Last Dance: Farewell Valentino Rossi


How does one measure the success of a sportsperson? In a numbers-driven sport like MotoGP, it should be fairly simple – the more races and championships you’ve won, the more successful you are. By that metric, Valentino Rossi, with 89 victories in the premier class, towers above everyone else. Closest to his record is Giacomo Agostini, with 68 premier class wins to his name. And Rossi’s seven premier class championships are second only to Agostini’s eight.

Throw a little subjectivity into the mix, and you could argue that each season had far fewer races in Agostini’s time (the 1960s and 1970s), giving him less opportunities to add to his tally. But then Vale, as he’s affectionately called, has raced against a far greater depth of talent and had to face stiffer competition. The debate can go on endlessly, but what can’t be argued is that Rossi is one of the most successful riders in the history of the sport.

But not for his race wins or championships. No.


So, for what then? Well, beyond the sheer volume of victories and world titles, one of Rossi’s more impressive records is the fact that he has the longest winning career in Grand Prix history. It was in August 1996 that he took his first victory, a year before I was even born. And as I exited my teenage years in June 2017, The Doctor was still winning.

Across a period of 25 years, Vale has kept collecting trophies, continuously evolving his mind, his body and his technique to try and remain competitive on a host of different bikes that are ever-more physical to ride, and against quicker and fitter riders that are ever-more difficult to beat. Rivals have made their Grand Prix debuts after him and retired before him. But that’s not what makes him the most successful. No.

Action, reaction

Valentino Rossi’s greatest success comes as much from his own actions as it does from the reactions that he has been able to evoke from others. His biggest success has been bringing MotoGP into the mainstream. Sure, the sport had its fans long before Rossi came onto the scene. But most of them were ones who knew how to rejet a carburettor and adjust contact points for an ignition system – hardcore motorcycle aficionados, anoraks, call them what you like.

There will always be fast and talented riders in the sport, but Rossi provided the perfect blend of on-track performance and off-track charisma that could get a layperson interested in the sport. A nail-biting last-lap overtake to secure the win followed by a flamboyant and captivating celebration ceremony on the victory lap is a sure-fire recipe for repeat watchers.

Little by little, and then heaps at a time, Rossi added to the number of people glued to their televisions, yelling and jumping out of their seats on Sunday afternoons. Somewhere along the way, I jumped on the bandwagon too. And he did all this while remaining thoroughly authentic and unapologetically true to himself. With a magnetic personality that has the ability to transcend the barriers of television and distance, every one of his interviews made you feel like you were right there, being addressed personally as his age-old friend.

Speaking ahead of his final MotoGP race, Rossi acknowledged this, “I think that the most positive thing in my career is that a lot of people started to follow MotoGP to follow my career from the beginning, and the sport became bigger, more famous in Italy, and also all around the world.”

“It’s good to understand that during my career, I became something different, something like an icon and this is a great pleasure. Also for a rider it’s more important what happens on track, the result, everything. But I think this is the best thing of my career.”

Peer praise

The most important reactions aren’t from the fans, though. Rossi’s retirement announcement earlier this year triggered an outpouring of farewell messages from paddock personalities and on-track rivals, present and former. Messages that are a greater testament to Vale’s eminence than any number of trophies or records. Messages from men who’ve raced against him, spent time with him, and many from those who didn’t necessarily get along very well with him.

To me, the most memorable of all these messages is Jorge Lorenzo’s tip of the hat. Lorenzo was Rossi’s teammate from 2008 to 2010 and then again from 2013 to 2016. Teammate is rather misleading, because Lorenzo was arguably Rossi’s most bitter rival, with the two of them even erecting a physical wall in the pit-box to separate their territories.

Captioning a picture of himself with Rossi, Casey Stoner and Dani Pedrosa, Lorenzo simply said, “End of an era. On the track the 4 of us were just as fast, but in terms of charisma and transcendence, Rossi is at the level of Jordan, Woods, Ali or Senna. Enjoy this new chapter, legend!”

And that’s why Valentino Rossi is the G.O.A.T.

The Valencia GP will be broadcasted live this weekend on Eurosport and Discovery+

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