Valentino Rossi’s illustrious 26-year career comes to an end this weekend, and with it an end of an era for MotoGP.
The Yamaha stalwart bows out as part of the Petronas Sepang Racing Team - the squad themselves calling time on their own three-tier journey this weekend - having celebrated multi-manufacturer success across the seasons.
Facing his 432nd Grand Prix race, Rossi’s career has produced nine world championships, seven in the premier class, and 115 race victories since his 125cc debut back in 1996. The numbers and statistics surrounding the Italian legend go on and on but Sunday’s final race strikes a particular chord, 14/11/21 adding up to 46 exactly. The symmetry has not gone unnoticed.
“Yes, we know that the result of the date is 46,” Rossi commented on the synchronicity. “We discover three/four months ago and is perfect, but during my career have a lot of things relative to the numbers that are like this, are very positive. Maybe it’s a sign I don’t know, but anyway this is the last race so is it good.
“Is a particular season, especially the second part after I said is the last one,” he admitted on his uncharacteristic end. “The last race, I want to try to make normal but is not possible, but anyway is a great emotion. Already from today to see all the bikes together and all the riders from MotoGP here all together is a great feeling. I will try to give the maximum during the weekend. I hope that we can have good weather for the weekend, especially for Sunday and we will see.”
Rossi was greeted by his nine title-winning machines before an exceptional press conference to celebrate his achievements at the Circuit Ricardo Tormo on Thursday. With the 42-year-old admitting there were a couple missing from his personal collection that he would still like to acquire.
“I have the bikes at home, except the Honda’s,” he confirmed. “I have all the Aprilias and all the Yamahas. The Yamahas are in my house, the 2004 model is in my bedroom - so every morning when I wake up, I see the bike - but all together like this is a great emotion. Is a long, long way if you see the first one, is a really long time ago, and also if you consider that after the last one have another 10 years, is a long way and is a great emotion.
“I speak with Alberto [Puig] and I ask minimum for the 500, also because that 500 is my 500!” Rossi continued, regarding the two Honda bikes in the line up. “Is the bike that Honda supposed to give to me and I was ready to take, I have already the place at home but for some reasons the bike never arrived. I’m happy if Honda change ideas and give me that one and for sure the bike stay well and have a good place in my house!”
Rossi’s farewell tour began after the summer break with his confirmation that 2021 will be his last in MotoGP. The past nine rounds have been a constant stream of questions surrounding his feelings and future but with the finale now in front of him, how does the reality compare?
“From Austria when I said [I was retiring] I have a lot, a lot of great messages, a lot of support, especially from all the other riders now, but also from the past and all my rivals. This is very good, was great. I always imagined this press conference, is here in Valencia that is a special place in the opposite for me, is not a special place, but is a strange feeling. I try to act like in a normal way because usually Valencia race is a good moment for everybody, because it means that the holidays start after a long season. But you always think that from Monday will be different, will be another life.
“I try to don’t think a lot in this way, also because I will continue to race with the cars. I will continue to be a driver in this case, and try to enjoy these moments because for sure, the life when you are not anymore a MotoGP rider will change.
“I think that the most positive thing in my career is that a lot, a lot, a lot of people start to follow MotoGP, follow my career from the beginning and the sport become bigger, become more famous, in Italy but all around the world,” he said on his legacy. “It’s good to understand that during my career I become something different, something like an icon, and this is a great, great pleasure. For a rider is always more important what’s happened on the track, the result and everything but I think this is the best thing of my career.
“For sure I fight a lot for try to win the 10th championship,” Rossi continued, reflecting on possible regrets across the years. “I was able to race in a good level also after, because my last championship is 2009 and 2009 is one life ago!
“I’m very happy if I can win another championship, maybe like in 2015 for example, to make my life longer as a world champion, this is important, and also number 10 close the circle. But it’s like this, I cannot complain.
“I have a great career and also the number nine is a lot of time in my numbers - because it’s 89 victories in MotoGP and 199 podiums. When I did the podium in Jerez in 2020 was my 199 and I say ‘maybe it’s the last’. I wanted to try to arrive to 200 but it’s okay. I cannot complain because is a long, long career and a lot of seasons fighting for the championship or anyway fighting for the important positions. When you ride the MotoGP and you can fight for the victory is always great fun and a great pleasure.
“Sometimes during the years, I think that I was very close to the end of my career, especially after 2012. I don’t know sincerely if I have enough speed, enough power to restart and to fight for a championship or win races, but from that moment I race for another 10 years! My dream was to become world champion in MotoGP and is okay like this.”
The past four months have allowed the Italian to consider his impact on MotoGP and the sport as a whole more than he had previously, due to the approaching end, and the reducing pressure.
“From Austria, in these last months, I can understand better because before I always look at my career in MotoGP, all the seasons and all the races from inside, like all the riders. You are like in a tunnel, you are in this dimension and I think that for everybody in MotoGP at a certain level is more or less the same. It’s very difficult to step back and understand what’s happened around, because you’re always very concentrated on one corner, one sector, one practice, one position. Is a great feeling to understand more from outside and I’m very proud and very happy for this.”
The impending conclusion and its beneficial hindsight provides a further dimension to another element synonymous with the hard-fighting Italian. His infamous rivals.
“The rivalry in all sport at the top level, and maybe especially in MotoGP is something that you don’t like a lot but is fantastic to give the maximum and overtake your limits and find something inside that maybe you don’t know that you have,” Rossi explained.
“I have great, great rivalry in my career and I enjoy a lot, especially the first part because I won more, the second part I lose more but anyway I enjoy! I want to say with Biaggi,” he said of his best memories, “because was two Italians and also in Italy have a great movement around. But also with Stoner, Lorenzo, at the end with Marquez, with all the guys in the last years, I always enjoy. Is something that after, you remember in a positive way, as something special.”