Valentino Rossi, (born February 16, 1979 in Urbino), is an Italian professional motorcycle racer and multiple MotoGP World Champion. He is one of the most successful motorcycle racers of all time, with nine Grand Prix World Championships to his name – a record seven of which are in the premier class.
Following his father, Graziano Rossi, Rossi started racing in Grand Prix in 1996 for Aprilia in the 125cc category and won his first World Championship the following year. From there, he moved up to the 250cc category with Aprilia and won the 250cc World Championship in 1999. He won the 500cc World Championship with Honda in 2001, the MotoGP World Championships (also with Honda) in 2002 and 2003, and continued his streak of back-to-back championships by winning the 2004 and 2005 titles after leaving Honda to join Yamaha, before regaining the title in 2008 and retaining it in 2009. He left Yamaha to join Ducati for the 2011 season.
Rossi is first in all time 500 cc/MotoGP race wins standings, with 79 victories, and second in all time overall wins standings with 105 race wins (behind Giacomo Agostini with 122).
The early years or the vs. Yao years
Valentino Rossi was born in Urbino, and he was still a child when the family moved to Tavullia. Son of Graziano Rossi, a former motorcycle racer, he first began riding at a very young age. Rossi’s first racing love was go-karts. Fuelled by his mother, Stefania’s, concern for her son’s safety, Graziano purchased a go-kart as substitute for the bike. However, the Rossi family trait of perpetually wanting to go faster prompted a redesign; Graziano replaced the 60cc motor with a 100cc national kart motor for his then 5-year-old son.
Rossi won the regional kart championship in 1990. After this he took up minimoto and before the end of 1991 had won numerous regional races.
Rossi continued to race karts and finished fifth at the national kart championships in Parma. Both Valentino and Graziano had started looking at moving into the Italian 100cc series, as well as the corresponding European series, which most likely would have pushed him into the direction of Formula One. However, the high cost of racing karts led to the decision to race minimoto exclusively. Through 1992 and 1993, Valentino continued to learn the ins and outs of minimoto racing.
In 1993, with help from his father, Virginio Ferrari, Claudio Castiglioni and Claudio Lusuardi (who ran the official Cagiva Sport Production team), he rode a Cagiva Mito 125cc motorcycle, which he damaged in a first-corner crash no more than a hundred metres from the pit lane. He finished ninth that race weekend.
Although his first season in the Italian Sport Production Championship was varied, he achieved a pole position in the season’s final race at Misano, where he would ultimately finish on the podium. By the second year, Rossi had been provided with a factory Mito by Lusuardi and won the Italian title.
125cc, 250 cc and 500 cc World Championships
In 1994, Aprilia by way of Sandroni, used Rossi to improve its RS125R and in turn allowed him to learn how to handle the fast new pace of 125cc racing. At first he found himself on a Sandroni in the 1994 Italian championship and continued to ride it through the 1995 European and Italian championships.
Rossi had some success in the 1996 World Championship season, failing to finish five of the season’s races and crashing several times. Despite this, in August he won his first World Championship Grand Prix at Brno in the Czech Republic on an AGV Aprilia RS125R. He finished the season in ninth position and proceeded to dominate the 125cc World Championship in the following 1997 season, winning 11 of the 15 races.
By 1998, the Aprilia RS250 was reaching its pinnacle and had a team of riders in Valentino Rossi, Loris Capirossi and Tetsuya Harada. The death of two of his friends in a car accident also took a toll. He later concluded the 1998 250cc season in second place, only three points behind Capirossi. In 1999, however, he won the title, collecting 5 pole positions and 9 wins.
