until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League


The final snapshots of the real Valentino Rossi

by Simon Patterson
5 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

As Valentino Rossi heads into his final MotoGP race at Valencia this weekend, it brings an end to an illustrious career in which he’s taken nine world championships, 115 race wins and an incredible 235 podiums from the 431 races he’s started.

Despite him winning nearly a quarter of all MotoGP races he’s started since making his premier-class debut in 2000, it’s been a long four years since he last stood on the top step of the podium at Assen in June 2017.

Yet while he might now have endured a long period of what could charitably be referred to as managed decline since then, he’s nonetheless had some moments where he once again became front and centre of the MotoGP stage in the intervening 1600 days.

With retirement beckoning, we’ve looked back on some of the final snapshots of the greatness that made him the sport’s biggest star ever.

Germany 2018


In the early part of the 2018 season, it really looked like we’d found the old Rossi again.

He’d obviously been strong in 2016 and 2017, taking race wins and a handful of podiums in the previous years, but 2018 started off on an altogether different note with a really impressive run of consistency.

Four times a podium finisher in the opening eight races of the year and never finishing worse than fifth (apart from a crash in Argentina), he went to Germany a long way distant from championship leader Marc Marquez but nonetheless still sitting the best of the rest in second.

And while no one was ever likely to beat Marquez – a feat that literally no MotoGP racer has managed at the Sachsenring – Rossi did once again manage to be better than everyone else, coming home half a second ahead of Yamaha team-mate Maverick Vinales for second place.

However, that was the last great result of 2018, unfortunately, as mounting issues at Yamaha and a drop off in his pace started a decline. Not taking another podium that year, Rossi ended the season in third after a late charge from Andrea Dovizioso.

Malaysia 2018


But while he might not have had another podium that year, he did come ever so close to taking what would have been an incredible win, following a textbook start to proceedings at the Malaysian Grand Prix in the closing stages of the year.

Qualifying on the front row at Sepang, Rossi got the holeshot from the line and absolutely looked to be in control of the race despite the best efforts of Marquez to hunt down Rossi and his fellow Yamaha rider Johann Zarco.

Having dismissed Zarco, all Marquez could do was keep the pressure on Rossi and see what happened – and that would prove enough to win the race.

Just as it looked like we were set for an incredible climax to the battle, Rossi made a rare error – crashing out of the lead with four laps to go.

Americas 2019


As with the Sachsenring the year prior, it was basically a given at the Circuit of the Americas that the only man likely to beat Marquez was Marquez. But that’s exactly what happened, when Marquez fell from the race lead and left an open goal for the most unlikely of characters – Rossi.

Riding at a track that in theory isn’t particularly Yamaha-friendly, he nonetheless put himself into the ideal position to capitalise on Marquez’s error with a strong attack in the opening stages. As Rossi eked out a lead over the chasing back, only Suzuki rider Alex Rins, then still without a race win to his name, looked to have a chance to stop the dream from coming true.

Yet that’s exactly what he managed, breaking yellow hearts in the closing laps by overtaking one of his former heroes and denying Rossi premier class win number 90. Still though, second was nothing to be sniffed at, and it was a happy Italian who stood alongside the first-time winner on the podium.

Jerez 2020


The most recent of his moments of glory, it’s actually almost hard to remember now that Rossi was last on the podium only last season.

He was aided a little bit by luck as his two proteges Franco Morbidelli and Pecco Bagnaia both suffered rare mechanical failures in front of him, but you nonetheless have to be in it to win it, and a strong weekend for Rossi had left him in the perfect position to take maximum advantage.

He quickly leaned into the moment too, reminding us not only of his old speed but also of why he’s the sport’s breakout star, celebrating in front of the grandstands in old-school Rossi style – even though COVID meant that the race was taking place behind closed doors and he was taking a bow in front of maybe only the ghosts of memories past.

Unfortunately, it was very much the last on-track moment worth really celebrating, with a run of bad luck starting soon after that culminated in a coronavirus diagnosis of his own that started a precipitous slide towards the back of the grid.

Catalunya 2020


Before that slide reached its peak, though, there was one more glimpse of the old Rossi in 2020 – when he rather miraculously looked to be one of the few men capable of stopping Fabio Quartararo on one of his strong days.

A sgood start on a weekend that up to that point had looked like his strongest of the season, Rossi was quick to get engaged in the battle for the lead with Morbidelli, Quartararo and Jack Miller – and arguably only contact between Miller and Rossi allowed Quartararo to assume control.

But he didn’t get away cleanly, with a pursuing Rossi right on his tail – until an error at Turn 2 left him sitting in the gravel and ruing what might have been on what looks to have been his last chance of a race win.

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