Updated: Jan 22
A few months back I was interviewing SJ from SJ Racing, and this topic was brought up. At the time Valentino Rossi, arguably the best Moto GP rider the world has ever seen, had just announced his retirement from MotoGP, and that the 2021 season would be his last. Immediately I saw chatter online about Valentino staying too long in a sport that had passed him by. Now I don't know about you but if that man wanted to die of old age on a motorcycle while racing to a "dead last" finish, sorry for the pun, then he is more than welcome to.
Let's go over a bit of the man's background. We will only be talking about his top level racing. Let's leave out his 2 world championships from his lower levels. Rossi started racing MotoGP during the series' 2002 inaugural year. Before that he still had raced and won a championship at the top level. In 2002 there was a change and MotoGP had begun. You can say this was like the change into the hybrid era in F1. Lewis Hamilton's rookie year was impressive but Valentino's first season was damn near flawless. He took pole for the first five races of the year, scored 8 wins in the first 9 races, and won 11 races in the entirty of the 16 race season. This resulted in the championship win. At this point in his career, if you didn't already know Mr. Valentino Rossi then you did now.
Rossi evolved, yes I said evolved, from that first season of MotoGP into an eventual 7 time world champion. He started 372 races with 89 wins, 199 podiums, 55 poles, and a grand total of 5415 points. The man is a freak of nature. A once in three lifetimes rider that I will never see again in my lifetime. Each sporting great seems to have another great follow in their footsteps. In Valentino's case, no one is in the same galaxy let alone being on the same planet.
Valentino's last championship was in 2009 while racing for Yamaha. 2 years later he found himself spear heading the attempted rebirth of Ducati. The push was terrible and short lived. Rossi jumped back to Yamaha and powered back up the grid to finish 2nd for three straight years. Not quite like the Buffalo Bills but close. The last two years of his career Rossi finished 15th and 18th. His last podium season finish was in 2018.
Now that I've brought you up to speed I will go on to say this. In the first 20 years of his career in MotoGP, from 2000 until 2019 the lowest Rossi finished in the championship was 7th. If that sounded negative then take into account that within the same time he had 7 championships, 5 2nd place finishes, and 3 third place finishes. There was a total of 5 times where he did not finish on the season podium. It wasn't until 2020, which was a horrible year period, where Valentino seemed to completely fall off. Uncharacteristic mistakes, the world's covid hysteria, and what seemed to be old age caught up with him.
Rossi called it quits exactly when he should have. His career in MotoGP was phenominal and he has not called racing quits at all. He has joined the Belgian WRT race team, where he will be racing an Audi R8 in GT World Challenge Europe. Not only can he race a car, he is dangerous in a car. The talk is the he should not be underestimated. Their season has not yet started, but it goes without saying that I can't wait to see how he does.
If you haven't been convinced by now that Valentino walked away from the sport with his reputation and legacy fully intact then I don't know what you are thinking. The numbers speak for themselves. No one is going to remember the last two years of Rossi's 22 year career. Especially after he waltzs in to the GT Challenge and places well. Personally I will remember that young kid that burst onto the scene with a massive smile, a head full of hair, and all of his championships on the horizon. I hope that future generations eventually get to see another raw talent like Valentino Rossi.