Rossi was rewarded in 2000 for his 250cc World Championship by being given a ride with Honda in what was then the ultimate class in World Championship motorcycle racing, 500cc. Jeremy Burgess had shown him the NSR500 and was convinced that the pairing of it with Rossi would bring nothing but success. Retired 500cc World Champion Michael Doohan, who also had Jeremy Burgess as chief engineer, worked with Rossi as his personal mentor in his first year at Honda. It would also be the first time Rossi would be racing against Max Biaggi, another Italian to whom he was often compared by the racing press. It would take nine races before Rossi would win on the Honda but, like his previous seasons in 125 and 250, it would bode well for a stronger second season as he finished second to American Kenny Roberts, Jr..
Rossi won his first 500cc World Championship in 2001 (winning 11 races) in the final year of that class. In the following year, 500cc two-strokes were still allowed, but 2002 saw the beginning of the 990cc four-stroke Moto GP class, after which the 500cc machines were essentially obsolete. In 2001 Rossi teamed up with American rider Colin Edwards for the Suzuka 8 Hours endurance race aboard a Honda VTR1000SPW. The pair won the race despite Rossi’s lack of experience racing superbikes.
The inaugural year for the MotoGP bikes was 2002, when riders experienced teething problems getting used to the new bikes. Rossi won the first race and went on to win eight of the first nine races of the season, eventually claiming 11 victories in total.
It was more of the same in 2003 for Rossi’s rivals when he claimed nine pole positions as well as nine GP wins to claim his third consecutive World Championship. The Australian GP at Phillip Island in 2003 is considered by many observers to be one of Rossi’s greatest career moments due to unique circumstances. After being given a 10-second penalty for overtaking during a yellow flag due to a crash by Ducati rider Troy Bayliss, front runner Rossi proceeded to pull away from the rest of the field, eventually finishing more than 15 seconds ahead, more than enough to cancel out the penalty and win the race.
From Honda to Yamaha
There was much speculation during the second half of the 2003 season about Rossi’s plans for the future. Some people suspected that he would succeed in his bid to claim a third consecutive title and wondered where he would go in the future. His contract with Honda was up at the end of the year and there were rumours that Rossi had become somewhat disillusioned with his ride at Honda. His tenure at Honda had effectively run its course; he had provided Honda with a 500 cc World Championship as well as consecutive MotoGP World Championships.
Partnered with increased scepticism that the reason for his success was the dominance of the RC211V rather than Rossi, it was inevitable that Honda and Rossi would part. Mid-season rumours pointed towards a possible move to Ducati, which sent the Italian press into a frenzy; the concept of the great Italian on the great Italian bike seemed too good to be true. Ducati did indeed try to seduce Rossi into riding their MotoGP bike, the Desmosedici, but for numerous reasons Rossi passed the offer up. Critics say that compared to the other manufacturers, Ducati had a significant way to go before being competitive even with Rossi at the helm. This proved to be the truth with Ducati’s lacklustre performance in the 2004 season, which had actually been worse than their inaugural year in MotoGP in 2003.
In his 2005 autobiography, “What If I’d Never Tried It?”, Rossi offers another reason for choosing Yamaha over Ducati, saying that the mindset at Ducati Corse was a little too similar to the one he was trying to escape from at Honda.
Ultimately, Rossi signed a two-year contract with rivals Yamaha reportedly worth in excess of (U.S) $12 million; a price no other manufacturer, even Honda, was willing to pay.
Many believed Rossi would not win another championship on a less competitive Yamaha bike, but Rossi proved them wrong. Having taken chief engineer Jeremy Burgess with him, Valentino was to look forward to many positive things.
With the traditional first race of the season at Suzuka off the list due to safety considerations following the fatal accident of Daijiro Kato, the 2004 season started at Welkom in South Africa. Rossi won the race, becoming the only rider to win consecutive races with different manufacturers, having won the final race of the previous season on the Honda. Rossi would go on to win eight more GPs in the season, primarily battling Sete Gibernau, with Rossi clinching the championship at the penultimate race of the season at Phillip Island. Rossi ended the season with 304 points to Gibernau’s 257, with Max Biaggi 3rd with 217 points.
