Valentino Rossi: How the GOAT defined MotoGP with 26 seasons of irreverent genius, talent and rival-beating mind games

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Legend. Icon. GOAT. Prankster. Idol. Genius – whatever label you give him, Valentino Rossi deserves them all. There have been racing megastars who have transcended the sport before – from Duke and Hailwood to Agostini, Sheene and Roberts – but none have achieved the astounding global recognition or status of Tavullia’s most famous son.

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Walk through any city street or village backwater anywhere on Earth and you won’t be surprised to spot a 46 sticker on a battered scooter, car back window, or to see a kid wearing a fluro yellow 46 T-shirt or a truck driver in a Rossi cap.

Those fans, who might have first been alerted by the colour and fun of his personality and by his post-race antics, were then captivated by the theatrics and skill of his race craft to become die-hard followers – bringing millions of new fans to the premier class. Rarely has one man defined their sport in the way that Valentino ‘owned’ MotoGP.

Grand Prix may have always been the premier class, but the Rossi effect has created a gravitational pull all of its own, sucking fans and international interest from other world and domestic series alike.

Valentino Rossi signing autographs for a fan

He’s not just an idol to his fans, he’s the man most of the current MotoGP grid cite as their reason for being there. Formula 1 drivers revere him, rally drivers fear him, road racers bow to his talent and showmanship (and he bows to theirs). He’s a hero’s hero.

In a career that has spanned 26 seasons, Rossi has rewritten the record book. He triumphed in all classes, took nine world championships, watched rivals arrive with gusto and leave destroyed by his talent and mental gymnastics.

Pundits have been predicting his retirement for years, even before his epic return to form in 2014 – racing and beating riders who were schoolkids or toddlers when he was winning his first world championships.

A young Valentino Rossi taking questions

But the day had to come when he hung up his leathers. Leaving the talent and trophies behind. Valentino’s impact on the sport of MotoGP is unparalleled.

His charisma and lust for life will leave an indelible mark on the sport. And while he may no longer  be racing, he’ll still be in the paddock, trying to repeat the magic as a team manager.

To celebrate this exceptional career, we look back on the stand-out races, crazy celebrations, and championship seasons that have given us – the fans – so much joy.

Valentino Rossi’s stand-out Victories

Rossi riding a 125

1996 Brno First GP win

When the skinny, 16-year-old son of ex-GP winner Graziano Rossi took his first 125 win, few thought they were witnessing the start of a new era. But by winning in his first season on the world stage and being champion only a year later, it’s the day the fairy tale began.

Rossi takes his first premier class victory

2000 Donington First premier class win

The three-way scrap between rookie Rossi, veteran McWilliams and Kenny Roberts Jnr could easily have gone wrong but the young Italian held out in slippery conditions to take his first premier class win and ignite his love affair with British fans.

Rossi battling on track with Max Biaggi

2001 Suzuka Biaggi gets ‘the bird’

The first of many iconic Rossi rivalries, Biaggi gave as good as he got and pushed Rossi onto the dirt in Suzuka, only to be on the receiving end of a one-fingered salute as the young pretender powered past later in the race to take the victory.

Rossi gives a TV interview

2003 Phillip Island ‘Penalty? What penalty?’

Most great racers keep something in reserve, but Rossi had to dig especially deep after getting a 10-second penalty for passing Melandri under a yellow flag. He did: simply riding away from rivals to nullify the penalty and taking the win by an aggregate 5.2sec.

Rossi riding in his first season at Yamaha

2004 Welkom From Honda to Yamaha

Who can forget Rossi bawling his eyes out after achieving what everyone said couldn’t be done? Jumping from title-winning RCV to also-ran M1 and transforming it into a winner, Rossi became the first rider to win back-to-back races for different factories.

Rossi takes victory in the wet

2005 Donington Park  Rain master

Always fast in the wet, Rossi again delivered a masterclass in front of British fans at a track he loved by keeping his cool despite many of those around him hitting the deck (including Melandri, above) and surviving a few scares of his own.

