Valentino Rossi says ‘strange’ 2020 delayed MotoGP exit call after 2019 thoughts

Valentino Rossi says he was close to retiring from MotoGP in 2020 but decided against it due to the 'strange' nature of the COVID-impacted short season

Valentino Rossi - Petronas SRT Yamaha

Valentino Rossi has revealed he would have likely retired from the MotoGP World Championship in 2020 had the season not been shaken up by the coronavirus pandemic, after thoughts about hanging up his helmet surfaced during a tough 2019 campaign.

One of the most successful GP riders in history, Rossi won nine Grand Prix world titles in a career spanning 25 years, seven of which would come in the premier 500GP/MotoGP class across with Honda and Yamaha.

Achieving 115 GP wins during that time, Rossi’s form nevertheless began declining during the latter stages of his career, with his final success coming in the 2017 Dutch TT at Assen, while the last of his 235 podiums occurred in the 2020 Andalusian MotoGP.

Indeed, having started the 2019 MotoGP season brightly with a brace of second place finishes in two of the opening three rounds, Rossi’s struggles began with the start of the European leg, the Italian complaining of rear tyre grip issues on the Yamaha M1 that persisted over the next two seasons too.

The slip in performance coincided with Rossi considering his future in the sport to the extent he suggests he might have decided on concluding his career had the 2020 MotoGP season not been shortened and largely devoid of spectators due to COVID-19.

"I started to think of retirement in 2019," said Rossi in a series of YouTube interviews with Graham Bensinger. "Because 2019 was the first time that I had a problem with the results. I expected to be stronger.

"I started 2019 in a very good way because I did two podiums in Argentina and Austin, in Austin very close to winning, and after something happened when we came back to Europe and I was not fast.

“So that moment was the first time that I thought we are close to finishing. After we had 2020, but that decision was very strange because of the pandemic.

"At the beginning of the season, I thought I would stop and not race in 2021. But after my parents and my friends [persuaded me to stay], we'd changed my chief mechanic in the team, so they all pushed me and said 'don’t give up! We have to do another season.' So we raced also in 2021."

With his swansong season on the satellite Petronas SRT Yamaha proving a struggle en route to 18th in the overall standings, many have commented that Rossi would have done better to retire earlier on a high.

However, it is a view he disagrees with, saying he would happily continue racing on in MotoGP regardless of his competitiveness 

"I see a lot of other riders or drivers, or champions in sport, that want to stop when they are at the top. But for me it's different. I don’t want to stop. If I'm still at the top I want to continue, because I like, I enjoy," Rossi said.

"So I always said I will give the maximum until the end, give everything, so after I don’t have any regrets and can't say 'I could race for another two or three seasons'.”