All The King's Men - Rossi's Entourage

Being a MotoGP superhero makes Valentino Rossi very popular indeed. But all that fame can be a burden. Here we meet Vale's inner circle - the close allies who control and protect his image

As Valentino Rossi, the most in-demand motorcycle star the world has ever seen, starts another season, in only his 26th year on the planet, he is to be the earthly embodiment of Yamaha's 50th anniversary celebrations. And just to cap even that, he is the reigning champion. Hence his latest challenge, just like the previous ones, will be conducted from within a protective ring of friends and workmates with whom he has an obviously high degree of mutual trust.

We now unveil the key elements in Rossi's (very) Human Shield, with the help of the man himself.

What has not been written about Valentino Rossi before? Well, the following, if you care to read it and find out more about those who have created an inner sanctum for the extraordinary talent of Rossi to flourish.

Despite seeing his face everywhere, it's still easy to underestimate the pan-global phenomenon of Valentino Rossi's whole fame shtick, which has grown to a size that eclipses anything that has come from the GP paddock before. He's a peerless racer, he's a brand, he's a true entertainer, he's making the most of it, without question. And why not? It's his neck at risk, his talent and personality that drives it all.

But, he's evidently also still a bloke in his mid-20s, from the sleepy hills that surround his birthplace of Urbino; a lad who desperately wants some peace from us (and you) lot, at least some of the time. For an almost limitless number of reasons, the media cannot slake its thirst for Valentino Rossi. Partly by circumstance, partly by his own design, 'Rossimania' has created a monster. And with every race win, each new world championship, with every new market Dorna's commercial tin-opener exposes to the oxygen of MotoGP publicity, it just gets worse. And, of course, better.

No wonder Rossi's logos include the sun and moon, as he must surely meet himself coming back over the horizon sometimes.The reasons why Rossi is simply the biggest thing ever in our sport are myriad, but for our purposes we can temporarily lay them to one side.

What all this attention, success and image building has done, however, is necessitate the formation of a shield between Rossi and those who would suffocate the one they love. And it has also seen many of his key people leave their long-term prospects to follow their leader into new adventures. Like a modern-day Alexander, Rossi's personal magnetism can forge seemingly unusual alliances, unify them to a single cause and sweep them all on to endless victories. As his 2005 season round one dust-up with Gibernau in Spain showed, for Rossi at 26, there are still new worlds left to conquer.

Hence Rossi has basically instigated, by design, evolution or accident, a Praetorian Guard that extends from the physical to the psychological, from the technological to the financial, from Italy to Australia and back, via two layovers in Japan.

Such are the demands on his time that access is filtered through what seems to be his very own sports management company, Great White London - one of the cornerstones of Rossi's Empire of the Sun and Moon.

We caught up with him after a heavy day of track action at the Catalunya IRTA tests, and although he was clearly whacked out after an extensive debrief and set-up solving session, just prior to his usual extensive media commitments, he was, nonetheless, forthcoming and communicative.

He knows what the game is, does Rossi, and thus always comes across very well, even when interview time is necessarily limited. Thus his sharp mind can get out the required info with a practiced brevity, exactness and patience. Plus there is a frequent smile and no end of easy charm, even if he would plainly rather be somewhere else than sitting in front of another journalist.Or, in other words, he lived up to the hype - the hype from his own camp - yet again, off-track as well as on.

We asked him about his own personal posse of partners and protectors, and on the face of it, Rossi's key people make strange bedfellows, as each is a very different character, with dissimilar roles.That's why some of them have followed him from Aprilia, through Honda and Yamaha, from Italian Nationals to MotoGP, from the world's biggest motorcycle manufacturer to one which hadn't won the title since 1992.

There are a lot of people on Rossi's side but the biggest keys on the bunch, according to Rossi himself, are his manager Gibo Badioli, his team-manager Davide Brivio, his crew chief Jerry Burgess, and best friend Ucio Salucci. Vale and his people are quick to point out that everyone else matters as well, but as Valentino has said, "For me all of these people are very, very important, because if I did not have them, it would not have been the same".

