Valentino Rossi faces one of the biggest battles of his career in 2021.
Forget the Ducati, forget moving from Honda to Yamaha and forget every other battle Valentino Rossi has faced in his career as he now faces probably the toughest battle of his career, the battle against time. Time is the one thing that defeats us all, nobody beats time, not even Valentino Rossi a rider famed for beating every rider he came up against in the 2000s and 2010s even beating Marc Marquez in the standings in 2015 which is a feat only two riders can say they have done when Marquez has been injury-free, Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo.
For the 2021 season Rossi was pushed out of the Factory Monster Yamaha team and into the hugely successful Petronas SRT squad which is a move many felt would be an upgrade instead of a step backwards, this is despite losing factory status and riding satellite machinery for the first time since 2001 when he raced for the 99% factory Nastro Azzurro Honda team on the Honda NSR500 before gaining a place in the Repsol Honda team after winning a 500cc title for the satellite team. The reason many felt the move would be positive was because the team were incredibly strong and have been since their MotoGP debut with Fabio Quartararo taking a flurry of podiums as a MotoGP rookie before both Fabio Quartararo and Fabio Morbidelli battled for the title in 2020 taking three wins apiece, more than any other rider.
The move also forced Rossi out of his comfort zone, if we look back to the early 2000’s he showed a lot of strength when placed in high-stress situations which were well out of his comfort zone. The best example I can think of would be his Honda to Yamaha move, leaving the incredibly strong Honda RC211V with it’s V5 engine to ride the poor performing Yamaha in a move many said would end his career, instead the move added an incredible amount of weight to the Italians name as he became the first rider to win back to back races on different manufacturers after stepping off the Honda in Valencia 2003 and winning his Yamaha debut at the Phakisa Freeway. He would go on to win the title that year after impressing and pushing himself to a level he didn’t realise was possible after putting himself in a high-stress situation.
Rossi’s tradition of holding the footpeg before a race.
You see the problem for Rossi isn’t that he’s lost the ability to ride or the mental speed and sharpness you require as a motorcycle racer but instead he is physically becoming weaker year on year, put him back in the body of a 20-year-old and you can bet he will be battling for titles once again but unfortunately that is not something we can do. Year on year we have seen his results get worse and worse going from a handful of wins a year to a singular win a year before dropping back to a handful of podiums, then only a couple of podiums before one singular podium in 2020. All the while this is happening we are seeing his results tick down the order with his teammate outperforming him on 2019 machinery.
Looking back to 2018 you cannot deny he had a very strong year taking third overall behind Andrea Dovizioso and Marc Marquez, it was a strong performance all year long especially given that he didn’t win a race. In the year which followed he suffered more crashes and would come home in seventh place overall, he was able to finish within the top 10 for every race he finished which is quite an achievement, not something we can say now. His results have taken an incredibly sharp dip as his body begins to grow more and more tired year on year, he remains fast on track and keeps himself incredibly fit riding with his academy boys on Yamaha R6’s, R1’s, flat-track bikes, minimotos and more, you name it and they’re riding it! His fitness is unquestionable and I can put money on him being fitter than 95% of the 42-year-olds of the world but when you compare it to the likes of the MotoGP front runners he is starting to open up a gap to the top in regards to fitness levels.
The main problem is that as the riders get faster and faster and more and more competitive Rossi also needs to step up a level every time, every single time a new rookie joins the class they add something new, something more special which forces the riders around them to adapt. Whether it be riders bringing the ‘elbow down’ style to the sport to Brad Binder’s aggressiveness, Jorge Martin’s style of hanging off the bike and more, we are seeing something different every year and this reflects on the entire grid. Every year we see Rossi try something new, try a new style, get his elbow down, lean off the bike more to be able to change with the times, every year he is forced to change the way he rides because yet another new fad has entered the scene.
The flared elbow style has been adapted into his style. When he first raced elbow sliders didn’t exist.
This constant need to adapt and change the way he has ridden for the last 25 years is slowly but surely taking a toll on the Doctor as we see him struggle to take points and top 10 finishes, he has not finished in the top 10 in the last 10 races he has finished and has only scored points in three of these races, every week we see a new lap record smashed, a new top speed set and something new which demotes Rossi down another place or makes him push more than he would’ve had to a decade ago.
At 42 years old he will not be as physically fit as the 20-year-olds he is up against, that is pure fact and unfortunately he isn’t getting any younger as a potion to stop the effects of ageing hasn’t been created yet, this means that every year he finds it harder and harder to maintain the level of fitness to muscle a 300hp Yamaha M1 around the world for 19 races whilst also having to travel, spend nights in hotels and remain fit. We are not trying to sound negative about the man and we all want to see him succeed and achieve, another race win would be spectacular but you cannot help but think that he is coming to the end of his career, yes we are only 4 races into 2021 but it’s not like this is something new if we look back to his results last year.
Next year he will be 43 and a little weaker, the year after 44, weaker again and so on and so forth. Valentino Rossi has earned his place in the hall of legends and can continue to ride for as long as he likes, he is racing out of pure passion and not for race wins or podiums anymore and at his age this is completely respectable to continue to race at the highest level of the sport and score points as we saw in Qatar. He is not going to get any better and he will not win another 9 more titles, but he brings a lot to the sport from sponsors to millions of adoring fans, for many he is the face of the sport but you cannot help to feel sorry for the man as he drops down the order.
The drop was inevitable but it doesn’t make it any easier for many riders and with time ticking on it won’t get any better with the sport evolving more and more year on year.
Featured images – Petronas SRT