However, if you looked deep enough into his eyes you could see something still burning – he just wanted to get on with his job, which was taking a motorcycle to the edge of oblivion, not getting slapped on the back.
Friday gave no hint of what was to come. He finished the first day of his last GP dead last, almost 1.4 seconds off the pace. Perhaps finishing his last race in last place would be fitting…
But Friday’s results sheets deceived – they said he had given up but in fact he hadn’t.
“We worked well with my team and from Saturday morning the bike was really improved. I started to feel better from FP3 – this was very important.”
At the end of FP3 he grabbed a tow from VR46 Academy rider and man-of-the-moment Pecco Bagnaia, which lifted him to tenth fastest, taking him direct into the Q2 session. During Q2 he again used Bagnaia – boss’s perks – to tow him around and put him tenth on the grid.
Of course, on Sunday there was no magical charge from the third row to the podium, as in days of old, because, like he said at Valencia in 2006, “superheroes only exist in movies, real life is different”.
“I closed my career with the top ten riders in the world and this is so important for me”
From there Rossi held off Franco Morbidelli, who in 2013 became the very first VR46 rider and four years later the first VR46 world champion. Morbidelli was amazed by his mentor’s riding, just like they were thrashing around the VR46 Motor Ranch.
“In the race I felt the motivation and concentration like I had to play for the championship, because the last race is very important, because you will never forget it,” Rossi added. “It was a great emotion for me. I rode very well, I never made any mistakes and gave the maximum from beginning to end.”
Because this is what really mattered to Rossi – not the applause, not the worship, but the result.
He finished the race 13 seconds behind Bagnaia, a difference of less than half a second a lap, and 20 seconds better than his previous race at Valencia last November.