Valentino Rossi put to bed rumours of his retirement yesterday, after the Italian MotoGP legend announced that he has agreed a new two-year contract with Movistar Yamaha.
With his existing contract due to expire at the end of this season, the new deal means Rossi will continue racing in MotoGP until the end of 2020 season, by which the nine-time World champion will be 41!
That will make him the first MotoGP rider to race into his 40s since Colin Edwards in 2014. But such is the desire and motivation of Rossi that he refuses to call it a day on his illustrious career.
At 39 years of age, Rossi is the oldest man on the grid but is also one of the fittest and most experienced. Having himself been a brand and carried MotoGP’s popularity’s to new heights over the years, his age wasn’t much of an issue for Japanese manufacturer Yamaha, as Rossi remains the highest paid rider in the grid.
Ahead of the opening race of the 2018 season – the Grand Prix of Qatar – Rossi understandably hogged the limelight. On Sunday at the Losail International Circuit, Rossi will begin his mission for a 10th world title, having last won the title back in 2009. And the Italian is keen to extend his glorious career.
“I am happy because two years ago when I signed the last contract, I thought maybe it is the last one,” Rossi said yesterday. “In my mind I was always very clear that I wanted to try to continue. And the challenge is very high because to stay at the top level and to stay competitive is always more difficult. But I think I have enough strength and enough motivation,” he added.
During the pre-season testing, there were rumours flying around that Honda’s reigning champion Marc Marquez could take Rossi’s position at Yamaha. But Marquez signed a two-year contract extension with Honda, as it became clear Rossi was going to stay at Yamaha.
Rossi joined the factory Yamaha team in 2004 after winning three-straight titles on Honda machinery in the premier class. He won that championship, and followed it up with titles in 2005, 2008 and 2009. Rossi spent two sour years with Ducati Team in 2011 and 2012 before returning with Yamaha in 2013.
Rossi is Yamaha’s most successful winner in GP history with 56 wins, 43 runner-up and 35 third-place finishes. He has raced 206 GPs with Yamaha, and claimed 11 percent of Yamaha’s 500 GP victories.
The Italian said he didn’t wanted to make the same mistake as Michael Schumacher, who quit Formula 1 at the end of 2006 only to return in 2010, as well as his old MotoGP rival Max Biaggi and World Superbike legend Troy Bayliss. “I saw a lot of great riders and also drivers stop at the maximum of their career, like Schumacher, also Biaggi or Troy Bayliss,” said Rossi.
“Schumacher and Bayliss came back on the track (after retiring). So I decided I will race to the end. I don’t want to think in the future, ‘maybe I can do another two seasons’. It can be a risk (that I become less competitive), yes. But if I follow this (logic), I would have stopped already six, seven or eight years ago,” he reasoned.
Rossi believes other riders could follow in his footsteps if they remain sufficiently healthy and motivated. “I think that I’m maybe one of the first that tries (to race into his 40s),” said Rossi. “I think also all the other riders that are here are able to keep the top level until (they are) 40. Physically, if you are strong, you can [continue]. It depends on your motivation, on your life. If you like to continue, I think everyone can do.”
Rossi said he was eager to use the winter tests to understand both his level of performance and his YZR-M1 pace before deciding on a new contract. “At the end of last season I spoke with Yamaha and said I would decide during the winter tests. If I was able to survive the winter tests I could sign. At the end of the winter tests it was quite good. I like the bike as I feel comfortable and feel quite fast.”
Rossi did acknowledge though that Yamaha have a lot of work to do, if they are to fight for race wins. “The whole package is very important. I think we have some areas where we have to work because sometimes in some tracks and particular conditions we are still suffering a bit. It is about getting everything to work together, the engine, the chassis and the electronics which is very important,” he added.
What other riders say about Rossi
Marc Marquez, Honda’s reigning champion:
“It is impressive the way he finds the motivation as he knows MotoGP is now really demanding and he knows he needs to be at the top level. It is impressive because it is not plus two years it is three years as we have the current season in front.
“Congratulations to him and I am happy to have him here for two more years because you are racing against a legend of MotoGP so we will try to learn more things about him.
Andrea Dovizioso of Ducati:
“Like Marc said it is impressive but I am not surprised about that because if you know a little bit about Vale it is not surprising. I already knew this before he said it today because he is fast and he will never stop as long as he is fast like this. So you never know when he will stop.”
Johann Zarco, Tech3 Yamaha rider “I think we must say thank you to him for the newcomers and new guys like me it makes our dreams come true because it is fantastic. If he had to stop before we can go to MotoGP it wouldn’t mean the dream to follow Valentino but we have this opportunity so thank you to him for continuing.”
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