Valentino Rossi has announced that he is to retire from MotoGP racing at the end of the 2021 season. The legendary Italian has decided to call it a day after 26 seasons in Grand Prix racing, as results were becoming more difficult to come by.
Rossi leaves with an incredible record. The Italian has 423 Grand Prix starts across all three classes, 115 Grand Prix victories, 199 premier class podiums, and 89 premier class wins.
He has nine world championships, and seven premier class titles, having won on 500cc two strokes, 990cc four strokes, and 800cc four strokes. He also came within 5 points of winning the 1000cc four-stroke format as well.
But those results have not been coming of late, and that has been the reason for him to choose retirement. “I decide to stop at the end of the season. Unfortunately this will be my last half season as MotoGP rider,” the Italian told a special press conference.
There was a mixture of happiness and sadness, he said. “It’s difficult. It’s a very sad moment. It was a long, long journey, really funny. It’s been 25, 26 years in the world championship. I had a very long career. Fortunately, I won a lot of races. But have some moments, victories that are there in the video that are unforgettable and was a pure joy.”
Results Are What Count
Declining results, and the knowledge that he was approaching the end of his career, were the deciding factor. “At the beginning I decided in the summer break,” he said.
“I want to continue when I start the championship. but I needed to understand if I was fast enough. During the season our results were less than what I expect. Race by race I start to think.”
That was what swung it for him. “At the end in all sports the results make the difference,” Rossi told the press conference. “At the end it’s the right way. It was difficult because I had the chance to race for my team in MotoGP together with my brother. It’s something I’d like.”
He decided against racing in his own team because he was not sure he had more than one more year. “It’s a good project if you have two or three years,” Rossi said. “But if you think you have just one season, it’s maybe more risk than good things.”
That decision had come easier than when he first started to consider whether he wanted to continue or not several years ago. “Sincerely two years ago and last year I was not ready to stop with MotoGP. I have to understand to try everything,” He had done that, and arrived at his decision.
“Now I am OK. I am calm. I’m not happy for sure.” But continuing on for another year would have made no difference, he said. “Anyway, if I make another year, next year I’d be not happy in the same moment, because I want to race for the next 20.”
He had no regrets about the decisions he had made throughout his career. “Sincerely I don’t have. Racing with Ducati was very difficult because we don’t win. But it was a great challenge. If we were able to win it would be historic.”
His only regret was never managing to clinch that tenth Grand Prix title. “A little bit sad to not win the tenth championship, especially because I think I deserve it for my level and speed,” he said.
Rossi’s greatest achievement has been to expand the popularity of the sport beyond the narrow confines of motorcycle racing fans. Fans around the world came to know and love MotoGP thanks to Rossi, an athlete of the stature of Michael Jordan, Muhammad Ali, or Tiger Woods.
Though he rejected any comparison with greats such as Jordan, he was aware of, and grateful for, the fact that he had brought in so many new fans, and brought them so much joy.
“I was able to bring a lot of people close to motorcycle racing. Without me they wouldn’t know about 125s, 250s, or 500s,” Rossi said. “I did something in my early career that switched on the emotion of many people. I’m proud of this. It’s really special.”
Bigger Than the Sport
That was his greatest achievement, Rossi believed. “A lot of people followed motorcycles because of me. This is most important thing I did in my career. I entertained a lot of people on Sunday afternoon and a lot of people enjoyed. One or two hours during the Sunday when they don’t think about anything, just enjoy my races.”
After the press conference finished, as Rossi went around the room, he spoke briefly to Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta, thanking him for running the series, saying he had enjoyed himself. Ezpeleta, in turn, thanks Rossi, for all he has done for the sport.
There is no doubt that MotoGP would not be the same if Valentino Rossi had not existed.
A Potted History of Valentino Rossi’s Racing Career
Though Valentino Rossi was the son of a motorcycle racer, father Graziano having in Grand Prix between 1977 and 1982, he ended up racing motorcycles almost by accident.