In 2005 Grand Prix motorcycle racing season, Rossi captured his 7th World Championship and 5th straight MotoGP Championship. He finished with a total of 367 points, 147 points ahead of 2nd place finisher Marco Melandri (220 points), and Nicky Hayden finishing 3rd with 206 points.
The 2006 MotoGP season started off with Rossi, once again, being the favorite to take the Championship, but he had trouble in the first half of the season. Hayden held the points lead throughout most of the season, but Rossi was slowly working his way up the points ladder. It was not until Motegi when Rossi finally grabbed 2nd in the points race behind Hayden. In the Portuguese Grand Prix, the penultimate race of the season, Hayden was taken out by his teammate, Dani Pedrosa, and did not finish the race. This led to Rossi taking the points lead with only one race left in the season. However, Rossi crashed early in Valencia, the last race, and Hayden went on to win the 2006 MotoGP Championship. Rossi finished the season in 2nd place.
Rossi returned to MotoGP for the 2007 season riding the new Yamaha YZR-M1 800 cc. In the first race in Qatar he came second to Casey Stoner on the Ducati Desmosedici. In the second round of the season Rossi won the second race of the season in Spain, and would win 3 more races that season. Stoner dominated the season, winning 10 races to take his first title, 125 points clear of second place Dani Pedrosa. Pedrosa’s win in the last race at Valencia combined with Rossi’s retirement meant that he beat Rossi into third place by a single point. This was Rossi’s lowest championship position since his first season in 1996 in 125s. His bike lacked competitiveness, particularly in top speed compared to the Honda or Ducati, and he threatened to leave Yamaha if they are unable to deliver a better package.
For 2008 Rossi changed to Bridgestone tyres. The season started slowly with a fifth place finish in Qatar, but he took his first win in Shanghai, and also won the next two races. From that race, Rossi was on the podium of every remaining race (except the Dutch round at Assen, where he crashed on the first lap and finished 11th), winning a total of nine races in the season. His victories at Laguna Seca (after a pass down the “Corkscrew” corner over Stoner, who crashed but continued and took the second place) and at a rain-shortened race in Indianapolis, meant that Rossi has won in every current circuit in the calendar. His win in Motegi was his first victory there on a MotoGP bike. The victory at Motegi won Rossi his first 800cc MotoGP title, his sixth in premier category, and eighth overall.
On June 8, 2009, Valentino Rossi rode a Yamaha around the famous Isle of Man TT Course in an exhibition lap along-side fellow Italian motorcycle legend Giacomo Agostini, in what was called ‘The Lap of the Gods’.
The 2009 season saw Rossi win 6 races to win his 9th championship title, beating his team-mate Jorge Lorenzo into second place by 45 points. 6 wins was the lowest number of wins Rossi has had in a championship winning season; the previous lowest was 9 in 1999 in the 250 cc class and 2003, 2004 and 2008 in MotoGP.
His victory at the 2009 Dutch TT in Assen was Rossi’s 100th victory, becoming only the second rider in motorcycle grand prix history to reach 100 wins.
The 2010 season began with Rossi topping most of all pre-season testing sessions and took victory in the first race of the season in Qatar, after early leader Casey Stoner crashed out. Rossi injured his shoulder and back while training on a motocross bike after the Japanese Grand Prix was postponed to October due to the disruption to air travel after the second eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland. The following two rounds Rossi was beaten by team-mate Lorenzo with Rossi complaining about shoulder pain. The injury was not taken seriously initially and was expected to cure in a few weeks, but did not turn out as expected and the ligament tear in the shoulder failed to sufficiently heal.
