Trackside Tuesday: A Requiem for Better Days

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We could write a long list of what those involved in the Valentino Rossi-Ducati partnership have lost. Money, reputation, time, all have been lost in large quantities and on behalf of some of the most important people in motorbike racing. Smaller losses of various kinds have been incurred by many more people whose livelihoods are tied to Rossi’s success. But a huge number of people have lost something intangible but nonetheless important because of the inability of Rossi and Ducati to produce a winning package.

As fans of motorsport, we have been fortunate to be present to watch and participate in, even if only as spectators, the career of a truly remarkable sportsman. World Champions gain entry into an elite club, but multiple World Champions whose careers span many years, formulas, and sets of rules, are rare indeed. And among those few individuals, the even rarer sort who not only win and win and win on the track but also inspire millions of fans across boundaries of nationality, gender, brand loyalty, and so on are even more remarkable.

Rossi is one of those supremely rare people, and he holds that distinction regardless of having his detractors. Whatever a minority chooses to feel about him, he has accomplished more as a motorcycle racer than anyone since Agostini, and in some ways he has accomplished much more. One of those ways is in his ability to charm millions of people via his skills in the media.

Agostini raced before the internet, before today’s massive TV audiences, and simply didn’t have the opportunity to reach as many people as Rossi has. Those many people who were attracted to motorcycle racing because first they felt an attraction to Valentino Rossi have lost something since his switch to Ducati. They have not felt much of the joy that his style and success thrived on during the Honda and Yamaha years.

But even those among us who don’t count ourselves as Rossi fans, but also do not descend into being Rossi-haters, have lost something significant. We have lost a year and a half, soon to be two years, of racing moments that would have been possible only if Rossi had been on a competitive motorbike.

Imagine Casey Stoner’s domination in 2011 being interfered with by Valentino Rossi on a Yamaha, if he’d managed to stay Lorenzo’s teammate. Stoner would likely have still won the title, and it would’ve been a more satisfying victory for him if Rossi had contested the races and the points tally. But the potential for drama on track was gone, and there’s no telling what we might have seen and been thrilled by had Rossi been at the front.

We the fans who tune in each race weekend, to be entertained by brave souls on fierce equipment chasing tenths of seconds that will add up to a championship, we’ve lost the latest chapters in a story that has given us unforgettable moments. The pass on Stoner at Laguna Seca, the victory and embrace at Welkom, flipping off Biaggi as he passed him, the final turn at Catalunya with Lorenzo, winning by 15 seconds to overcome his 10-second penalty at Phillip Island…very possibly you’re adding your own favorites to this short list even now.

We’ve had none of those moment since the 2011 season started, though we have seen glimpses, usually in the rain, Rossi is willing to provide them if he can. Those who’ve speculated that he has lost the desire to fight for victories make that comment from some distance. In person he is as intense as ever about competing, though now his level of frustration is so pervasive it seems to stir beneath every comment.

There’s little point in trying to fix blame for all of this loss. The situation in 2010 was very similar to the situation now, and for the same reasons that there is no clear path for him to move forward for 2013, there were reasons to take a risk on the Ducati for 2011. But whether you love Rossi or not, your experience watching MotoGP is diminished because one of the few with the skill to win a dry race has been stuck in the middle of the pack for far too long. As fans we will all be better off if Valentino Rossi is back at the front of the racing.

Scott Jones is a professional photographer who covers MotoGP and WSBK for racing industry clients as well as racing websites and publications in the U.S. and Europe. His online archive is available at Photo.GP, and you can find him on his blogTwitter, & Facebook.

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Photo: © 2012 Scott Jones / Scott Jones Photography – All Rights Reserved