Valentino Rossi's decision to remain on slick tyres in the rain meant the Italian was suddenly holding a podium place, from 18th on the grid, with just two laps to go in Sunday's Austrian MotoGP.

If he held on it would have been a landmark 200th premier-class rostrum, at the end of the Red Bull Ring events where he had confirmed his retirement at the end of this season.

But the dream was not to be.

The rain - which had briefly paused, slowing the recovery of the leading riders that had changed to wets - returned with a vengeance for the final laps.

Brad Binder hung on for a remarkable slick victory but the 'dry' group behind comprising of Aleix Espargaro, Rossi, Iker Lecuona and Luca Marini were swamped on the final lap.

"It was an unbelievable race, because the crossing point between the guys that remained with the slicks and us guys that changed to wets came in the last three corners. So it was very exciting," smiled Rossi.

The 42-year-old may have been demoted to eighth place at the flag, but it was still his best result of a difficult season and a clear gain prior to the rain.

"I decided not to stop because there were just 5 laps remaining and it was the right choice because I improved my position," said the Petronas Yamaha rider. "At a certain point I was also on the podium so it was quite exciting! But the last 2 laps were difficult because we had more rain.

"Usually, you would never continue [on slicks] like this. But the rain started very slowly and if you enter the pits you lose one minute. At first only Turn 3 and Turn 6 were wet, but the rest was dry still. So you could keep a good temperature in the brakes and in the tyres.

"But the last lap and a half was very difficult because the bike started to spin everywhere and it's very easy to make a mistake, so you need to ride very smooth. But at the end not to stop was the right decision.

"It's a good result. We take some points and it's important for me and the team in a difficult moment. So we go back home from the two Austrias that on paper are the most difficult weekends with a decent race and some points, so we are happy."


Younger brother Luca Marini went on to win the battle among Rossi's group, crossing the line in fifth place and as the next highest slick rider after Binder. Lecuona was sixth, followed by world championship leader Fabio Quartararo (wets) and Rossi.

The battling slick trio of Marini, Lecuona and Rossi stopped to celebrate together after reaching the finish.

"It was a great moment [after the flag]," said Rossi. "With Luca, we know that we can have a battle today because in all the practice we had more-or-less the same pace. At the end have also Lecuona and sincerely we enjoy.

"The problem is that I am double their age, I'm the same age as Lecuona and my brother combined! But I think this is a positive thing. We enjoy, we laugh and also my brother was very happy because it's his best result. And at the end he beat me. F**k! We will try another time in Silverstone.

"Anyway in our group, I think Luca wanted to go into the pits but after he saw me [stay out] and also Lecuona saw me continue and I think they changed their idea and came with me. So I think they have to say thanks!"

They weren't the only ones.

The circuit and fans, allowed back to the track in large numbers for the first time since the pandemic, gave Rossi a rapturous farewell on the slowdown lap, following his final MotoGP appearance in Austria.


"It's the first time that we have a full circuit with the fans again. There was a good atmosphere and a lot of people with yellow t-shirts and caps," Rossi said. "The lap after the flag was very emotional, also the circuit saying 'thank you' with the flag under the helicopter and in the KTM grandstand."

Rossi won't be the only one leaving the Sepang team at the end of this season with title sponsor Petronas also announcing its withdraw in Austria.

The Doctor will stay linked with MotoGP through the new VR46 team entry in 2022, although mystery still surrounds details of the Saudi Arabian side of the deal. Aramco has been announced as backing the project, but a planned press conference hosted by the Saudi prince is yet to materialise.

"The program is for VR46 to organise the team and try to be there next year. This is what I know at this moment, because I was quite busy in this period," Rossi said. "Maybe you have to speak with other guys to have more details, but we hope that everything is good."

Temporary team-mate Cal Crutchlow, replacing the injured Franco Morbidelli for a second weekend, finished 17th and last.

Should the Maverick Vinales-Yamaha suspension prove permanent, Crutchlow is tipped to moved to the factory team for the next Silverstone round, with Petronas promoting its Moto2 rider Jake Dixon for a surprise MotoGP debut.