In fact it's difficult to imagine that Rossi would ever have made the changes in career he has done if he had not had these key elements in place.

The bulk of his inner and outer circle is made up of Italians, some with links to his very beginnings in racing. It's no accident that Davide Brivio was a central figure in transporting Rossi from the easy pickings with Honda to more of a challenge on a completely different bike. "To have Italian people around is always very good," said Rossi. Italian and proud of it, despite his partial ex-patriot status in the anonymity of London, to escape the clamour of Italy, he is nonetheless pragmatic when it comes to some key areas. "The Italians have some good parts and some bad parts also," he states. "Almost all my mechanics are Australian, for example, and I am very happy they are Australian. They are always quiet, very calm. If it's good they are very quiet, if it's very bad... then it is very quiet anyway. So it's better than an all-Italian team."

All riders have people they trust and feel comfortable around in their garages, but for Rossi, nothing short of an 'A'-list movie star, they appear to play a more vital role than any other rider can imagine.

What I do for Rossi

Ucio Salucci

Ucio has been Rossi's best mate for a very long time, and is one of the gloriously entitled, 'Tribu de Chihuahua.' He's so close to the whole thing that he is an omnipresent force in the Rossi camp, and his dad Reno organises the vast Rossi fan club.

"We are a group of ten people, ten friends, from Tavullia, but Valentino and I have always had a particularly good relationship," said Ucio, who continued on the theme of how he personally helps Rossi - by just being who he is - his buddy. "In my opinion, I can bring Valentino calm, tranquility, a degree of normality. When we are in such an atmosphere of tension at racetracks, because we grew up together we don't talk about races. We talk about what happened last week or what will happen next week. I can transmit some tension away from Valentino."On a practical level, Ucio also has a few more definite functions, one which leads him on a long and winding road in luxury: "Also, I drive the motorhome!"

But is it all glamour and jet-set lifestyles? Well, pretty much, according to Ucio, even if there is an element of self-sacrifice involved. "I can no longer do many things I used to do but I know a lot of different people. I have not lost anything, because we have the same friends, I do get home to see my family sometimes. Vale's racing has given me a great life. I have been able to see the world, I can earn good money, so there are many benefits. Actually, not so much money! Yes, I have to work very hard but my favourite sport has always been bike racing. So I regard myself as lucky. This is my personal passion and yes there are some difficult moments, but I am always happy to do this."

Davide Brivio

As team manager before the Rossi era in Yamaha, Davide Brivio is a relatively late addition to Rossi's battlements. But he has known little Vale for a long time. Asked about his own role, he started talking about Rossi: "I think he has a great talent but he is also intelligent and clever, and can use his talent 100%. Having such an expert rider I don't need to say what he has to do or what he doesn't have to do with the racing. It's better to leave it to him."At the track, Brivio's roles are many, but for Rossi personally Brivio irons out the wrinkles to let Rossi get on with the important business of winning. "The important part of the job is to make sure that he has everything he needs. Then we can completely trust and be confident about what he can do. We make sure he has all the top tools, in the best possible conditions, and for this we have the top technicians, then we can make sure he feels relaxed and happy. Then he puts it all together and transforms everything into a victory."When asked if Valentino has more of a shield around him than other riders he has known, Brivio states: "I think all riders feel that it is important to have people they trust and like around, to have a human side. Valentino is particularly good at developing these human relationships. He does not only take, he also gives, in any human relationship. So it is not difficult to stay close to him - it is a pleasure."

But isn't the baggage that comes with looking after the biggest name the sport has ever seen a major upset to the smooth working of the entire effort? "Of course with him being so famous we have many more complications. The media all want to talk to him all the time, the public want autographs. This influences a lot of things we do. For example, if we want to go to a restaurant, we have to think how busy it is. If he has to go from the garage to hospitality we have to make sure there are not so many people around. So this influences the things we can do but I can say that it is well compensated for in the human side of things."

