It's official. After 26 seasons of grand prix racing and nine world championships, Valentino Rossi will hang up his MotoGP leathers at the end of the 2021 season.

The news was officially confirmed during a special press conference on Thursday afternoon at the Styrian MotoGP in Austria.

True to his word, Rossi said his future would be decided by results and, with a best of tenth place during the opening half of his debut season with Petronas Yamaha, the decision was effectively made for him.

Nonetheless, Saudi Arabia's Prince Abdulaziz bin Abdullah bin Saud bin AbdulAziz Al Saud had been openly pushing for Rossi to continue his career by joining brother Luca Marini at the new Aramco-backed VR46 Ducati team in 2022.

But Rossi warned that would be 'very difficult' and the most famous motorcycle racer in history will instead bow out at the end of this season.

"I've decided to stop at the end of this season so unfortunately this will be my last half-season as a MotoGP rider," Rossi said.

"It’s difficult. It's a sad moment, because it's difficult to say and to know that next year I will not race with a motorcycle. I've done this for more-or-less 30 years! So next year my life will change.

"But anyway it was great. I enjoyed it very much. It was a long, long journey. Really funny. 26 years in the world championship. I've had unforgettable moments with all my team and all my guys that worked for me.

"In all sports, results make the difference, so at the end it's the right way. I had the chance to race for my team in MotoGP together with my brother next year, something that for sure I like. But anyway it's okay like this I think… I can't complain about my career!"

Rossi picked out the 2001 (final 500cc title), 2004 (debut Yamaha title) and 2008 ("when some people thought I was already too old") world championships as his personal highlights. He has no real regrets over the disappointing Ducati years but does rue missing out on a tenth world title, which he felt he deserved, twice losing at the final round.

On paper, Rossi's results have gradually faded since finishing title runner-up to team-mate Jorge Lorenzo in a bitter end to the 2015 season.

Although the Italian again finished title runner-up (for a third time in a row and fifth time in his premier-class career) at the start of the Michelin era in 2016, his race wins were reduced from four to two.

What looks like being Rossi's final win came at Assen 2017, a record 89th in the premier-class, with his podium tally then descending from 5 to 2 to 1 over the subsequent seasons.

Absent from the rostrum since Jerez last July, Rossi hasn't competed at the front of a race since Catalunya last September (or, coincidentally or not, since being diagnosed with Covid last October).

However, he's far from the only rider to struggle on the current Yamaha.

Only his factory team replacement Fabio Quartararo has been consistently competitive on the M1 this season and, of the six races Rossi has finished, he has been classified ahead of at least one other Yamaha on four occasions.

While we know the final chapter for Rossi as a rider will end in 2021, another era will start in 2022 when his VR46 MotoGP team makes its debut. But while bearing his name, Rossi has indicated he won't take on a formal position in the running of the team.

Instead, Rossi is likely to be seen indulging his passion for four-wheel racing, particularly GT cars.

"When I finish with the MotoGP I want to race with the cars," Rossi said earlier this season. "I’m a rally fanatic and did a world championship event, but for me rallying is difficult, it’s very demanding and I want to race on a circuit because I like it more.

"I have experience racing with GT3 (sports cars) which is an important and interesting category because it has a lot of different factory cars from Ferrari, Porsche, Bentley, Aston Martin and everything.

"So I think I will race with that type of car when I stop with MotoGP.

"But I don’t know in which championship – there's the Endurance championship, the (Le Mans) 24 hours - but I hope to race somewhere there."

Meanwhile, it is not clear who will now get the remaining VR46 MotoGP seat.

The team's Moto2 rider Marco Bezzecchi - initially the favourite should Rossi decline the ride – is now hotly tipped for a Petronas Yamaha seat, the team seeking 'young riders' to revive its past success with Fabio Quartararo and Franco Morbidelli.

Rossi's former team-mate Maverick Vinales is also now available, although it would mean ending the tradition of VR46 fielding its own Academy riders and Vinales, a previous target of Ducati boss Gigi Dall’Igna, is still expected to join Aprilia.

