The name Valentino Rossi is one for the history books, triggering flashes of his iconic yellow and unforgettable riding. With his recent retirement announcement, ATRL’s Aino Ylitalo takes a look at the illustrious career of the MotoGP star and the mark he has forever left on the series.
With the news of Valentino Rossi’s retirement shaking the whole MotoGP paddock, It’s an appropriate time to look at his racing life, from his childhood to the end of his MotoGP racing career. Let us go back to Urbino, Italy, where Rossi, later nicknamed The Doctor, was born to reminisce about his phenomenal career and nine Grand Prix world championships. Over 300 Grand Prix starts with over 50 poles, an incredible 74 race wins, and 199 podiums, which has led him to be a 7-time world champion in the premier class—with two additional championships in 1999 (250cc) and 1997 (125cc), rounding his titles up to an incredible 9.
“It’s not about what you know; it’s about who you know.”
In the world of motorsport, it’s not a rare case to see riders rise through the ranks because of their connections. Like many other racers, Valentino Rossi was born into a racing family. And while not being forced to go into racing, he took a keen interest in the sport.
In many cases, these racers don’t make a career out of it in the long run. Rossi was different; he was determined to show everyone his talent without letting his father Graziano’s career define set the pace of his career. The iconic number 46 Vale is known for is inherited from his father alongside his passion for speed and talent in racing.
With the support of his parents and his natural talent and hard work, it was like a dream formula, and so Valentino Rossi’s racing career was born.
By the early 90’s Valentino already knew what he wanted to do, which was race bikes. While he wasn’t old enough for a racing license for full-size bikes or racetracks, he was already halfway there with his dream. With a loaned bike and identity from his friend for legal and official purposes, Vale had his first, underage, track-day at Misano’s Adriatico Circuit, a track that would become very familiar to him sooner than later. After the test day, Valentino’s need for speed and passion for racing only got stronger, and that’s where his father knew he could help his son.
Graziano called his old rival and friend Virginio Ferrari, stating that they needed a racing bike for his son. Ferrari had become a manager to the Ducati World Superbike team after retirement. After a few calls, he delivered Graziano what he wanted, a bike for his son. Although Vale was very much last in the pecking order and last to get any upgrades on the bike, it was still a significant step up. Now, what Rossi Jr. had to do was to show that he was worthy of that seat.
The art of trying to find the limit.
Courage makes a rider good, but what separates good from great is persistence, the talent to dig down deep and put out the best version of yourself on the track time after time, weekend after another, and year after year, striving for perfection. Most often, it’s that quality that runs out first. Many of Valentino’s rivals have retired long before his surprise announcement. Vale kept proving what a great racer he is, but not only that. He kept proving how much he loves the sport and how he still has a passion for racing. He now races against kids who had posters of the great Valentino Rossi on their wall, members of his own academy, and racers who wish that they could one day be him. He would not have a career this extensive if he didn’t have the passion for it.
Very early on in his career, Vale established a so-called system for his racing. One year to learn and the second year to win. Getting used to the bike before getting genuinely competitive, but also so he could find the limit.
Motorbike racing can be very dangerous, and the most challenging part is trying to find the limit. When the rider is just on the edge of crashing but able to hold themselves back from pushing too hard, they have found the limit. In his younger years, before entering MotoGP, Rossi would crash a lot, mostly in practice. He was even getting compared to Kevin Schwantz, who got famous for his win-or-crash riding style.
Rivalries from the years back
Valentino has had multiple rivals throughout the years, ranging from Biaggi to Lorenzo to Marquez.
In his earliest years, the Italian media dubbed Vale, Max Biaggi, and Loris Capirossi as the “three musketeers.” While Rossi and Capirossi stayed on good terms, the rivalry with Biaggi was something else. They had arguments in restaurants, battles on the track, and eventually a fistfight. It sounds like it’s straight out of a movie. Neither confirmed a fistfight had happened, but even Honda arranged a press conference where the two riders addressed the situation. It ended with Rossi’s and Biaggi’s handshake, which cooled the rivalry down.
Moving to the late 2000s and early 2010, Valentino was suddenly against Ducati’s Casey Stoner and his teammate Jorge Lorenzo. The highlight of Stoner’s and Rossi’s rivalry came out very obviously in the 2008 US Grand Prix when after numerous position changes throughout the race, Stoner finished p2 while Valentino went to win the race. According to Stoner, Valentino’s moves were “too aggressive,” while Rossi himself called it “just racing.” However, the tensions rose yet again after a crash in 2011 which after Stoner said to Rossi, “your ambition outweighs your talent.” Stoner later apologized for the comment, and their rivalry died permanently after Stoner’s retirement in 2012 and Valentino’s move back to Yamaha in 2013
In 2008, Valentino claimed his 6th title while his teammate Jorge Lorenzo suffered a series of crashes. When 2009 rolled around, the hostilities started to rise. It became worse and worse over the years, with the boiling point coming in 2015 with what Rossi dubbed the “Spanish stitch-up.” Rossi crashed with Marc Marquez in Sepang, which ultimately cost him the championship to Jorge Lorenzo by 5 points.
In mid and late 2010, Valentino’s fiercest rival became the young Spanish talent, Marc Marquez. Valentino was Marquez’s childhood idol, and he stated that he enjoyed battling him. Their relationship started to grow colder as they began to crash more often, one of which cost Valentino his 10th title, which destroyed the friendly rivalry of the pair completely. You can sometimes see the riders shake hands or interact briefly, indicating that the tensions from the multiple crashes have eased.
More than just a rider
The statistics and the eyes prove it, Valentino Rossi truly is a one-of-a-kind racer, and we will dearly miss him at the track & the MotoGP paddock. Saying that he’ll have a significant legacy in MotoGP is an underestimate of the impact he’s had on the sport.
He touched the hearts of many fans and riders, and so many of the big names in MotoGP used to look up to him as a kid. In a more physical form, he’ll also leave behind not only his new VR46 team but also his VR46 Academy, which has already trained so many talented riders and will continue to do so even after Vale’s exit from the sport.
So all we can say is Grazie Vale.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
My earliest memories of F1 were the Sundays I spent searching for the red Ferrari of Kimi Räikkönen. I guess you could say I was one of the kids Enzo Ferrari used to talk about. The ones who always drew a red car.
I’m currently a student hoping to focus on management & media in the future. Outside of motorsport I take interest in watches and music.
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