Jeremy Burgess

Straight talking is an Aussie trait, and in the shape of Jeremy Burgess it has been honed to an art form, with a twist of the incisive intelligence and total understanding of what it takes to win added in. His answer to how much input he has in the whole Rossi thing outside the garage is typical. "None at all. Clearly my job with Yamaha is to give him the best bike. Our formula is pretty much the same even before Valentino came along. We've had World Championships as a group even before Valentino arrived and we continued to work the way we had. I think that suited Valentino just fine."

As Rossi himself has stated, the Aussie connection in his garage is invaluable, and gives Burgess a chance to exercise his legendary dry wit when he describes how he started out in his relationship with Rossi - when he left Aprilia to go racing in the premier class with Honda. "I think he realised that riding the 500 was quite different, so we had to help him. And the ex-Mick Doohan team was as good as any that was on the scrapheap at that time..."

As seemingly the odd lad out of Rossi's moveable little Italy, bathing Rossi in Latin love, Burgess doesn't see himself as that far out of the loop. "The Australian and the Italian mentality is very similar. Australia is full of Italians who have emigrated there and I myself have grown up in an area where there were a lot of Italians. So it wasn't difficult for me to assimilate with them."As Rossi was changed by his exposure to a new bike and a new way of working, the tight knit Burgess crew has also grown in different ways.

"We have expanded that group a bit now, because the Yamaha group is different from the way things were with Honda. Our telemetry guy is Italian now and so it is easer, sometimes, for him to describe things to Valentino. I approve of that more direct way of working, because it allows Valentino to get the information back to us more quickly. It also means that he can get away to carry out the other commitments he has. After Valentino has downloaded all the info to us, we then become his 'memory' and put all the changes in place."These commitments are an obvious complication when compared to most other riders, something you feel was not a worry for Burgess and co when Mick was the guy. If it rankles, Burgess does a good job of hiding it. "Certainly he's always got other commitments, and he's always in demand. So sometimes he can get a little behind when we have reasons to need him, so there may be a time when we need to wait until he comes back. The demands on his time interfere with both sides of the coin."

It's also surely a bit weird for Burgess to have to deal with Rossi's extended group of management, PR, family and friends who always seem to be there and thereabouts. Is Rossi unique in that respect?

"He's grown up in his area with the friends he went to school with. He's only in his mid-20s and he's been here since he was about 16 years old, so they have always been here. I think they enjoy it every bit as much as he enjoys it." More dry JB wit ensues: "I don't think he physically goes out there and pays their bus fares to come out here. I think they want to come."

Gibo Badioli

We know very little about Mr Badioli. He's always in the background, and I think he likes it like that, working away to protect Rossi from the media glare and maximise the commercial opportunities that line up for his attention. Hence, Mr Badioli's lack of personal participation in this feature.

As Valentino Rossi, the most in-demand motorcycle star the world has ever seen, starts another season, in only his 26th year on the planet, he is to be the earthly embodiment of Yamaha's 50th anniversary celebrations. And just to cap even that, he is the reigning champion. Hence his latest challenge, just like the previous ones, will be conducted from within a protective ring of friends and workmates with whom he has an obviously high degree of mutual trust.

We now unveil the key elements in Rossi's (very) Human Shield, with the help of the man himself.

What has not been written about Valentino Rossi before? Well, the following, if you care to read it and find out more about those who have created an inner sanctum for the extraordinary talent of Rossi to flourish.

Despite seeing his face everywhere, it's still easy to underestimate the pan-global phenomenon of Valentino Rossi's whole fame shtick, which has grown to a size that eclipses anything that has come from the GP paddock before. He's a peerless racer, he's a brand, he's a true entertainer, he's making the most of it, without question. And why not? It's his neck at risk, his talent and personality that drives it all.

