Today, on the 16th February 2021, nine-time world champion Valentino Rossi celebrates his 42nd birthday. For the last 20 years, he’s been ‘Mr MotoGP’, winning titles in the 125cc, 250cc, 500cc and MotoGP category. Many men have come to try and best The Doctor. Very few have succeeded. But Valentino Rossi isn’t getting any younger, and his recent results would suggest he isn’t getting any faster either. So is it time Grandad Valentino stepped aside and left the bike racing to the young kids? Or is age just a number? Perhaps VR46 has got plenty left in the tank. This is what I think…
Some say you’re as young as you feel. Others say you’re as young as the woman you feel. In Valentino Rossi’s case, that woman is a smoking hot 27 year old. Fair play. Maybe Rossi feels as though he’s still in his twenties. I don’t know. He’s certainly not enjoying the wins he enjoyed in his twenties. But in amongst a grid full of twenty-somethings (and a few thirty somethings), the old boy doesn’t embarrass himself.
Perhaps one of the reasons Valentino Rossi still manages to ride like someone half his age is because of how well he’s looked after his body. Most 40 year old bike racers are physically fucked. If they aren’t riddled with osteoarthritis, covered in scar tissue and packed full of pins and plates, they’re doing pretty well. Either through luck or judgement, Valentino Rossi has managed to completely avoid smashing himself to bits. Throughout his illustrious career as a motorcycle racer, he has of course, crashed. But his crashes are rare. And when he does crash, he tends to pick himself up and dust himself down. He certainly doesn’t frequent A&E in the same way that some of his rivals do. Cough, MM93, cough.
And even if he doesn’t have the same supersharp fitness as the rest of the boys, he more than makes up for it with experience. There’s nobody else on the MotoGP grid that has been in the premier class for even half the time Valentino Rossi has. He knows the circuits, he knows the bikes. And more importantly, he knows how to develop a bike to get the very best out of it.
So has something happened in the last few years then? Why have his results gone downhill? Is there an argument to say that something has divided his attention? Running the Sky Racing VR46 team (racing in Moto2 and Moto3), is no mean feat as it is. But when you are doing that whilst you’re racing yourself, for the factory Yamaha MotoGP squad, it’s going to take some serious doing.
Or maybe the apparent struggle isn’t anything to do with that. Perhaps Valentino Rossi is just as good as he’s always been, but the rest of the field have upped their game. There’s no doubt that the dominance of Marc Marquez has forced everyone to rethink the way they ride motorbikes. Perhaps the new way of riding is one trick too many for the old dog.
I don’t know. But what I do know is that growing up watching Valentino Rossi race motorbikes has been an absolute joy. From the devastating speed and calculated racecraft, to the weird and wonderful post-race celebrations and wacky helmets. I feel privileged to have been able to watch the master at work, and I know I’m not the only one.
So to all that say it’s time for Valentino Rossi to hang his leathers up, I’m going to have to disagree. He might not be the bookies favourite to take the championship any more, but he’s still the peoples favourite. And he’s still my favourite. He’s still more than fit enough, fast enough and determined enough to race motorbikes at the highest possible level. I say crack on. He’s not doing it for the money, the trophies, the experience. The man’s got more than enough of all that stuff. He’s doing it for the sheer love of it.
Please don’t stop.