It takes one to know one...
5 October 2005
As the saying goes "it takes one to know one" and here four of Yamaha's greatest world champions give their opinions on fellow legend Valentino Rossi, who wrapped up his fifth consecutive premier-class crown - and second successive title success with Yamaha - at the Malaysian Grand Prix on September 25.
Rossi's latest world championship marked the twelfth time that Yamaha has won motorcycle grand prix racing's biggest prize - with the last Yamaha rider to win the world championship, before Rossi in 2004, being Wayne Rainey.
The Californian clinched his third consecutive title on the YZR500 machine in 1992 and has kept a close eye on Rossi's dominant form this season, which has seen the 26-year-old take ten wins from fourteen races (with three rounds still to go).
"Valentino has done a fabulous job and it is wonderful to see Yamaha winning races consistently again - basically for the first time since I raced," said Rainey, who played a major part in bringing MotoGP back to the United States at Laguna Seca earlier this year.
After dominating the 500cc series with 24 victories between 1988 and 1993 Rainey knows only too well about the psychological strength it takes to be a world champion and says that this, as well as an abundance of talent, is Rossi's main weapon.
"To tell you the truth I think he's just been playing with the other guys, he's got them beaten even before they go out on the track," he explained. "I think there are other riders out there with the ability to compete with him but every time they come out of their shells he just beats them back in again.
"That is probably his strongest asset and if the riders out there now want to beat him they will have to start rethinking their approach a little," Rainey warned.
Rainey had followed the path to grand prix stardom marked out by his fellow American Eddie Lawson, who won the first of his three 500cc titles with Yamaha in 1985. Lawson's total of 26 victories over six-seasons remains a premier-class record for the factory - but that could be beaten by Rossi next season.
It won't be the first time the Italian has emulated one of Lawson's records, having become the only rider, after the American, to win consecutive premier-class titles for different manufacturers last season.
"From what I have seen this year Valentino is simply in another league to the other riders, he is very impressive," said Lawson, who attended his first grand prix in several years at Laguna Seca in July (on podium with Rossi in middle pic).
"Above all I am pleased to see Yamaha winning races and titles again. I've still got a lot of friends there and I'm delighted to see them enjoying the success they definitely deserve.
"Records are there to be broken and to be honest I was sure mine would fall much quicker than they are doing. I suppose if there is anybody out there who had to do it, it would be Valentino!"
The man that opened the way for Rainey and Lawson's spectacular world championship achievements was their mentor Kenny Roberts.
The former dirt-track champion revolutionised the way grand prix motorcycles were ridden when he began road racing in 1978 and allowed his compatriots to come through and dominate the sport for almost two decades.
Still heavily involved in MotoGP through running his own team and supporting his son Kenny Jr - the only rider to beat Rossi to a premier-class title - Roberts Sr has kept a close eye on Rossi's achievements throughout his career.
"This year Valentino has had everything covered, he hardly ever makes a mistake," said 'King Kenny'. "In fact, throughout his career I've barely seen him make a mistake, certainly not off the track, and that helps him to stay focused on it.
"He hasn't had terrible motorcycles to ride but everything he rides he wins on... everything. His PR, promotion and merchandising is head and shoulders above anything I would ever dreamt of having, plus he's Italian!
"He's got the whole package and it's great to watch him winning races for Yamaha. To see him racing in the yellow and black colours of Yamaha USA at Laguna Seca earlier this season was a very proud moment for me," KR admitted.
However, the proudest of Yamaha's past world champions and the man probably most comparable to Rossi in terms of talent, charm and racing achievements is Giacomo Agostini, the first true megastar of MotoGP.
The Italian won his last 500cc title for Yamaha in 1975 and has taken extra pleasure from watching the rise of his country's new hero - Rossi being the first Italian to truly dominate the sport since Agostini's final victory at Brno in 1977.
"Valentino is the kind of talent that comes along to any sport only once in a generation - there isn't a Bobby Charlton born every year!" said 'Ago', pictured with Roberts, Rainey and other champions at Yamaha's 50th Anniversary Laguna Seca party.
"The Italian people waited 20-years for the next Agostini and Valentino has given them great happiness. I think we should thank him and thank Yamaha for a wonderful season."
With Rossi taking the title for the fifth straight season and having already signed up with Yamaha to defend it at least once more, Agostini is well aware of the extra difficulties faced when trying to stay at the top of such a demanding sport.
According to the former eight-time 500cc World Champion it is this continued desire to win that has been Rossi's most impressive asset this season.
"I think the motivation Valentino has shown this year is a demonstration of his love for the sport," he said. "The quality of the opposition is strong but Valentino has something extra. Every race is a new adventure to him and he is excited to meet each challenge. It is a fantastic achievement.
"By moving from Honda to Yamaha he made a similar switch to me, when I went from MV Augusta to Yamaha, and he has kept his motivation high. He has shown his riding talents on different machinery over the past few seasons in MotoGP and everybody around the world seems to like him.
"I am very happy because I am still very close to the people at Yamaha. I very much enjoyed riding for the factory and they are still like a family to me. This season I think Yamaha deserve just as much credit as Valentino does. The factory has done a good job, given him a good bike and he has been able to win virtually everything.
"For both of them, this year has been the best ever," Agostini concluded.