25 years on from his Grand Prix debut, Valentino Rossi retires. One of the all-time greats, the legendary Italian bows out with nine World Championships to his name and the only rider in history to win titles in 125, 250, 500cc and MotoGP™ categories.
The early years
It all began way back in 1996, when a fresh-faced 17-year-old lined up 13th on the grid in Sepang, Malaysia. Riding Aprilia’s RS125, Rossi earned himself a top six finish, catching the eye of plenty of onlookers that day. A string of impressive performances followed which eventually culminated in a first podium at the Austrian GP, and then a maiden victory at the Czech GP two weeks later. It was the next year when Rossi eventually came into his own, blowing the competition away in 1997 to romp home to the 125 cc World Championship, taking 11 wins in 15 Grand Prix.
Aprilia decided to promote him to 250cc next, and having started the season with three podiums in the opening five races, a first win in the category came at the Dutch GP. It ignited the rookie’s Championship charge and despite four consecutive wins to close out the season, the then 19-year old had to settle for second in the standings, losing out to Loris Capirossi.
In 1999, Rossi would have his revenge, seizing control of the Championship after victories at the Spanish and Italian GPs, and seven more wins meant he cruised home to the Championship with 48 points to spare over Honda’s Tohru Ukawa.
Inevitably, Rossi made the jump to the premier class the following year, and he wasted little time in making an impression as he rode Honda’s NSR500. The rookie Italian recorded DNFs in his opening two races, but the podiums soon started to roll in, with his first coming in Jerez, while a first win came at Donington Park as he announced himself as a Championship contender. Despite a second victory at the Rio de Janeiro Grand Prix that season, the title went to Kenny Roberts Jr at the turn of the century.
The five in a row
After just his first season racing at the highest level, Rossi had become a household name in the sport, and in 2001 he sealed his first 500 cc class Championship. 11 wins in 16 races saw the sophomore run away in the title race, with his closest rival, Max Biaggi, 106 points behind as the two-stroke era came to an end.
In the debut year of the MotoGP™ World Championship, Rossi carried on his form and increased the winning margin to 140 points, with Biaggi and Alex Barros the only other riders to claim wins. 2003 saw him deliver a final title to Honda before a switch to Yamaha came in 2004, where he went on to claim another two Championships until he was finally dethroned by Nicky Hayden in 2006, while he could only manage third place in 2007 as Casey Stoner took title glory.
The number 46 was back on top in 2008 and 2009, before the Italian was then beaten to the crown by teammate Jorge Lorenzo in 2010, with whom he shared a well documented and acrimonious relationship. Rossi left to join the factory Ducati Team the next year, but after just three podiums over a trying two seasons, the rider from Tavullia returned to Yamaha for 2013 and took his first win in three years in Assen.
The twilight years
Runner up in the title race in 2014, Rossi then fought for his tenth crown in 2015, but it was Lorenzo once again who denied him.
2016 saw more pole positions, podiums and wins as the Italian finished second in the Championship once more. 2017 saw him come out victorious at the Dutch GP in Assen, the highlight of a difficult season which saw The Doctor sustain a broken leg prior to the San Marino GP. Rossi showed his fighting spirit to complete a remarkable turnaround and return to the track just three week's later in Aragon, before taking another podium after an awesome showdown with Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) in Phillip Island. In 2018, the Italian remained with Yamaha and took a Championship top three, while two more podiums came his way the next year, though victory eluded him in both seasons.
The last time we saw Rossi spray the bubbly was in 2020, when he secured third place in Jerez at the beginning of the season. A change of scenery came in 2021, with The Doctor returning to a satellite team for the first time in 19 years after a move to Petronas SRT, which saw him link up with VR46 academy graduate Franco Morbidelli.
And it proved to be the final chapter of a storied Grand Prix racing career, but it won’t be the final time we see him in the paddock as he brings his VR46 venture to Ducati and MotoGP™ in 2022.
For the countless unforgettable memories you have created on the track, and for the ones you will undoubtedly bring us off it in the coming years, Grazie Vale.