But, he's evidently also still a bloke in his mid-20s, from the sleepy hills that surround his birthplace of Urbino; a lad who desperately wants some peace from us (and you) lot, at least some of the time.
For an almost limitless number of reasons, the media cannot slake its thirst for Valentino Rossi. Partly by circumstance, partly by his own design, 'Rossimania' has created a monster. And with every race win, each new world championship, with every new market Dorna's commercial tin-opener exposes to the oxygen of MotoGP publicity, it just gets worse.

And, of course, better.

No wonder Rossi's logos include the sun and moon, as he must surely meet himself coming back over the horizon sometimes.

The reasons why Rossi is simply the biggest thing ever in our sport are myriad, but for our purposes we can temporarily lay them to one side.

What all this attention, success and image building has done, however, is necessitate the formation of a shield between Rossi and those who would suffocate the one they love. And it has also seen many of his key people leave their long-term prospects to follow their leader into new adventures. Like a modern-day Alexander, Rossi's personal magnetism can forge seemingly unusual alliances, unify them to a single cause and sweep them all on to endless victories. As his 2005 season round one dust-up with Gibernau in Spain showed, for Rossi at 26, there are still new worlds left to conquer.

Hence Rossi has basically instigated, by design, evolution or accident, a Praetorian Guard that extends from the physical to the psychological, from the technological to the financial, from Italy to Australia and back, via two layovers in Japan.

Such are the demands on his time that access is filtered through what seems to be his very own sports management company, Great White London - one of the cornerstones of Rossi's Empire of the Sun and Moon.

We caught up with him after a heavy day of track action at the Catalunya IRTA tests, and although he was clearly whacked out after an extensive debrief and set-up solving session, just prior to his usual extensive media commitments, he was, nonetheless, forthcoming and communicative.

He knows what the game is, does Rossi, and thus always comes across very well, even when interview time is necessarily limited. Thus his sharp mind can get out the required info with a practiced brevity, exactness and patience. Plus there is a frequent smile and no end of easy charm, even if he would plainly rather be somewhere else than sitting in front of another journalist.

Or, in other words, he lived up to the hype - the hype from his own camp - yet again, off-track as well as on.

We asked him about his own personal posse of partners and protectors, and on the face of it, Rossi's key people make strange bedfellows, as each is a very different character, with dissimilar roles.

That's why some of them have followed him from Aprilia, through Honda and Yamaha, from Italian Nationals to MotoGP, from the world's biggest motorcycle manufacturer to one which hadn't won the title since 1992.

There are a lot of people on Rossi's side but the biggest keys on the bunch, according to Rossi himself, are his manager Gibo Badioli, his team-manager Davide Brivio, his crew chief Jerry Burgess, and best friend Ucio Salucci. Vale and his people are quick to point out that everyone else matters as well, but as Valentino has said, "For me all of these people are very, very important, because if I did not have them, it would not have been the same".

In fact it's difficult to imagine that Rossi would ever have made the changes in career he has done if he had not had these key elements in place.

The bulk of his inner and outer circle is made up of Italians, some with links to his very beginnings in racing. It's no accident that Davide Brivio was a central figure in transporting Rossi from the easy pickings with Honda to more of a challenge on a completely different bike. "To have Italian people around is always very good," said Rossi. Italian and proud of it, despite his partial ex-patriot status in the anonymity of London, to escape the clamour of Italy, he is nonetheless pragmatic when it comes to some key areas. "The Italians have some good parts and some bad parts also," he states. "Almost all my mechanics are Australian, for example, and I am very happy they are Australian. They are always quiet, very calm. If it's good they are very quiet, if it's very bad... then it is very quiet anyway. So it's better than an all-Italian team."

All riders have people they trust and feel comfortable around in their garages, but for Rossi, nothing short of an 'A'-list movie star, they appear to play a more vital role than any other rider can imagine.