Fast talk – Valentino Rossi | Columns | Gassit Garage
He’s 40 and still fast. MotoGP’s megastar Valentino Rossi on girlfriends, becoming a father and why he feels he deserves that 10th world title
Valentino Rossi is the miracle man of MotoGP. If not globally in any sport. He is now 40 and a rarity. Still at the top of his game, an incredible feat of body and mind in grand prix racing.
Just as he has always been since he started as a 16-year-old in the 1996 125cc Grand Prix Championship as the precociously talented son of racer father Graziano and mother Stefania
Rossi stands astride global motor racing as giant of the sport with nine world championships, seven of them in the premier class of MotoGP.
His career casts a long shadow over the sport but it is one that is inevitably approaching sunset.
But the bright light of desire that still beams from Rossi’s face reveals that he is ready to go racing again. Where and when will his extraordinary career end?
Regrets? He’s got a handful but he prefers to look forward, not back. Even to one day becoming a father.
Rossi, at 40, is not yet ready to reveal an end date to his racing career but he knows it’s coming. In the meantime he just wants to have fun racing motorcycles and living life to the full. It has been ever thus for Valentino Rossi.
Valentino, what is an appropriate birthday gift to someone who has everything, or can buy everything he wants?
I’m not very good at choosing gifts, I always find myself in trouble, I have to work hard. I wouldn’t know what to give me. But in the end my friends always manage to surprise me.
How were the first 40 years of Valentino Rossi?
I’d say beautiful. I’m happy with what I’ve done, with how I’m at 40. For a normal life it’s not a problem, I feel good.
It’s more of a problem for the sport I do. For a MotoGP rider I’m old and I feel a little sad. I’d like to keep racing for many years. But it won’t be like that.
In your mind what are the images of a life that run most frequently?
The ones of the present time. I am not a nostalgic, I get a little bored thinking about the past. The images that flow are the next ones, those of the first race, Qatar. I can imagine what that night will look like.
All children dream of being firemen, astronauts, policemen. Before you wanted to be a rider, what did you dream of when you imagined yourself as an adult?
I dreamt of being a trucker when I was a little boy. But I don’t know why, I liked the idea of driving trucks. But I didn’t really understand that it was a very difficult job.
Your mother Stefania said that if you had chosen another path she would have wanted to see you as a scientist and know what you would have invented?
I thank my mother for her great trust. I don’t know what scientist I would have been. But if so, I would have liked to have invented a cure for a serious illness, the antidote.
Graziano, your dad, said that you have stopped the natural decay, that you are just like 10 years ago?
It hasn’t changed that much, has it? It depends on what you think, what you like to do, the ideas you have in your head. As I am not nostalgic of the past, I try never to think that time passes and that therefore I become worse.
I try to find a way to become better, if anything. Even if it’s always more difficult.
Do you think that no matter what you decided to do in your life you would have been successful?
I don’t think so. I don’t know. I have also done other things in my life, some things I am also pretty good at it. But, for example, if you’re talking about other sports, if I’d been a footballer or something else, I don’t think it would have gone so well.
Do you remember the first newspaper article about you?
When I arrived in 1996 in the World Championship there was an explosion of popularity. But if I have to go back in time, I was Graziano’s son, I knew the riders, I remember some articles that spoke of this boy who was a ballbreaker!
Everyone knows Valentino Rossi’s story. But the Valentino who is 40 years old, what kind of man is he?
I’m lucky, firstly because I have a good relationship with my family: my father, my mother, my brother and my sister. That’s important to me.
At 40, I only miss Graziano’s parents, but the family is very close. Which is good fortune. Then I have a lot of friends that I think I’ve deserved over the years, and that makes me feel good too.
John Barrymore, an a famous actor of the 1940s, said: “A man is old only when his regrets exceed dreams.” To hear you talk, you are still quite young?
Yes, yes, absolutely. I have regrets, of course, I would have liked to do some things differently, but I don’t think about it that much.
Is there something you can’t stand about yourself?
I’m often optimistic and that I can do a lot of things, but then I clash with reality and I can do only half of it. But I don’t learn from this thing, because the next time I do everything the same.
