Valentino Rossi’s MotoGP farewell: ‘f**k, it’s my last race and I don’t want to arrive last!’


Valentino Rossi’s 2021 MotoGP form suggested he would cruise into retirement at Valencia, but he went down fighting to the end

Valentino Rossi in front of fans at his final MotogP race in Valencia 2021

Rossi didn’t win his last race but he fought hard in front of the yellow-tinged grandstands

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Emotions ran high at Valencia on Sunday afternoon – at one point it looked like the river of tears flowing from the grandstands surrounding Ricardo Tormo circuit might bring out the rain flags at Turn 6. But seriously, there were tears. And lots of them.

Because Valentino Rossi is no longer a MotoGP rider.

The grizzled veteran of MotoGP started his grand prix career in February 1996, during 125cc pre-season testing, a lifetime ago.

The reigning MotoGP world champion wasn’t even born when Rossi screamed his Aprilia RS125R out of pit lane at Jerez that day. Neither was last year’s MotoGP world champion. And this year’s Moto3 world champion didn’t come into this world until a few days after Rossi achieved the victory that cemented his legend – the Africa GP in April 2004, when he became the first (and so far, only) rider to win back-to-back premier-class races on different brands of motorcycle.

“It’s very easy when you’ve said, ‘OK, I’m stopping,’ to give up,”

There had never been another rider like him and there may never be another like him.

The entire Valencia weekend seemed dedicated to the man – the paddock and grandstands tinged yellow throughout. But what stood out above all the hype and hoo-ha was Rossi’s riding.

Anyone could’ve forgiven the nine-times world champion for cruising through his 432nd and final grand prix weekend, surfing the waves of adulation, because his previous few outings had suggested there was little fight left in him.

At Silverstone, Aragon and Misano, where he suffered two bruising high-speed crashes, he finished outside the points, the first time he’d done that in three consecutive races. And he started both Misano races and COTA from the back row of the grid. He seemed to be drifting into retirement, with no desire to visit the Clinica Mobile again, and who could blame him?

But Rossi wasn’t going to go out like that. Because although he’s no longer a motorcycle racer he is still a racer. The only difference is that his future racetrack endeavours will be undertaken with an extra pair of wheels.

Valentino Rossi is carried by his team after his final MotoGP race

“After the race we did some serious casino and we enjoyed it, like I’d won the championship!”

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“It’s very easy when you’ve said, ‘OK, I’m stopping,’ to give up,” said the 42-year-old, who announced his retirement at August’s Styrian GP. “But after Portugal [his penultimate race] I spoke with my team and I said, ‘f**k, in Valencia we have to give the maximum because it’s the worst track for me and it’s the last race and I don’t want to arrive last’.

“It was very important to make a good result, but it wasn’t easy, because already from Monday I had a lot of pressure, a lot of things to do, but I wanted to try, because most important for me was to be strong in the race.”

“In the race I felt the motivation and concentration like I had to play for the championship”

One of Rossi’s greatest strengths is to compartmentalise things, so he can deal with multiple situations like very few others.

All weekend at Valencia he had events to attend, from the unveiling of his five title-winning bikes to a media conference attended by pretty much the entire MotoGP grid. This seemingly went on forever, with journalists asking questions, then fans connected via Zoom telling their hero how he had somehow saved them from lives of illness or homelessness.

Rossi was Rossi throughout: totally professional, always good-humoured and always replying to each question with a better answer. And not a single tear shed, because you don’t get to win 115 GPs without ice running through your veins.

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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.

Valentino Rossi in front of fans after his final MotoGP race

Rossi fans and the rest of the grid gathered after the race to greet him one last time as a MotoGP rider

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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”.

He briefly ran ninth, got relegated to tenth by Brad Binder, then to 11th by Enea Bastianini, then Alex Rins returned him to the top ten by obligingly sliding off shortly before half-distance.

“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.

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“It was more positive than we expected and I finished in the top ten, so this was my best race of the season and I enjoyed it very much. It means I closed my career with the top ten riders in the world and this is so important for me, it means a lot.”

During the slowdown lap most of the grid stopped to celebrate with the man who had singlehandedly transformed MotoGP from niche to mainstream, thereby affecting every single one of their careers, to a greater or lesser extent.

Back in his garage it all kicked off, just like it did in the good old days. He was tossed into the air by his crew, VR46 staff and friends, who threatened to bring down the whole pit complex with their racket. Rossi loved every minute of it, but still no tears.

“After the race we did some serious casino and we enjoyed it, like I’d won the championship. It was something I’ll never forget.”

Valentino Rossi with his championship winning motorbikes

Rossi’s title winners, from left: 2009, 2008, 2005 and 2004 Yamaha YZR-M1s, 2003 and 2002 Honda RC211Vs, 2001 Honda NSR500, 1999 Aprilia RSW250 and 1997 Aprilia RS125R


As always, Rossi appreciated the love from those immediately around him more than from the world at large. His favourite moment of the weekend came on Saturday, when his VR46 riders unveiled their special Valencia race helmets. Each of them had chosen a different design based on some of Rossi’s most famous helmets from his 26 seasons in GPs.

“The helmets from my riders were a surprise for me,” he said. “I was really, really happy and emotional when they showed me – it was a great idea.”

Rossi is now a former MotoGP rider, just like Giacomo Agostini, ‘King’ Kenny Roberts, Wayne Rainey, Kevin Schwantz, Mick Doohan, Casey Stoner, Jorge Lorenzo and all the rest.

His time has been and gone, as he always knew it would be.

Any regrets?

“The first thing I regret is that it’s finished,” he said on Sunday evening. “This feels like the last weekend of the season, not the last weekend of my career, so it will be more difficult in the next months and especially in March, when they restart and I won’t be there.

“For sure I wanted to try to win the tenth championship but I can’t regret my results and the nine championships.

“If I put the effort of the last ten years into the first years I could’ve won more than I did win, but I think it’s normal that when you’re younger you’re more of a dickhead. It’s normal – you learn with experience. Apart from this, I’m very happy and today was a great finale.”

Looking back at his career Rossi enjoyed being a superstar but not as much as he enjoyed being a racer and a fighter.

“The most positive thing about my career is that a lot, a lot of people started to follow MotoGP, so the sport became bigger and more famous all around the world. During my career I became something different, something like an icon. This was a great, great pleasure, even though for a rider it’s always more important what happens on the track.

“Sometimes I came very close to the end of my career, especially after 2012, when sincerely I didn’t know if I had enough speed and power to restart and to win races or fight for the championship, but from that moment I raced for another ten years.”

Rossi’s career wasn’t only defined by his successes and his crowd-pleasing theatrics, it was also marked by vicious rivalries – Max Biaggi, Sete Gibernau, Casey Stoner, Jorge Lorenzo and Marc Márquez – to which he deployed his abundant talents: intelligence, riding skill, race strategy and cunning. He only lost one of them.

“Rivalry at the top level of all sports, especially in MotoGP, is something you don’t like a lot, but it’s fantastic to make you give your maximum, to overtake your limits and to find something inside that maybe you didn’t know you had. I’ve had some great, great rivalries in my career. I enjoyed a lot, especially the first part because I won more, the second part I lost more.”

Asked to describe his career in three words, Rossi said, “Funny, first of all, and very competitive”.

No one would argue with that.