Valentino Rossi: The fastest man on two wheels
In the motor sport community, ‘The Doctor’ isn’t a time travelling alien that journeys through space in a Tardis. He is a genius Italian who is the most successful motorbike racer in the modern era.
In the first decade of the 21st century, Valentino Rossi became as dominant on the bike as Michael Schumacher in Formula 1, if not more. During that 10 year period, Rossi claimed the World Title an astonishing seven times in the notoriously unpredictable world of Grand Prix motorcycle racing. If you include his 125cc and 250cc campaigns in the late 90’s with Aprilla, his total comes to nine. In terms of the number of world titles won, Rossi only falls behind fellow Italian Giacomo Agustini.
In the premier class of racing, Rossi has the highest number of wins with 80, the highest number of podium finishes and consecutive podium finishes with 147 and 23 respectively. Perhaps what is the most striking was the number of consecutive race starts he managed over an incredible 11 year period. Between the 2000 South African grand prix and 2010 French grand prix, Rossi took his place on the starting grid for every single one of those races. His consistency both in form and in fitness was remarkable in the modern era with such high pressure put on teams.
The Italian was also able to expertly manage the transition from the old 500cc class in 2001 to the current Moto GP setup that exists today. At just 22 years old, Rossi became the last man to win the 500cc title in 2001. The following year a new system would be put in place to allow manufactures to use engines up to 900cc. Some experts predicted that this would create the most unpredictable title race in years and that Rossi might come unstuck to more experienced campaigners.
In the end, Rossi emerged victorious once again with an even higher number of points than the previous year with his powers of adaptability blowing his rivals Max Biaggi and Tohru Ukawa into the adjacent tyre walls. It proved to be his pinnacle year failing to reach the podium just once in 16 races winning 11 of them. Similar seasons came in 2005 and 2008 – this time with Yamaha – where Rossi collected a total of 640 points over those two seasons. Since the retirement of the previous Italian legend, the Motorcycle world had never seen dominance the like of which Rossi demonstrated. Only Australian Casey Stoner and protégé Jorge Lorenzo could get close to the baby-faced Doctor.
This season saw Rossi see something of a return to form with his beloved Yamaha after two ‘cursed’ seasons with Ducati. Yet, with the young generation of gifted Spaniards in Lorenzo, Dani Pedroza and most of all Marc Marquez look set to dominate the Moto GP circuit for the next decade time might be running out for the 34 year old.
But that does not mean that Rossi may still have a role to play in the short term. His star power continues to draw in casual fans to the sport with Forbes estimating his worth at $22m, by far the highest earner in motorcycling. He has also recently hired a new crew chief in Silvano Galbusera replacing long time engineer Jerry Burgess suggesting his will to try and prolong his career.
However, Rossi has gone on record saying that the first six races of next season will decide his future. If he is still competitive than we can expect Rossi to stick around for at least one more season, if not fans might have to get used to seeing a Moto GP race without its most legendary participant.