MotoGP Exclusive: Neil Hodgson chats to MCN about Valentino Rossi's illustrious career
It’s going to be an emotional couple of days for MotoGP fans this weekend as Valentino Rossi’s illustrious 26-year Grand Prix career comes to an end at Valencia.
Ahead of the nine-time world champion’s final race this Sunday (November 14), MCN caught up with BT Sport commentator, and former MotoGP rider, Neil Hodgson to discuss the Italian’s illustrious career.
Can you believe that Valentino Rossi has two more days before he retires?
It’s hard to believe. I remember him from 1995, when he was 15, when he was racing in the European 125 Championship – which ran alongside Grand Prix. I’d see him around the paddock, this cheeky, loud – and I mean loud, one of the loudest riders I’ve ever seen – crazy young Italian, and I remember thinking ‘God, I hope he’s fast because he’s bloody annoying’. Isn’t it incredible how his career has turned out?
He used to have this super-tuned scooter with a loud exhaust on it and he was just doing wheelies everywhere…But that was just him and his personality, and the beauty is that he’s never changed. He just has that love and passion for the sport. The word legend is used way too often, but the word legend was designed for people like Valentino Rossi.
Valentino means different things to different people. What does he mean to you?
I look at him and I cannot believe how he’s changed the sport. Before Valentino, we had amazing riders, but they weren’t charismatic. Mick Doohan won and wanted to destroy everybody, which is what he did. Then there was Alex Criville, he just won and didn’t care about anything else. Kenny Roberts Jnr wasn’t charismatic when he won the title, but then thankfully Valentino arrived.
It wasn’t just about the win for him, it was about having fun and because of that he connected with people at home. He connected with you when you sat on your sofa watching him race during the mid-2000s. You never got bored of seeing him win. You wanted him to win more to see what this crazy character was going to do next.
What’s his biggest achievement?
The biggest thing for me is when he left Honda. I couldn’t believe what he was doing because Honda was the best bike to be on. I thought he was crazy, but he didn’t like the way he was being treated by Honda, and he wanted to enjoy himself, so he left. He had that self-belief to risk everything, and we know now that it turned out to be an amazing move. That’s his biggest achievement; having the balls to wave goodbye to the best motorcycle on the grid. Not many riders I know would do that.
Which title was his most important?
2004 is the one which jumps to mind. We talked about him leaving Honda, but to actually win on the Yamaha was something else. However, I still remember his early years – which people often forget about – when he was winning the 125 and 250 championships. He was amazing to watch, he was so aggressive and had such a unique riding style and way of doing things. I loved those early years. He was such a loose cannon back then. They’re my favourite memories of him; watching him win 250 races and just doing ridiculous things that other people couldn’t do.
What’s your favourite Rossi moment?
Whenever I think about Valentino, all I can think about is when he, on the cooling down lap, went into the Portaloo. It’s the most slapstick, basic, funniest thing I’ve ever seen in motorcycle racing. I just loved it. That was peak originality. I remember being sat at home watching, crying with laughter. I was sat there thinking that I just wanted to be him.
What did he do to have such a long career?
I think what’s enabled him to do 26 years is that in his early years, he was so talented that he didn’t train, he just rode bikes and had a laugh. This meant that there was no burnout. A lot of riders, who don’t have his talent, work really hard at their craft, and have to train hard and dedicate their lives to it really early on, whereas Rossi didn’t. For probably 10 of those 26 years, he just had fun with his mates; going to Ibiza, partying, getting on the bike and destroying everyone.
There then came a point where he had to change that approach. For the last 16 years he’s had to work harder at it. Essentially, because of that he hasn’t burnt himself out. That’s played a huge part. When I retired at 36, I was done. I was exhausted with everything that’s involved in motorcycle racing.
He didn’t crash either….
He wasn’t beating himself up on a regular basis, which is exactly what we’ve seen with Marc Marquez. He’s the fastest man on the planet, we’ve never seen anything like it, but we all said that he can’t keep crashing 20+ times a year. Look what’s happened. Nobody wanted to see it, but they predicted it. You wouldn’t want to have Marquez’s body at 40, would you? Rossi was still battling to win races at 40.
Valentino said his biggest regret was not getting the 10th title. Do you agree?
2015 was the big one. It all went wrong from the moment he called out Marquez during the press conference in Malaysia. Everybody in the paddock was confused to as what he thought he was going to achieve by winding Marquez up. It was strange, but I think he was so desperate to win that title, that he thought by calling Marquez out it might prevent any shenanigans. It obviously lit a fire under Marquez, who kept racing him to the next corner, and what happened next is history, but what happened next cost him that 10th title.
What’s next for MotoGP?
MotoGP is in the best place it’s ever been. There’s never been a better time for Rossi to retire because it’s rock solid; the rules, racing and the depth of field. Then you’ve got all of his academy riders coming through who, potentially, the Rossi fans can gravitate towards. If you told me 10 years ago that Rossi was retiring next year, I’d have said that we could be in trouble. MotoGP could have lost 30% of its audience, maybe more. I don’t see it now. They might lose 5%, I don’t know, but if you love MotoGP and you love racing, you’ll continue to follow it.
BT Sport is the home of MotoGP in the UK and will have all the action from Valentino Rossi’s last ever race weekend in Valencia. Coverage starts from 8am on Friday 12th November on BT Sport 2.