until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League


Rossi’s decline vindicates his MotoGP retirement

by Simon Patterson
4 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Valentino Rossi’s retirement from MotoGP after 22 seasons of racing in the premier class is not the news that many fans wanted to hear – yet it feels like the right time for the seven-time world champion to step down as he races through what is very much the twilight of an illustrious career.

The past few years have been tough on The Doctor, at least on track. After never finishing worse than fourth in the premier class championship except for two failed years at Ducati where he was still sixth and seventh, he came home in seventh again in 2019, before slumping to 15th in 2020. Halfway through 2021, he sits 19th, a huge 139 points from championship leader Fabio Quartararo.

Lucky to inherit third at Jerez last year when both Franco Morbidelli and Pecco Bagnaia (ironically two of his proteges) broke down in front of him, he managed only two trips to the podium the year prior. You have to look even further back through the record books for his last win, which was all the way at Assen in 2017, four years and a month ago.

Quite simply, Rossi is no longer a top class racer. He has faded (perhaps gracefully, perhaps not, depending on which particular rider you cheer for), and given his form in the past year, with a single top 10 in the past 17 races, it’s hard to imagine that he’s going to turn it around in his remaining races.

So what exactly has gone wrong for Rossi? Well, arguably, nothing at all beyond the one thing that none of us can escape: old age. He’s now more than 10 years older than the second oldest rider on the grid (32-year-old Aleix Espargaro), and two decades older than 23-year old reigning world champion Joan Mir or championship leader Quartararo.

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Rossi’s pace hasn’t tailed off dramatically. Take Jerez, for example: in 2020, Rossi finished third in the race with a time of 41m28.212s. Less than 12 months later in 2021, he completed the race only 0.101s slower – but finished outside the points in 17th place.

But the harsh reality is that it’s difficult to stay treading water in the dog eat dog world of modern MotoGP. Everyone is pushing their absolute hardest every single session of every race weekend. It’s the closest that the championship has ever been, and as a result, it’s a sink or swim situation – simply being as good as always isn’t good enough to succeed.

And where the Rossi of the past was able to make up for lost time, it seems that the 42-year-old is as likely now to make mistakes as he is to secure a good result while trying to go beyond the limit.


At his peak, a Rossi crash was a rarity. Look back at his record from his golden days, and failing to finish a race almost never happened: he crashed out of 11 races in his first nine seasons of MotoGP with Honda and Yamaha. In the past three years alone, he’s crashed out of 12. In fact, seven of those falls have come in the past 15 races that Rossi has started – an almost 50% DNF rate compared to nearly a decade of averaging just 7%.

And in reality, that’s why retirement was the only sensible call that Rossi could have made after what we’ve witnessed in the opening half of 2021. It’s hard to argue that the problems he’s facing come from the Yamaha M1, when Quartararo is currently leading the points standings on an identical bike.

Even the step down from the factory Yamaha team to the satellite Petronas Yamaha squad can’t really be blamed, considering Quartararo and Morbidelli won three races apiece for the squad in 2020 and Morbidelli finished second overall in the championship.

So the idea that a switch to Ducati and his own VR46 team would somehow address the issues he’s facing is wishful thinking. The problem, clearly, isn’t with the bike, it’s with the rider – which is really nothing less than what should be expected given that it’s hard to name any other athlete in top level motorsport (or indeed sport of any kind) who has kept a competitive edge for as long as Rossi has.

And knowing that his sole reason these days for continuing is that he loves the buzz of racing and competition, you can understand how he’s reached his decision, too. There simply can’t be much fun in running around outside the points when you’ve lived the life that Rossi has experienced.

Even more, there’s the lure of being competitive elsewhere. He can join a car racing championship like (as strong rumours suggest) the World Endurance Championship, and he can find his love of racing again there. Well deserved, after nearly three decades of entertainment!

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