2001 - 2021. It’s exactly twenty years since Valentino Rossi took to the track with a satellite team, and a lot has happened since then. Seven world titles (the first in 2001), adventures with Honda, Ducati and Yamaha, so much joy and a certain amount of pain. A series of events that have seen Valentino become a motorcycling legend, one who may be about to embark on his final adventure as a rider as he moves from the factory Yamaha team to team Petronas, swapping places with Fabio Quartararo in what looks to be a generational handover.
A decision that is as understandable as it is debatable, and one that has resulted in two camps, as is often the case. On the one side, there are those who believe Rossi can still fight at the front, and on the other side, those who think he’s simply delaying his retirement. Some think he’s lacking in motivation, while others believe the opposite is true. But first things first.
One final triumph, to prove something to himself and others
If there’s one thing that Valentino Rossi has demonstrated over the years it’s his hunger for victory, and the desire to pursue it at any cost. Rossi’s last MotoGP win was at Assen in 2017, four years ago already, something that #46 surely isn’t pleased about. So this is Valentino’s first motivation in 2021, to score one final win before hanging up his helmet and embarking on the second phase of his life.
There is also (perhaps) a desire to prove something to those who no longer believe in him, like the factory Yamaha team for example. Rossi has always been treated as a primadonna, rightly or wrongly, and when this stops, Valentino has always been quick to get his ‘revenge’. The most obvious example dates back to when he split from Honda in 2003, when the manufacturer prioritised bike over rider, an affront for Rossi who moved to Yamaha the following year.
So Valentino might find extra energy after having been essentially demoted by Yamaha. He may set out to prove that the rider exchange has been made too early, something that might make the Rossi-Petronas pairing a loose cannon for the factory Yamaha team, to be disarmed rather than exploited.
The obsession with number ten, and a final lap with his guys
And then there’s the ultimate desire, the final piece that would complete a perfect puzzle. We’re talking about a tenth world title of course. The fact he just missed out on it in 2015, and in such circumstances, continues to vex the Italian. Sure, Rossi as 2021 world champion sounds more like fantasy than a possibility, and even the bookies aren’t betting on him for the title, but the pursuit of this final treasure might serve as further stimulation for Valentino.
All while his Academy makes its definitive mark on MotoGP, ‘pupils’ Pecco Bagnaia and Franco Morbidelli ready to fight for the title this season. The aforementioned pair may well have more of a chance than Rossi, but the desire to do well against them might push Valentino to exceed the limits once again, for an enticing duel between present and future.
Translated by Heather Watson