MOTOGP » Valentino Rossi
Born in Urbino, Italy on 16th February 1979, Rossi was riding bikes from an early age thanks to the influence of his father Graziano, himself a former Grand Prix winner. Following an early start in go-karts, Rossi junior progressed to minimotos and quickly showed a talent for two-wheels, becoming regional champion in 1992. The next few years saw him quickly rise up through ranks of junior road racing, claiming the Italian Sport Production Championship in 1994 and the Italian 125cc Championship in 1995. The latter, twinned with an impressive 3rd place in the 125cc European Championship, was enough to secure him a ride in the World Championship the following year.
Rossi`s World Championship debut came at the Malaysian Grand Prix in 1996 and he finished his first international season in 9th place with one race win. The following year he became the youngest ever rider to win the 125cc World Championship, winning eleven races along the way with Aprilia. The pattern continued when he moved into the 250cc class, taking second place in his first year before becoming World Champion in 1999, once again with Aprilia.
In 2000 he entered a new phase of his career when he joined forces with Honda in the 500cc class. He proved his worth once again by finishing second, before becoming the last ever 500cc World Champion in 2001. Rossi subsequently took the MotoGP World title in 2002 and 2003, before moving to Yamaha and winning it again in 2004 and 2005.
Rossi made history by moving to Yamaha in 2004 and winning the season-opening Grand Prix in South Africa, becoming the first rider in the history of the sport to win back-to-back premier class races for different manufacturers. He went on to win nine out of 16 races, finally clinching the World Championship title, Yamaha`s first for 12 years, with victory at the penultimate Grand Prix in Phillip Island. A final win at the Valencia Grand Prix also ensured that the Yamaha Factory Team won the team title.
He dominated the 2005 season, winning eleven races in total, taking five pole positions and only finishing off the podium once. In doing he became one of only five riders in the history of the sport to win the premier-class title on five occasions. He also helped Yamaha to win the Manufacturers’ and Team titles, ensuring Yamaha celebrated its 50th Anniversary with one of its best ever years in Grand Prix.
2006 saw him finish World Champion runner-up for only the second time in his premier-class career, having lost the title to Honda’s Nicky Hayden by just five points following a final-race showdown in Valencia. Despite this, Rossi still took five race wins and five pole positions in 2006, more than any other rider, and stood on the podium ten times.
2007 was undoubtedly one of the hardest seasons of his career. Rossi took four race wins in 2007 and several podiums, but his prodigious talents were limited by technical and tyre problems as well as plain bad luck. The Italian missed out on the runner-up spot in the championship by just one point after his final race was wrecked by injury and third place was his lowest championship finish since his rookie year in 1996.
After a torrid two seasons, Valentino Rossi returned to winning form in 2008 and recaptured the MotoGP title. The Italian won nine races – equal to his first season with Yamaha in 2004 – and stood on the podium at 16 out of 18 rounds. Notable highlights in an exceptional year included a seventh straight win at Mugello, a titanic duel with Casey Stoner in Laguna Seca, where Rossi had never previously won, and a historic victory at hurricane-struck Indianapolis. Rossi eventually took the title in the best possible way, with a victory at Yamaha’s home track in Japan, with three races to go. It was his eighth career title and his third with Yamaha.
The 2009 season saw Valentino Rossi cross more milestones in his incredible career and take a ninth world championship title, his fourth with Yamaha. He showed that after fourteen years of racing in the World Championship he is still the best rider of his generation and worthy of his crown.
The Italian hero took six wins in a season which saw him and his rivals all make mistakes at times as they pushed each other to unexpectedly great heights. Rossi’s battle with his team-mate Jorge Lorenzo reached epic proportions with the Battle of Barcelona due to go down in history as one of the greatest ever, Rossi triumphing with an audacious last-corner move that saw him win by just thousandths of a second.
His incredible run of Mugello victories came to an end but he made up for it with a perfect performance at his home track of Misano when he also took one of his seven pole positions. His victory in Holland was the 100th win of his career, further proof, if any is needed, that he truly is one of the greats. Rossi finally secured the title at Sepang, setting himself up for an opportunity to make it ten in 2010.
Victory in the opening round at Qatar proved a perfect start, but wins for team-mate Lorenzo in the following two events suggested the rivalry forged in 2009 would intensify for 2010. As it happens, the tantalising Yamaha inter-team tussle wouldn’t materialise after Rossi’s season was brought to a sudden stop at Mugello when a practice crash left him nursing a broken leg.
A bitter blow for the Italian – and his fans -, though Rossi defied expectations by returning sooner than expected, he was still sidelined for four events, while he remained in recovery as he raced during the second-half of the season.
Returning to the winners’ circle at Sepang, Rossi did enough to claim third in the overall standings, but it was arch-rival Lorenzo that was celebrating a dominant title victory.
Nonetheless, even if his on-track exploits weren’t grabbing the headlines, Rossi was certainly the subject of column inches off the track as rumours of an impending deal with Ducati continued to persist. Though speculation of the two Italian giants joining forces had been rife for some years, the rumours gained traction in 2010, particularly in the midst of Casey Stoner’s imminent switch to Honda.
After much silence on the subject, it was eventually announced that Rossi would be leaving Yamaha after seven successful seasons together, creating a huge buzz ahead of the new season.
Indeed, all eyes were on Rossi to see whether he could revive Ducati’s fortunes, the manufacturer having been unable to repeat the highs of its 2007 title win, despite Stoner’s best efforts on what he labelled a difficult bike to ride.
With Rossi having raised the stakes with a series of jibes towards Stoner – who suffered several high profile crashes whilst racing Rossi -, reputation was most certainly on the line in 2011.
And yet, while Stoner went on to utterly dominate on the Repsol Honda, the 2011 season would prove something of a career nadir for Rossi as he struggled to get to grips the GP11.
Complaining of a lack of feel from the bike, Rossi raced hard on the bike, but he was never capable of breaching the Yamahas and Hondas ahead, while he was frequently out-qualified by the Ducati privateers. Ducati attempted to resolve the situation with the updated GP11.1, but it signalled no noticeable improvements, leaving Rossi with just one fairly fortuitous podium to show for in seventh overall.
Despite this, Rossi persevered for 2012, pinning his hopes on the upcoming return to 1000cc machinery to revive his fortunes. However, despite significant changes to the bike over the winter, the results would prove much the same for Rossi as he spent much of his year chasing his key rivals.
Highlights included podiums at Le Mans and Misano (both hard fought second place finishes), but rewards throughout the year were relatively scant. Going on to finish the year sixth overall, with little progress having been made in two years, few were surprised when Rossi confirmed persistent rumours that he would be ending an unhappy Ducati tenure after just two seasons in favour of a return to Yamaha.
Though few will likely let Rossi forget his time at Ducati, his return to Yamaha at least heralds an exciting new era for MotoGP. Indeed, though Stoner’s retirement means we won’t get to see the adversaries go up against one another without the spectre of the ‘Ducati-factor’, the arrival of the intriguing Marc Marquez and the progress of Rossi’s former ‘understudy’ Jorge Lorenzo since his departure makes the move one to savour for fans…