On 5 June 2010 at his home race at Mugello, Rossi crashed in the second free practice session, around the Biondetti corner, at around 120 mph (190 km/h). Rossi suffered a displaced compound fracture of his right tibia, and after post-surgical care close to his home in the hospital at Cattolica, it was diagnosed that he was likely to be out for most of the season. It was the first time that Rossi had missed a race in his Grand Prix career. However ahead of the British Grand Prix, Suzi Perry reported in her Daily Telegraph column that Rossi was planning on making a comeback at Brno. This was confirmed a week later by Rossi himself. On 7 July, Rossi rode at Misano on a Superbike World Championship-specification Yamaha YZF-R1 provided by the Yamaha World Superbike Team to test his leg’s recovery. He completed 26 laps during two runs, with a best lap time that was around two seconds off the pace of recent World Superbike times at the circuit. At the conclusion of the session, Rossi complained of discomfort, reporting pain in both his leg and his shoulder. On 12 July, Rossi took part in another test at Brno, after which Rossi stated he was happier and a lot more in form. After an observation by the Chief Medical Officer on the Thursday before the weekend, Rossi made his return at the German Grand Prix, two rounds earlier than predicted and only 41 days after the accident. He managed to end the race in fourth place after a battle with Casey Stoner for third. He added another race victory to his name at Sepang, Malaysia on his way to collecting 10 podiums throughout the whole season, including five podiums in a row in the final run in of the season, where he finished third in the overall standings.
Earlier in his career Max Biaggi was considered Rossi’s main rival. At one time his website did not even have Max’s name; instead a glaring “XXX XXXXXX” was placed wherever his name should have appeared. Although they had not even raced against each other until 2000, the rivalry between the two had been growing since the mid-’90s. The rivalry died down as Rossi’s consecutive World Championships and Biaggi’s struggle to find support and a consistent rhythm with his races.
In his autobiography “What If I Had Never Tried It”, Rossi makes a number of claims about the reasons for his rivalry with Biaggi, and some of the incidents which led to its escalation. The rivalry was also featured in the 2003 documentary film, Faster.
Rossi’s closest rival in the 2003 and 2004 seasons was Sete Gibernau, riding with Team Gresini’s Movistar Honda team on a satellite RC211V in 2004 and then on an all but in name factory RC211V, which Gibernau helped to develop, in 2005. Initially they were quite friendly in the paddock and off – Gibernau partied on occasions with Rossi at the Italian’s Ibiza villa – but a souring in their relationship began in the 2004 season and culminated in the “Qatar Incident” that same season when Rossi’s team was penalized for “cleaning” his grid position to aid in traction, along with Honda Pons’ Max Biaggi, and both riders were subsequently forced to start from the back of the grid. A number of teams, including Gibernau’s Team Gresini and the official Repsol Honda factory team, appealed successfully to race direction for Rossi to be sanctioned. Rossi and his chief mechanic, Jeremy Burgess, insisted that they were doing nothing more than what many others had done before when faced with a dirty track
Since then the two have not spoken and Rossi seemed to resolve to use the incident to apply psychological pressure on Gibernau. He is said to have sworn that after the Qatar race, which Gibernau won while Rossi crashed out after rising to 6th position, he would do everything to make sure that Gibernau never stood on the highest step of the podium again. Gibernau retired from Grand Prix racing after an unsuccessful, injury blighted 2006 season with Ducati and he never won another race after Qatar, prompting some in the Spanish and Italian motorcycle racing media to explain this fact by way of reference to the “Qatar Curse.”
In 2007, Casey Stoner emerged as a rival for Rossi. Coupled with a Ducati, the young Australian won the first race of the year, followed by many more victories resulting in his claiming of the 2007 MotoGP World Championship title. Stoner’s and Rossi’s rivalry came to a dramatic climax at Laguna Seca Raceway in 2008. After numerous position changes, Rossi overtook Stoner at The Corkscrew. The bold move caused Rossi to run into the dirt and broken pavement on the inside of the right turn, and his rejoining the track came close to causing a collision between the two riders. A few laps later, Stoner went into the gravel on the slow entry into turn 11. Stoner picked up his bike to finish second, while Rossi took the win. After this, Casey Stoner made the comment, “I have lost respect for one of the greatest riders in history.” For the comment, Stoner apologised to Rossi at the next race.
