Hope to be remembered as a great rider: Valentino Rossi
Come March 28, that famous No.46 bike was lining up with other riders in Qatar to commence yet another season of MotoGP—his 22nd—much to the glee of his millions of fans.
Out of contract at the end of the pandemic ravaged 2020 MotoGP season, there was speculation that seven-time world champion Valentino Rossi would retire after two decades of premier class racing, ending a period which will quite probably be known as the ‘Rossi era’ in the time to come. But ‘The Doctor’ had other plans. Come March 28, that famous No.46 bike was lining up with other riders in Qatar to commence yet another season of MotoGP—his 22nd—much to the glee of his millions of fans.
The 42-year-old is enthusiastic as ever about the new season, a new team and racing despite the pandemic, discussing his legacy, love for four-wheel racing and the return of Marc Marquez among other things in a video call with HT from Rimini, Italy. Excerpts:
You missed two races last year after testing Covid-19 positive. How have you been coping? How is life in the bio-bubble?
Covid has changed our lives in a bad way. From last year everything changed, not just MotoGP but life in general. It was difficult to manage. The championship started in July, we had to stay three months closed at home, it was a really boring situation. After (the season started) we had to do a lot of back-to-back races on the same tracks, could not go out of Europe so 2020 was deeply affected by Covid. We're still in trouble after one year but the situation looks better. The championship can be more normal, we can race more or less in all the tracks and we go to Europe in the right period of the season. Everything is more difficult to organise; travel, flights, everything. But it is like this and we hope that (the pandemic) can end as soon as possible and we come back to normal life.
After eight years with Yahama your move to Petronas Yamaha SRT hasn’t started well with 12th, 16th and a retirement in the first three races.
Yes, this year I race for Petronas. It’s a new experience for me but I feel very good in the team. It’s a great place, the atmosphere is good, everybody has a lot of motivation. Unfortunately the first races have not been fantastic. I was not very fast, not strong enough. And now MotoGP has become very difficult because everybody is so strong. The last race (Portuguese GP) was a bit better but unfortunately I did a mistake (and crashed out) but now we return to the track I know very well (Spanish GP in Jerez on Sunday). We have to try and be stronger.
2020 was a unique season: Covid-19, six-time champion Marc Marquez out with injury and Joan Mir winning the world title with just one victory. How do you see this year shaping up with Marquez returning?
Yes last year Mir won just one race but he was competitive more or less everywhere and at the end he won the championship. This year is a bit different because the championship is longer, there are more races, Marquez has come back. But at this moment after three races, the guy more in shape, the guy on fire is Fabio Quartararo. He has already won two races and is very strong and would be very hard to beat.
What drives you even after two decades of MotoGP, seven world titles and 89 wins? Does the challenge of riding against the new generation spur you?
For me the biggest motivation is that I like to ride the MotoGP bike. I like this life, I like to work with my team, work with top level guys. If we work well we can be faster. For this reason I continue. The new generation of riders is very strong. They are more ready and more professional so it’s very difficult because they have a lot of motivation.
Which rivalry do you savour the most?
It’s difficult to say but I’ll say three names. The biggest battles I did were with Max Biaggi, Jorge Lorenzo and also Casey Stoner. With Biaggi it was a long, long battle but I remember 2001 very well—the last year with 500cc, 2stroke engines; that year is one of the best of my career. We also fought a long time with Lorenzo when we were teammates. The best was 2009 when we fought for the championship. At the same time I remember very well (our battles) with Stoner in 2008 when he was with Ducati. These three seasons are unforgettable for me. Also 2004, when I won the first time with Yamaha.
How has racing evolved in the last two decades in terms of riders?
The level has risen very much technically because now all the manufacturers work very much for improved bikes. But the riders are more prepared, they train more, they are ready for all the tracks. Then the people working around MotoGP (shown on Eurosport in India). We have a lot of great engineers now, tyre choices, engine development—everything is very important. They use a lot of power. Every year MotoGP is becoming more of the Formula 1 of motorcycles (in terms of technology).
Giacomo Agostini has eight titles, you have seven. Do you see Marquez, with six, overtaking both of you?
Marquez is very strong. He’s still young and has already won a lot. But there are a lot of other riders who are young and have a lot of motivation. So it’ll be a great fight in the next years.
What kind of legacy do you want to leave behind?
I hope to be remembered as a great rider. I think I’ll continue (in) MotoGP because when I stop we can organise a team in the next few years. We work hard with VR46 (Rossi owned team) in Moto3 and Moto2. Also we’ll work to help young Italian riders to arrive in MotoGP at the VR46 Academy. I’ll continue with these projects.
You tested the Ferrari more than a decade back. You swapped vehicles with Lewis Hamilton in 2019. Did you not want to be the John Surtees of the 21st century?
Yes I was very close, especially at the end of 2006 for a change. We had a project with Ferrari but didn’t happen because I wanted to remain in MotoGP. I love car racing but motorcycle is my first passion. When I stop with MotoGP I want to race cars like in 24 Hours of Le Mans but for sure not F1 because I am too old!