Valentino Rossi

Valentino Rossi is the greatest rider of his generation – the last 500cc champion and a multiple winner in the subsequent MotoGP class. His sunny demeanour and ready humour only accentuates his popularity and fame, as does his unrelenting enthusiasm for racing.

Rossi is now into his fourth decade of World Championship racing and has surpassed countless predictions of his retirement. After 21 years as a factory rider, he has moved to Yamaha’s independent team for 2021, where he will still be targeting the front of the pack, but will also be admiring the talent now bursting from his VR46 rider academy.

Family background and early career 

The son of Graziano Rossi who had finished fifth in the 1980 500cc standings before injury halted his career, Valentino was raised by his mother in his hometown of Urbino. He rode his first motorcycle when just five years old and teenage success in mini-moto attracted the attention of Aprilia. 1995 national 125cc champion when third in the European series, Aprilia promoted Rossi to the World Championship a year later. That 1996 campaign included a breakthrough victory at Brno and he won 11 of the 15 races during 1997 to deliver the 125cc title at the second attempt.

From the archive

Rossi remained with Aprilia for the following season’s graduation to the 250cc class when Rossi finished as runner-up behind team-mate Loris Caprirossi after winning five times, including the last four GPs of the season. As before, Rossi won the World Championship in his second season in the class.

500cc World Champion for Honda 

Rossi moved to the dominant Honda team for his maiden season in the 500cc World Championship, riding a two-stroke Honda V4 to victory in Great Britain and Brazil. Runner-up behind Kenny Roberts Jr that year, Rossi won the opening three races of 2001 and reeled off another seven victories, clinching the 500cc crown with two races to go thanks to a last-gasp success in Australia when just 2.832sec covered the top nine riders. That run included an altercation with Max Biagi before the podium in Catalunya as their rivalry grew ever-more tense.

Continued success in MotoGP 

New four-stroke 990cc bikes were introduced in 2002 and Rossi scored another 11 victories as he scorched to the inaugural MotoGP title. His 2003 title defence was slow to materialise at first and Rossi was challenged by Sete Gibernau during the early months. He won six of the last seven races of the year to clinch a third senior title in succession.

Further titles for Yamaha 

Unhappy with the atmosphere within the team, Rossi switched to the previously unfancied Yamaha outfit in 2004 when joined by long-standing Team Manager Jerry Burgess and many of his Honda crew. He beat Biagi by 0.21sec on his debut in South Africa but only finished the next two races in fourth position. He recovered to score another eight wins and overhaul Gibernau in the standings. Rossi dominated proceedings in 2005, again winning 11 times to secure motorcycling’s premier title for the fifth year in a row.

Ferrari Formula 1 tests 

Rossi tested a Ferrari F2004 at Valencia before the 2006 Formula 1 season and rumours of an intriguing switch were never fulfilled. His previous consistency deserted him during the 2006 MotoGP season. He retired too often and injured his wrist when he crashed during practice in Holland although he won five times nonetheless and entered the final race with a narrow advantage over Nicky Hayden. He made a rare error during the race and surrendered the championship to the Honda rider. Yamaha struggled to adapt to 800cc rules in 2007 and Rossi was beaten by Casey Stoner (Ducati) and Dani Pedrosa (Honda) despite his four victories.

Yamaha switched from Michelin to Bridgestone tyres in 2008 and that helped re-establish Rossi’s dominance in the final year before the championship adopted a single tyre supplier. He won nine times and withstood Stoner’s challenge to regain his world title with three races to spare. He beat Yamaha team-mate Jorge Lorenzo to the 2009 title – his seventh senior success – but could not match the Spaniard’s consistency or speed in 2010. Rossi won twice and was third overall in his last season with Yamaha.

Switch to Ducati and return to Yamaha 

The popular veteran switched to Ducati in 2011 but he returned to Yamaha in 2013 after the first winless campaigns of his career. The 2013 Dutch TT at Assen was Rossi’s first victory since 2010 but Yamaha could not match the Repsol Hondas. Rossi finished as championship runner-up for the next three years and he led the standings for most of 2015 but was penalised following a confrontation with reigning champion Marc Márquez during the Malaysian GP. That relegated Rossi to the back of the grid for the championship decider in Valencia and he eventually lost the title to Lorenzo when could finish no higher than fourth. Runner-up in 2016 after winning in Spain and Catalunya, Rossi scored an 89th MotoGP success in the 2017 Assen TT as he slipped to fifth overall.

Related article

Rossi endured a winless campaign in 2018 when consistency rather than pure pace helped him finish third in the standings. Hampered by an uncompetitive Yamaha, the closest Rossi came to victory was in Malaysia where he led until crashing under pressure from Márquez. Now 40 years old, Rossi never looked like recording win number 90 during 2019 and he slipped to seventh in the final championship points. Second-place finishes at Río Hondo and the Circuit of The Americas at the start of the season were the only podium finishes of an increasingly frustrating campaign.

2020 wasn’t an improvement for Rossi. The Covid pandemic led to a delayed season but no improvements for Yamaha as the team struggled to get a handle on the new Michelin rear slick. With new crew chief Silvano Galbusera, he did not improve his form and finished the season 15th with just 66 points and a single podium.

Yamaha announced Rossi’s departure from the factory team at the beginning of 2020, after the veteran said that he hadn’t yet decided whether to continue racing, and the team stated that it needed to secure a top-level line-up. Rossi subsequently announced that he would be joining the Petronas SRT satellite team in 2021 on a full-factory bike.

VR46 Academy

As Rossi’s career approaches its end, his legacy is only just beginning. He created the VR46 Academy in 2013 to foster new Italian riding talents at his Motor Ranch in Tavullia, and the results arrived spectacularly in 2020. The San Marino Grand Prix saw VR46 protégés take finish first and second in the MotoGP and Moto2 races.

Franco Morbidelli is a VR46 graduate who looks set to challenge for the 2021 MotoGP title, and Francesco Bagnaia will be looking to make the most of his speed as he moves up to the factory Ducati team.

Non Championship Races