Written by Staff Writer
Photos © Gianluca Di Vacanti/Benetton Scuderia
MotoGP is a sport that is filled with controversy and upsets. And at the current stage of the sport’s evolution in the 21st century, it’s also one of the most unpredictable.
And so it was in Monte Carlo in September 2017, when much-fancied, two-time champion Valentino Rossi abruptly crashed out of the race, ending the Italian’s grand prix career.
It was a truly shocking development for everyone in the paddock.
Just days before the race, Rossi had revealed that he had put aside his customary cruelty towards British rider Cal Crutchlow, who had pushed him during a previous race. At a post-race press conference Rossi said: “Honestly, I don’t want to win this race, I don’t know why. Maybe tomorrow I can find the answer, but right now I am going home for my kid’s birth and I am not thinking about motorbikes. But something could change.”
That was going to be Rossi’s farewell race.
And then just days before race, Rossi and Crutchlow collided. This was a deeply humiliating moment for Rossi, even though he did his part in the collision. For Rossi, who enjoys the perfect calm of grand prix racing, clearly this was his final grand prix.
But Rossi was not done yet.
Under way was the race, a tumultuous affair on a mine-fenced circuit. The Spaniard Marc Marquez had finished ahead of Rossi in qualifying, but this could be Rossi’s moment. In just five seasons on the MotoGP world stage, the Italian rider had finally done what he has long dreamt of: win a grand prix in Europe.
If Rossi is the godfather of the sport, then it was his victory over Marquez in the past that finally gave the GP a religious feel. At the end of this dramatic race, Rossi tapped Marquez on the shoulder and said: “Congratulations, man.” It was quite a gesture.
With that beautiful gesture Rossi made it clear that he was going out with dignity, grace and elegance, as a grand prix champion. And he was not through yet, just days later.
The next week Rossi would challenge his replacement at Yamaha, Maverick Vinales. The 18-year-old’s form in his maiden grand prix race, winning in Malaysia, was impressive, but so was Rossi’s raw, blood-pumping energy.
For Rossi, the final stretch of the season was not about the podium places or the first or second places, he was already thinking ahead to a possible return to the MotoGP championship next year.