The list of racing achievements is long. Highlights include that switch from Honda, where he felt unappreciated, to Yamaha, to prove that “it’s the rider not the bike that makes the difference”. He rescued Yamaha’s waning fortunes, and joined a select company (with Geoff Duke, Eddie Lawson and Giacomo Agostini) to win premier titles on two different makes.
Rossi’s appeal was his charm, but also that he reserved it for his fans. He was a smiling killer to any rivals who were fast enough. His campaign against Max Biaggi was legendary; likewise against Sete Gibernau, and later Jorge Lorenzo. You beat Rossi at your peril.
His last seasons were disappointing – his waning ability to adapt to new techniques versus a tide of young pups, finding new ways to get the best out of the latest technology. But his last race at Valencia, was a joy.
Protégé Bagnaia gave him a qualifying tow in qualifying; and in the race he fought to a top-ten, escorted over the line by friend and pupil Morbidelli in 11th. And on the slow-down lap, all his fellow riders stopped alongside him at the second corner, to join the ecstatic crowd’s final tribute.
Rossi was one of few who didn’t shed a tear. It was over, but now his new life began, as team owner and manager (and, by the way, a new father).
What would he miss? “The biggest thing … riding my MotoGP bike.”
Images courtesy of Motorsport Images.