A person who knows you very well defined you this way: “Valentino is special because he’s a jazzman and he doesn’t know it, he thinks he’s a rocker. But in his life he has mixed many things. A jazzman is a master of everything, he has the music in his head and he manipulates it by creating something that is never the same”
Beautiful, thank you. I don’t know who said it. Those who like jazz are all obsessed, so for sure there is something special about jazz. I don’t know this music very well, but I agree that I’m not really a rocker. Yes, I’m more on the jazz side.
By the way, the definition is by Aldo Drudi (Rossi’s great friend and helmet designer). He said how excited you were in designing the helmet for the recent Sepang test. Talking about that excitement, you live a lot of emotions, maybe your enthusiasm is the key that allows you, today, to be still racing?
I think so. Even if I have done them many times, the things I really like never tire me. I don’t get tired thinking about starting another championship again. If anything it is more excitement, imagining what will happen, compared to breaking my balls of having done it so many other times and be bored at the idea of restarting again.
For Jorge Lorenzo, you have become almost more important than your sport, a rival without weaknesses and the most difficult to beat?
I thank him very much, because he was and is a great opponent of mine. This is the thing that makes me more proud, to have it made known. To have made a lot of people passionate about motorcycling, the thing I like to do the most.
You’ve had many opponents. But who has helped you more to become a legend?
I would start with Max Biaggi, especially in Italy the rivalry between us is what made us very famous.
In any case, at different times, you had to fight against many great champions?
The other day I tried to count them and I came to a number of six. Six top opponents in my career: Biaggi, Gibernau, Capirossi, Stoner, Lorenzo, Marquez.
Imagine Lauda and Hunt (in Formula One), they became myths having only one opponent, I had six.
If you could be remembered with a photo, an image, which one would you choose?
When I stopped with the Yamaha after the Welkom race (in 2004, the first victory after leaving Honda) and I sat next to the bike.
Do you still feel as though you’re the strongest rider?
You need to be very realistic. I realise that 10, 15 years ago I was the fastest on the track and now many times not. But I feel that if I work well, if I am in good shape, if I am particularly concentrated I can still be the one that goes fastest.
Why, at 40 and after having won everything and more, one must continue to make sacrifices to fight against boys who could almost be you children?
Ah, good question. Because…. maybe it’s a bit like a drug, it’s what you like, what you want to do, and the rest doesn’t give you such taste, if you don’t do it you get bored, I don’t feel good, that’s it. If I had to think about being at home now, I wouldn’t feel well. I’m not ready to say, okay, enough, I will retire.
But in this is there also a little fear of stopping?
Is there fear? I don’t know, I wouldn’t call it that. It’s not that I’m terrified of stopping, at some point it will just happen. But as long as I can, I want to get on with it.
What does the Academy mean to you?
Something that makes us very proud. A great project, but above all a surprise. Because it is more beautiful than we expected, both in terms of results and above all as a state of mind, as a feeling.
Among the guys who hopefully will be champions tomorrow is your brother Luca. How has your relationship changed in over the years, considering the 18 years of difference?
I feel very comfortable with Luca. We always had a great relationship, but since he was 13 or 14 years old we got very close and he started to be a rider. Having him there now, going to races together, sharing the same passion makes us much closer.
With 18 years of difference I wasn’t the classic brother. When he was born I was already big, but we are making a good use of our time together now.
Luca has started Moto2 testing well in Jerez after his shoulder operation in December?
It was important to do it. He’s in shape, he is strong and I think this year he can fight with others to win the World Championship.
For at least 10 years there have been people who say you are finished. Does it bother you?
[laughs] The first time I heard it was in 2007, I had already won, what?, five World Championships in MotoGP. For everyone, the career at the top for a great rider was over, I had taken sunset boulevard.
Instead, I won two more World Championships but, above all, after more than 10 years, I’m still here. It makes me laugh, sometimes I make a mistake in a race or I don’t go fast in a test, but it’s not that they say I have to work harder.
