the absolute top of his game in 2003, he won the Australian GP despite a 10 second penalty for overtaking Marco Melandri while the yellow flags were out.
Gossip in the pits, largely attributed to Max Biaggi, was Rossi was only successful because he was on the ‘unbeatable’ Honda RC211V which influenced Rossi’s change to Yamaha in 2004. Rossi on the Yamaha won the world championship that year and the next, establishing if nobody had believed it before, that it was the rider, not the bike, which made the difference.
Rossi’s psychological advantage over his opponents had severe influences on their careers. Max Biaggi, Sete Gibernau and Jorge Lorenzo all suffered from Rossi’s playful tinkering with their mindsets and it wasn’t until the hard-boiled Australian, Casey Stoner, and, later, Marc Marquez, came along that Rossi was put under pressure to win through ability as well as guile.
He did this in 2008 after losing the world championship to Nicky Hayden (Honda) in 2006 and Casey Stoner (Ducati) in 2007.
He bounced back where, at the Japan round, he’d clearly won the world championship with three rounds to go. When he appeared on the podium, he wore a t-shirt which said in Italian, “sorry for the delay”, indicating he was back where he belonged.
He confirmed this in 2009 with a win over his team-mate, Lorenzo, and also managed to fit in an ‘exhibition’ lap of the Isle of Man TT circuit with Giacomo Agostini. It appeared in the official program as ‘The lap of the Gods’.
All of Italy wanted Rossi to race for Ducati and he took up the challenge in 2011. Casey Stoner had won for Ducati in 2007 so it was obviously possible for Ducati to win at the highest level but Rossi suffered with the unresponsive bike he was given and fierce competition. Stoner had moved to Honda and won that year’s world championship with Rossi in an uncharacteristic seventh place.
While it’s easy to say Rossi was on a slide after this, he had years of being in the top three results in the company of riders including Stoner, Vinales, Lorenzo and Marquez. Importantly, the world watched every race because Rossi was always a chance.
2021 wasn’t kind to Rossi with him not placing well on what should have been a competitive bike and these results were probably behind his decision to retire. He’s the oldest rider (beating Australia’s Troy Bayliss) to ever win at the top level and a career spanning 25 years is a phenomenal achievement in the modern era.
The future? Backed by a Saudi oil company, Rossi’s VR46 racing team has penned a three-year deal with Ducati, which will see two of Valentino’s proteges aboard red satellite machines from 2022 onwards. Along with his training academy which has produced current GP riders including Francesco Bagnaia and Franco Morbidelli, Rossi will have plenty to do without the grind of actually participating in the MotoGP circus.
He’s not dead but still the world’s motorcycle racing fraternity and fan base deeply mourns his official departure. He was definitely one in a million.