In 2008, Jorge Lorenzo joined Rossi in the factory Yamaha Motor Racing team, which started a new rivalry. After some great battles in 2009 where Lorenzo went toe-to-toe with Rossi, 2010 saw Lorenzo dominate throughout the season and won the championship by amassing 383 points, the highest points tally in history.
Valentino Rossi has had numerous nicknames during his racing career. His first prominent nickname was “Rossifumi.” Rossi explained the etymology of this nickname as a reference and tribute to fellow rider Norifumi Abe.
His next nickname appeared some time around his days racing in the 250 cc World Championship. The nickname “Valentinik” was a reference to the Italian Donald Duck superhero, “Paperinik”.
Since his dominance in 500 cc and MotoGP, Rossi has used the nickname “The Doctor.” This has been attributed to his “cold and clinical dismantling of his opponents” as well as his cool and calm composure in racing compared to his frenetic days in 125 cc and 250 cc where his performance was erratic and dangerous, resulting in numerous crashes. Two theories prevail as to why Rossi uses “The Doctor.” One is that Rossi adopted the nickname upon having earned a degree, which in Italy entitles one to use the title “Doctor”. Another, as spoken by Graziano himself, “The Doctor because, I don’t think there is a particular reason, but it’s beautiful, and is important, The Doctor. And in Italy, The Doctor is a name you give to someone for respect, it’s very important, The Doctor… important”. Rossi often jokes, however, that the name arrived because in Italy, Rossi is a common surname for Doctors.
He has always raced with the number #46 in his motorcycle grand prix career. Rossi has stated that the original inspiration for this choice of number was the Japanese “wild card” racer Norifumi Abe whom he saw on television speeding past much more seasoned riders in a wet race. He later found out that it was the number his father had raced with in the first of his 3 grand prix career wins, in 1979, in Yugoslavia, on a 250c Morbidelli. Typically, a World Championship winner is awarded the #1 sticker for the next season. However, in a homage to Barry Sheene, who was the first rider of the modern era to keep the same number (#7), Rossi has stayed with the now-famous #46 throughout his career, though as the world champion he has worn the #1 on the shoulder of his racing leathers.
The text on his helmet refers to the name of his group of friends: “The Tribe of the Chihuahua,” and the letters WLF on his leathers stand for “Viva La Figa,” Italian for “Long Live Pussy.” He has so far escaped any sanctions or ultimatums that he remove the letters because the “W” in “WLF” represents the two “V”s in “ViVa”. Equally obvious is his success at escaping any disciplinary action from the FIM or Dorna for having the letters so brazenly on the front neck area of his leathers. He traditionally also incorporates his favorite color (fluorescent yellow) into his leather designs. This has also earned him the nickname ‘Highlighter Pen’ more recently. It is most commonly used by commentators Toby Moody and Julian Ryder.
Fellow motorcycle racer and former team mate Colin Edwards, as well as some TV journalists, have often referred to him as ‘the GOAT’ (Greatest of all Time).
Rossi is very superstitious and is renowned for his pre-ride rituals. On a race day, he will always watch the beginning of the 125cc race to see how long the starting lights remain lit before going out at the start of the race. Prior to riding (whether racing, qualifying, or practice), he will start his personal ritual by stopping about 2 metres from his bike, bending over and reaching for his boots. Then, when arriving at his bike, he will crouch down and hold the right-side foot-peg, with his head bowed. In an interview, Rossi said “It’s just a moment to focus and ‘talk’ to my bike, like moving from one place to the next.” He adjusts the fit of his leathers by standing straight up on the foot-pegs, whilst riding down the pit-lane before the start of race or practice. He also revealed in an interview with MotoGP.com that he always puts one boot on before the other, one glove on before the other, and he always gets on the bike the same way. He also gets off the bike in the same way, swinging his right leg over the front of the bike.