Though he had grown up riding bikes, racing minicross and minibikes, but at one point he started racing karts due to the rules on circuit racing. But at 13, the expense of kart racing forced him to switch to motorcycles, a decision from which he would never look back.
From racing Sport Production, a class for 125cc bikes in Italy, he went to racing in the Italian and European 125cc championships. He entered the Grand Prix paddock in 1996, and made an impact very quickly.
He took his first podium at the Red Bull Ring, finishing third behind Ivan Goi and Dirk Raudies. His first victory came a race later, at Brno.
Winning became a habit. He won the 125cc title in 1997, collecting 11 wins from 15 races, then moved up to 250s with Aprilia in 1998. He finished second in that year, winning the title the next, and moving up to the 500cc class in 2000, inheriting most of Mick Doohan’s crew, who had just retired from racing after an injury at Jerez.
After a year in the Nastro Azzurro team on his own, finishing second in the championship, he was moved into the Repsol Honda team in 2001, where he went on to win the first of a string of titles.
He racked up five Grand Prix titles between 2001 and 2005, first on a 500cc two stroke, then on a 990cc Honda RC211V, before making an audacious switch to Yamaha, at that time a relatively uncompetitive bike, and winning both his first race on the bike, at Welkom in 2004, and the 2004 and 2005 title.
There were rumors of a switch to F1 at the end of the 2005 season, and he faced an uphill battle for the title in 2006, eventually losing out to Nicky Hayden. When the formula changed again, to 800cc four strokes, Rossi lost another title to Casey Stoner on the Bridgestone-shod Ducati Desmosedici GP7.
Rossi engineered a switch to Bridgestones for the 2008 season, and after an epic battle at Laguna Seca, in which he turned the momentum of the season, he won the MotoGP title in that year as well, following it up with another in 2009.
2010 proved to be a disastrous year for Rossi. He started off with a serious injury after the first race in Qatar, in a training crash in an abandoned quarry.
Though he continued to race, another massive crash at Mugello during practice on Saturday morning saw him break his leg, and forced to miss the first race of his career.
That injury would cost him the 2010 title, Yamaha teammate Jorge Lorenzo taking his first crown.
At the same time, Rossi had been tempted by Ducati to take the seat vacated by Casey Stoner, who was off to the Repsol Honda team for 2011. That turned into two disastrous seasons, when the bike proved to be much more difficult to ride than he had expected it to be from the outside.
Rossi returned to Yamaha for the 2013 season, riding for no salary from Yamaha. Though he took a podium in his first race back at Qatar, and his first win after a two-year drought at Assen, it was a relatively modest return, Rossi finishing fourth in the championship.
The next season went much better, Rossi finishing second to Marc Marquez, winning two races and finishing on the podium 13 times. That led to the controversial and legendary 2015 season, when he found himself engaged in a year-long battle with teammate Jorge Lorenzo.
It culminated in a vicious dogfight with Marc Marquez at Sepang, after Rossi had accused the Repsol Honda rider of trying to help his teammate Lorenzo to win the title. Rossi and Marquez collided, and Rossi was handed a penalty for the final race of the season, forced to start from the back of the grid at Valencia.
Rossi finished that race in fourth, while Lorenzo took victory in the race and the 2015 MotoGP title, Rossi ending the season in second, amid acrimonious accusations of malfeasance, none of which were verifiable.
Rossi finished second again in 2016, but that proved to be the final time he would be competitive. He won his last race in 2017, at Assen, and had his last podium last year, at Jerez.
This year, Rossi has struggled to be competitive. For a rider so used to winning – he has amassed 115 victories, second only to Giacomo Agostini – the enjoyment in racing was gone.
Rossi’s career and his impact on the sport is too vast to be encapsulated in a few lines thrown together on a Thursday. We will have a retrospective on his career, and attempt to put it in context at the end of the year, after he finishes racing.
Valentino Rossi was the most significant motorcycle racer of all time. He deserves a considered reflection.
Photo: Yamaha Racing