Valentino Rossi's career: 1996-2021

Rossi made his grand prix debut back in the 125cc class in 1996, winning the title the following season, followed by the 250cc crown in 1999, again with Aprilia. That propelled the #46, son of former racer Graziano Rossi, into the premier-class with Honda in 2000, racing the likes of Kenny Roberts on 500cc machinery.

The early years of his MotoGP career, with Honda and then Yamaha, were characterised by famous and sometimes bitter battles with Max Biaggi and Sete Gibernau, then the 'new generation' of Dani Pedrosa, Casey Stoner, Jorge Lorenzo and finally Marc Marquez.

All but Marquez have long since retired, while Rossi continued to challenge rivals that, in many cases, were not even born when he began grand prix racing.

Rossi's premier-class career can be divided into many chapters, each of which would normally consume an entire career, including:

Winning the last 500cc title and first MotoGP crowns with Honda. A sensational switch and instant success at Yamaha in 2004. Fighting back after defeat at the hands of Nicky Hayden and Casey Stoner in 2006 and 2007 to be world champion in 2008 and 2009. The doomed Ducati years in 2011 and 2012, then a triumphant return to Yamaha and final title assault in 2015.

In the process he has won races with 500cc two-strokes, 990cc, 800cc and 1000cc four-strokes, Michelin and Bridgestone tyres, open and control electronics.

Valentino Rossi's Place In Grand Prix History

Rossi is the only rider on the current grid to have raced in the now defunct 125cc, 250cc and 500cc two-stroke classes and the only person in the present line-up to have finished above a fully-fit Marc Marquez in the MotoGP World Championship.

That came during the heated 2015 campaign, when Lorenzo and Rossi were one-two in the standings, inflicting Marquez's only 'on-track' title defeat to date. The Spaniard then missed most of 2020 and the start of 2021 due to arm injuries.

Rossi has won 115 times across all grand prix classes, putting him second only to compatriot Giacomo Agostini (122), while Rossi's nine titles places him joint third in the history books behind Agostini (15) and Angel Nieto (13).

In terms of the premier 500cc/MotoGP class, Rossi's seven championships may be one less than Agostini, but his 89 race wins is comfortably clear of the 68 for 'Ago'. Six-time MotoGP champion Marc Marquez is currently third on 57 wins. Rossi has also taken 199 podiums.

Those are bare statistics, but Rossi was also a natural born entertainer, his huge popularity playing a pivotal role in the growth of MotoGP itself.

Despite dwindling success in recent years, Rossi fans still outnumber all others at most venues around the world and it remains to be seen what impact his departure will have on the sport in general.

"The difference between me and all the other great riders in MotoGP history is this," Rossi said. "Because, sincerely I don’t know why, but for some reason I was able to bring a lot of people close to motorcycle racing. That without me they wouldn’t know MotoGP or 125, 250. Especially in Italy. I did something in my early career that switched on the emotion of normal people. I’m proud of this. It’s something really special."

VALENTINO ROSSI - CAREER SUMMARY

YEAR

CLASS

BIKE

POSITION

1996

125cc

Aprilia

9th

1997

125cc

Aprilia

World Champion

1998

250cc

Aprilia

2nd

1999

250cc

Aprilia

World Champion

2000

500cc

Honda

2nd

2001

MotoGP

Honda

World Champion

2002

MotoGP

Honda

World Champion

2003

MotoGP

Honda

World Champion

2004

MotoGP

Yamaha

World Champion

2005

MotoGP

Yamaha

World Champion

2006

MotoGP

Yamaha

2nd

2007

MotoGP

Yamaha

3rd

2008

MotoGP

Yamaha

World Champion

2009

MotoGP

Yamaha

World Champion

2010

MotoGP

Yamaha

3rd*

2011

MotoGP

Ducati

7th

2012

MotoGP

Ducati

6th

2013

MotoGP

Yamaha

4th

2014

MotoGP

Yamaha

2nd

2015

MotoGP

Yamaha

2nd

2016

MotoGP

Yamaha

2nd

2017

MotoGP

Yamaha

5th

2018

MotoGP

Yamaha

3rd

2019

MotoGP

Yamaha

7th

2020

MotoGP

Yamaha

15th**

2021

MotoGP

Yamaha

19th***

* Suffered broken leg at Mugello.

**Missed two races after contracting Covid-19.

*** After nine rounds.