I finish fourth and I have to fucking stop? It seems a bit extreme to me.
Is the chase for a 10th world title a regret or a dream you believe in?
All of this. It is a dream in which I still believe a lot, but it is also a great regret, because I should have deserved it. I lost two titles in the last race, so one had to go out, but then I also finished a lot of times second, deputy world champion, so my career deserves 10. That’s also why I’m still trying.
The big mistakes, if you went back in time would they happen again?
Hmmm… already in the 2006 World Championship in Valencia (final race), if I was calmer and I didn’t fall I would have won. Then there were a lot of things that I didn’t really understand, whether they were a mistake or not: going to Ducati, or even going to Yamaha instead of continuing to win with Honda.
Or what happened at the end of 2015 (the fight with Marquez), when I unfortunately lost the World Championship. But the real mistake to me to is the one of 2006, I could have won.
Speaking of Ducati: if you had another 10 years of your career ahead of you, would you like to try that challenge again?
With Ducati now? I don’t know. I was very sorry I couldn’t win with Ducati, but it wasn’t the right time. We were both a bit unlucky.
When the season starts in less than a month in Qatar will this be your last MotoGP contract (two years), or is there a big doubt in your head?
Good question. Honestly, I don’t know. It could be the last, as well as no. We are talking about something that has yet to start and how it will end. I haven’t decided yet, I’ll let you know in any case.
Stefania (Rossi’s mother) had a dream and she says that her dreams often come true: she says she dreamt the Yamaha YZR-M1 in 2019 will be very fast?
Beautiful, it would be beautiful. It’s what we need most, to have a competitive bike. The first test was quite positive because we tried good things, there is a nice atmosphere and there are nice people working around this project, I finally see Yamaha more concentrated and more motivated.
Then from here to solve all the problems and make up the gap in my opinion it still takes time.
Valentino and women. You always had beautiful girlfriends. Because you are a nice guy, interesting, smart, or because being a rider helps a lot?
All the these. In my opinion the thing that I am a rider and I’m Valentino Rossi helped. But I’m also an interesting guy, I’m a nice guy and I think the girls have fun when they’re with me.
Is it difficult to be Rossi’s girlfriend?
From a certain point of view yes, because unfortunately you have to share me with all the people and you can not have me exclusively. Even when we have dinner together, we are never alone.
The fan comes, the waiter asks you for the photo, the restaurant owner asks how the bike goes. Apart from that I would say no, I’m quite easy, I’m good, I’m not a pain in the ass.
A few years ago you said it was late for children. have you changed your mind?
I’d like to have a baby. It’s one of the goals, and even there I don’t have that much time. It’s almost time. I still have a few years.
Do you think you’ll be a good father?
I don’t know that, let’s see how I react. I’m afraid more no than yes. But I’ll try, even if I don’t think it’s my talent.
And will Graziano be a good grandfather?
[laughs] God, if I really had to bet on it… Let’s say that Stefania seems much more reliable to me, she will be a super grandmother.
Is Francesca the right woman?
Why not? We’ve been together for a year, I feel very good. We have the right timing. She’s not in a hurry either, but we have to wait a little longer.
For motorcycling Tavullia has become almost the centre of the world, every day there is a pilgrimage of fans. But what about Italy as seen from Tavullia?
I have travelled the world and I would not change Italy with anything. We really live in the coolest place in the world, even this area is beautiful. I am in love. The problems of Italy are always the same, we have great potential, but we could do better.
You like politics, do you follow it?
I’m 40 years old and now I’m looking at it. It’s not my big passion, but I try to understand. Some things make me angry, but I’m not a great expert.
What does Valentino want to do in the next 40 years?
Race my bike for a while more. A few years with the bikes and then do some serious motor racing. We’re getting organised. Then to become a daddy, have a family, but otherwise I hope it continues like this.
Usually you get gifts on your birthday. Instead, give one to your fans?
Ha, ha what could I do? For my fans and for those who like to see me, my gift is to keep running and do it with absolute commitment. I think this is important for the fans.
Words Paolo Ianieri and Colin Young Photography Gold&Goose