After four rounds of the 2015 MotoGP season, Valentino Rossi sits atop the standings, with two victories and four podium finishes to his credit. While the Movistar Yamaha rider has definitely taken advantage of his competitors’ various misfortunes in the opening rounds, he has just as definitely shown he is capable of winning in a straight-up battle – as he did in convincing fashion by outfoxing Marc Marquez in Argentina.
For the first time in several years, Rossi is in solid contention for the championship.
In mid-2010, Rossi gave up his seat on arguably the best team in the series at the time – factory Yamaha – and signed with Ducati to ride the troubled Desmosedici. I, like many people, thought that would be the end for the nine-time world champion. Only Casey Stoner had been capable of getting the most from the Ducati in the prior few years, and those that had failed typically never rebounded to their previous form. After two years in the doldrums, Rossi re-signed with Yamaha to ride the YZR-M1. Even then, I thought he would have difficulty finding his former glory, as did many people.
Rossi’s march back to the front of the field has not been easy and required a lot of changes along with plenty of hard work. His long-time crew chief Jeremy Burgess was unceremoniously replaced with Silvano Galbusera at the end of 2013. Many times since returning to Yamaha, Rossi has talked about adapting his riding style to suit the M1, and just as many times he and the team have talked about making adjustments to the M1 specifically to suit his needs. Now in his third year back with Yamaha, it seems to all be paying off.
What makes this feat all the more incredible is that Rossi is no spring chicken: now 36 years old, this is his 20th season in Grand Prix racing. His first Grand Prix was in 1996, and since that time he has won 110 races across all three classes, second only to Giacomo Agostini (122 wins). But even Agostini’s Grand Prix career lasted just 14 years, the 15-time world champion racing in two classes most of those years to rack up the victories.
Of the MotoGP legends with multiple world titles, only Angel Nieto has a Grand Prix career longer than Rossi’s, spanning 23 years from 1964 to 1986 with 13 titles in the 50cc and 125cc classes. Look at any of the other legends – Hailwood, Sheene, Roberts, Redman, Surtees, Mang – and the typical career span is about 10 years. The only comeback comparable to Rossi’s that I can think of is Mike Hailwood returning to win the Formula 1 race at the Isle of Man TT in 1978, after an 11-year break from racing motorcycles.
Even if Rossi had not rebounded after the dark Ducati years, his nine world championships have guaranteed him the status of legend. His return to form this year has not only cemented that legendary status and justly rewarded his loyal fan base, but taken his prestige to yet another level and won him even more fans. And Rossi is not yet done: He is in the first year of a two-year contract with Yamaha, and has already stated that he wishes to continue beyond the end of the current deal, into 2017.
– Andrew Trevitt