Rossi overtakes Casey Stoner on the Corkscrew at Laguna Seca

2008 Laguna Seca Corkscrew-ing Stoner

Rossi went head-to-head against reigning champ Stoner in this thriller of a battle. One of Rossi’s most famous wins, his dive up the inside of the Ducati rider at the top of Laguna’s Corkscrew will go down as one of the most memorable passes in GP history.

Rossi battles with teammate Jorge Lorenzo

2009 Catalunya Teammates do battle

Separated by a garage wall and at the very height of their Yamaha feud, Rossi and Lorenzo went to war. But it was Rossi who played a blinder, delivering a now-legendary last corner overtake to deny his Spanish teammate a home win.

Rossi takes to the gravel during a battle with Marc Marquez

2015 Assen Marquez and the gravel

A race-long tussle with Marquez saw the Spaniard lunge up the inside at the Gert-Timmer chicane on the final lap. But Rossi had the line, closed the door, and the pair collided. Rossi kept his cool and stood the M1 up and rode it through the gravel to take the win.

Valentino Rossi’s celebrations

Rossi celebrates a victory with a doll

1997 Mugello Don’t fancy yours much 

Even back in his 125 days, Rossi was always up for antagonising fellow Italian Biaggi at every opportunity. This time, Vale used his Mugello win to give a pillion ride to a blow-up doll with Claudia Schiffer’s name written on its back – a cheeky swipe at Biaggi who’d been linked to supermodel Naomi Campbell.

Rossi celebrates a victory with a chicken

1998 Catalunya Chicken Run

Rossi celebrated this win by giving a pillion ride to a chicken, having fooled everyone in the paddock into believing that he was sponsored by “Osvaldo”, an Italian farming magnate. After the Italian press scoured Italy to try to track down this mystery chicken millionaire, Rossi admitted that it was all a ruse.

Rossi pays homage to Barry Sheene

2003 Phillip Island ‘Here’s to you, Bazza’

Rossi showed his poignant side with a homemade tribute to double world champ Barry Sheene, who’d died from cancer earlier that year. He said: “I made the number 7 flag out of respect for my friend Barry Sheene.” Just like Rossi, Sheene transcended his sport not only with his talent but also his charisma.

Rossi's chain gang celebration

2003 Brno The chain gang

Supposedly ‘in crisis’ because he’d gone four races without winning (despite finishing on the podium every time) Rossi decided to have a little laugh at his naysayers’ expense. “Leading the championship and finishing on the podium obviously isn’t enough,” he joked afterwards. “So I must work on the chain gang, too!”

Rossi pays homage to Mike Hailwood

2005 Sachsenring ‘Sorry, Mike!’

Rossi is a noted historian of MotoGP and it’s rare that when he passes a major milestone that he doesn’t pay homage in some way to the other legends of the sport. At the Sachsenring in 2005 Rossi paid tribute to Mike Hailwood after joining the Englishman on 76 career wins.

Rossi celebrates with Snow White

2005 Sepang Snow White & The Seven Titles

Rumoured to be inspired by a Sprocket cartoon featured in AMCN earlier that season, Rossi again gathered willing members of his fanclub dressed as the famous fairytale characters each with the year of his title wins displayed on their chests. His reasoning for it, Rossi said: “I just liked the story as a child!” Fair enough!

Rossi's bowling celebration

2007 Jerez Bowling for wins

Rossi turned the Spanish circuit into his own personal bowling alley, as members of his fan club dressed up as bowling pins ready to be knocked down by triumphant Vale. Adding to the drama, the last skittle was left teetering on the edge before falling down to give the Italian the all-important strike.

Rossi celebrates with Angel Nieto

2008 Le Mans Two champs

After taking his 90th career win and equalling the record of GP legend Angel Nieto, what better way to celebrate than by letting Nieto himself ride Rossi’s bike home? Meeting up on the slowing down lap, the two champions swapped places, with Nieto riding Rossi’s M1 home as the Italian sat on the back.

Rossi's porta-loo celebration

2009 Jerez When you gotta go…

Caught short at Jerez in 1999 after an epic last lap 250 battle with Capirossi and Harada, Rossi was forced to make an unexpected pit stop to a trackside portaloo; something he paid tribute to 10 years later with his fan club on hand to bring the toilet to him after taking victory!