The real reason why Valentino Rossi is the greatest MotoGP racer of all-time

Is Valentino Rossi the greatest Grand Prix/MotoGP racer of all-time? Yes... and not just because of his victories, titles and showmanship...

Valentino Rossi - Yamaha MotoGP [1200]

After more than a quarter of a century racing on the global stage, Valentino Rossi is preparing to embark on an emotional farewell to the GP paddock at this weekend’s Valencia MotoGP.

His 371st and final outing in Spain - the scene of some of his most memorable title showdowns over the past two decades - comes after a career spanning 26 years, during which time he has achieved 9 GP World Championship titles (one 125GP, one 250GP, one 500GP, six MotoGP), 89 wins and 199 podiums.

Indeed, while the headline to this feature is a question that has been asked on countless articles over these many years, the debate has never been anything less than fevered… and that’s unlikely to change in the time after he hangs up his helmet for the final time.

Valentino Rossi: The People’s Champion

Covering off the basics first, Giacomo Agostini is statistically the most successful grand prix racer of all time, which is enough to satisfy those who crown heroes based on cold, hard numbers. Of course though, the comparison is difficult to make when statistics are distorted by Agostini’s parallel multi-class activities during the same years and achieving them against fewer rivals.

Then again, his finishing record is something to behold decades before reliability could be considered broadly excellent, there were fewer races in a season and he won the Isle of Man TT. The latter alone makes a convincing argument in favour of Agostini over Rossi.

It’s also potentially true that Rossi isn’t the greatest GP racer. While there was a dominant period during the 2000s where it seemed no-one would take on and defeat Rossi at his own game, rivals eventually came to threaten his familiar spot on top of the podium. 

Casey Stoner’s technically superb riding style may have been the antithesis of Rossi’s showmanship but it was tough to penetrate when at full flow. Jorge Lorenzo took his fight to Rossi from within his own habitat, a fierce inter-team rivalry that brought the best out of both. Marc Marquez arguably combines the styles of Stoner and Rossi, the results of which speak for themselves.

However, while rivals came, they also went. Indeed, though Rossi’s success has diminished in the latter years of his career, grandstands at every round remain a sea of VR46 yellow that far out-strips any rival - even in Spain, no doubt much to the chagrin of Lorenzo and Marquez et al.

How Valentino Rossi became bigger than MotoGP

At a time when MotoGP was going through a tricky phase as he morphed from 500GP into its modern, brand-focused four-stroke era, Rossi emerged as the sport’s outright dominant figure… and not just on track.

With a thick Italian accent that hasn’t Anglicised despite his surroundings, an attitude that was refreshingly outspoken as much as it was arrogant, a leg-waving flamboyant swagger on a bike that went on to inspire hundreds of youngsters and a profile that drew both admiration and envy among rivals, Rossi wasn’t just the star of MotoGP, he was the star of his own show.

It was a cocktail of attributes that allowed him to transcend MotoGP as a superstar attraction, a status he lapped up and exploited with controversial on-track run-ins with rivals, amusing set-piece stunts after his race wins and a tongue-in-cheek approach to pushing his brand. He made for great TV even before watching him dance past rivals seemingly able to do things on a bike his rivals couldn’t.

As adored as he was contentious in moments of heated rivalry, either way he was blockbuster in a way never seen before.

The Valentino Rossi legacy

At a time when Rossi’s on track success began to wane, so started the sowing of grassroots for a legacy that will endure far beyond his racing career.

Indeed, while Rossi ensured the Italian tricolore was very visible over the past 20 years, he has done so amid a sea of Spanish riders that have capitalised on an established and well-funded development structure domestically to rise to the sport’s fore.

It is to Rossi’s credit then that he has almost single-handedly taken on the role, responsibility and financial commitment of a national organisation to discover, nurture and promote burgeoning Italian motorcycle racing talent.

Starting with his famous ranch - a veritable playground for racers - Rossi has gone on to establish the VR46 Academy for riders and his own VR46 Racing Moto3 and Moto2 teams.

These seeds have since blossomed into an impressive list of achievements in just a few short years; Pecco Bagnaia landed the Moto2 team its first World Championship, while he and Franco Morbidelli fly the Italian flag at the forefront of MotoGP’s new generation. 

Adding Luca Marini and Marco Bezzecchi, VR46 will have four riders representing Rossi in MotoGP next season, not to mention his graduating VR46 Racing outfit.

It is for this reason that Rossi is arguably elevated beyond his peers as the greatest GP rider of all time. There will always be arguments for and against when compared with myriad riders across different eras, but Rossi is the only one leaving MotoGP with an inheritance handed to proteges that will carry and develop it into the future. 

This weekend’s Valencia finale may be a retrospective moment to celebrate Rossi’s past achievements, but while his next chapter won’t be his own to write, the Rossi story still has plenty  more chapters left in it.