And one abiding reason is Valentino Rossi, very much the senior rider, with the most titles, the most wins, and the most years… having just turned 40. And he too is looking very spry. For anybody, let alone a quadragenarian.
2019 will be the much-loved Italian’s 24th chance to underline his legend, and to become the most decorated rider in motorcycle history, albeit not in championships – Valentino has nine but Giacomo Agostini has 15, and the late Angel Nieto 13.
Rossi makes light of records, but keeps a close account of them in his own mind. The greatest target, surely burnished with desire, is total race wins. Agostini retired in 1977, after 15 years of GP racing, with 122 wins, an annual average of 8.13. It helped that he was racing in two classes each weekend, 350 and 500, but there were far fewer races; just ten in his final title year to 19 this year.
Rossi has amassed 115 wins, leaving him seven short of equalling Ago, with one more needed to take the all-time record. Can he do it in the two years remaining on his current contract? On average, yes, as his stands at five wins each year. But averages are a cruel measure towards the end of any sportsman’s career. Rossi’s was badly dented last year, his first without a win – not counting two fallow years with Ducati – since 1997.