Words & Photos: Tamsin van Eck
There is much debate around whether Italian professional motorcycle racer Valentino Rossi has still got what it takes to clinch the world champion title for the 10th time.
The once all-conquering speedster has experienced a humbling 18 months since teaming up with Ducati in a match initially billed as made in heaven; the marriage of a genuine global superstar with the famous Italian marque. But he finished last year without a win for the first time in his career and lies joint sixth in the standings this term; the pace of his bike way off that of the Japanese outfits.
With Rossi looking at retiring in 2014 after a long and successful road of MotoGP racing, the question on everyone’s lips is will he be able to stand by his word and bring Ducati success before 2014? His fans believe that he can and eagerly await the day he is granted his 10th victory.
The 33-year-old rider has become one of the most successful motorcycle riders of all times. Following in his father's footsteps, Valentino started his Grand Prix racing career in 1996 for Aprilia in the 125cc category. He won his first world championship the following year and since then he's clinched the title in the 250cc, 500cc and 800cc categories, as well as brought both Yamaha and Honda world champion titles. During his career he has earned himself some humorous nicknames, including ‘Rossifumi’, ‘Valentinik’ and the one best known to his fans around the world, ‘The Doctor’.
Since taking on the challenge of representing Ducati in 2011, Rossi has been struggling to find his form. Just minutes before the race on the 6 May 2012 on the Estoril circuit in Portugal, Rossi’s mother was quoted as saying that Rossi’s lack of performance could possibly be attributed to breaking his lower right leg in a practise round at the Italian Grand Prix, which caused him to lose confidence. In addition, he’s also trying to deal with the loss of one of his good friends, Simoncelli, a young and daring racer who lost his life in the Malaysian horror crash, which involved Rossi and ex-teammate Collin Edwards. But with the support of his fans and Rossi being a very strong willed man, he refuses to give up on himself and Ducati and is determined to claim a world championship title one last time. The Ducati team also continues to have complete faith in Rossi as a rider. Filippo Preziosi, General and Technical Director of Ducati Corse, told journalists at the Estoril test that they needed to build a bike more suited to Rossi, because a bike that Rossi likes is a good bike for all the riders. ‘The Doctor’ managed a seventh place at Estoril after having qualified ninth.
The 2012 season is now well underway and although Rossi has not yet finished in the top three, it’s never too late to make a come back. With Ducati's promises to make big changes to the bike and Rossi’s steely determination and refusal to fail, don’t count him out of the championship just yet. In the words of the great man himself, “To become a great racer one has to finish last to finish first.”
As one of the most high profile sportsmen on the planet, insiders are worried to see Rossi go because it is said that Rossi does not need MotoGP, but MotoGP needs Rossi. It will be interesting to see what will happen to MotoGP’s publicity once Rossi is ready to leave his MotoGP career. One thing for sure though, Rossi will always be the racing legend of MotoGP and we hope to see much more of this living legend.