Valentino Rossi announced he will retire from grand prix racing at the close of the 2021 season after an illustrious 26-year career racing in the world championship.
In an “exceptional press conference” called on the eve of the Styrian Grand Prix in Austria, the Italian confirmed he would hang up his racing leathers over the summer break despite having the offer to ride in his own VR46 team in 2022, aboard Ducati machinery.
Now 42 years old, Rossi has been undergoing his worst season to date after switching from Yamaha’s factory team to the Petronas SRT Yamaha squad. He sits 19th in the World Championship after nine races, with a best result of a single 10th place.
His intention at the beginning of 2021 was to continue racing motorcycles next year, he explained. But recent struggles were enough to convince him it was time to stop.
“I wanted to continue when I start the championship,” he said. “But I needed to understand if I was fast enough. During the season our results were less than what I expect. Race by race I started to think.”
From here, Rossi will switch disciplines and series. The nine-time World Champion had always harbored ambitions to race on four wheels (and came close to joining Ferrari in Formula 1 at the close of 2005). In 2022, he will take on the challenge of racing cars full time. “I love to race with the cars, just a little less than the motorcycle,” he said. “I would like to race the cars. I feel that I am a rider or driver all life long. Just [I will] change motorcycles for cars, not at the same level, but I think I will race anyway.”
Rossi has fielded questions regarding his future all year long. But he insisted he was more comfortable with the idea of retiring now than any time in the past. “Sincerely two years ago and last year I was not ready to stop with MotoGP. But now I’m okay. I’m quiet. I’m not happy for sure. Anyway, if I make another year, next year I’d be not happy in the same moment because I want to race for the next 20!”
Since Saudi Arabia’s Prince Abdulaziz bin Abdullah Al Saud stated his desire for Rossi to join half-brother Luca Marini in the Saudi-backed VR46 Ducati MotoGP squad next year, speculation mounted on whether he would continue in the colors of his own team.
“I had an official offer from my team,” Rossi admitted. “I think deeply about continuing because I [would] like to race in my team, to have my bikes in Tavullia (Rossi’s hometown). We have a great Moto2 and Moto3 team with a lot of people I know for a long time. It (would be) very fascinating to race with my team. At the end I decide not. It’s a good project if you have two or three years. But if you think you have just one season. Maybe it’s more of a risk than a good thing.”
Rossi joined the World Championship as a 16-year old in 1996 and has since racked up 423 GP starts over 25 and a half seasons, the most in history. On what he will miss most from life as a MotoGP rider, Rossi explained, “I will miss a lot the athlete life. To wake up every morning and train with the target, to try to win. I like a lot this life. Number one, I will miss riding the MotoGP bike. It’s always a great emotion. Also, to work with my team, starting from Thursday and trying to fix all the small details to be stronger.
“After I will miss a lot of Sunday morning, two hours before the race, it’s something where you don’t feel comfortable, you are scared but it’s an emotion because you know the race starts. This is something that will be hard to fix.”
For most of his premier class career, Rossi transcended the sport. His charm, charisma and outstanding racing ability was a heady mix that captivated audiences around the world and raised MotoGP to a major sport in his native Italy. His on-track antics and famous celebrations catapulted his profile to be among the most famous sportsmen in the world.
Along with the nine world championships, 115 grand prix race wins, 199 premier class podiums, and 65 pole positions, Rossi considered another aspect of his career to be the standout achievement. “A lot of people followed motorcycles because of me,” he said. “This is the most important thing I did in my career. I entertained a lot of people on Sunday afternoon and a lot of people enjoyed for one or two hours during the Sunday when they don’t think about anything, just enjoy my races.”