Though there will still be two more races for Valentino Rossi after Emilia-Romagna round of MotoGP, Rossi's second home race feels like the grand finale to his career. Misano is just a few kilometers from Tavullia, where he grew up, and where he lives and trains. And it is a track where he has seen some success in recent years, winning races and finishing on the podium.
After Misano, we head to Portimão, which has only been on the calendar since last year, and to Valencia, historically one of Rossi's worst tracks, with mostly unhappy memories. So if there is to be a grand farewell for the most significant figure in motorcycle racing, and arguably, in all of motorsports, it is more likely to come at Misano, with Portimão and Valencia served up as an encore.
Everyone has to retire at some point, but it sometimes seemed that moment would never come for Valentino Rossi. The Italian kept defying the odds, snatching podiums, looking capable of winning races, and always in the running for the championship. Even after he celebrated his 40th birthday in 2019, a date by which most racers are long retired, he still scored two podiums, and finished just off the podium another four times.
Yet when Rossi did announce his retirement, after the summer break at the Styrian Grand Prix at Spielberg in Austria, nobody was surprised. Rossi's results were very different from the past couple of years. He had gone from vying for podiums to struggling to get into the top ten.
Going back and analyzing his results in recent years highlights what looks like a definitive break for Rossi. And the more you look at the races he missed in 2020, the more it becomes clear that the time he lost to Covid-19 accelerated the end of his career.
In 2015, Rossi was vying for the championship with Jorge Lorenzo all the way to the final race at Valencia. The next year, he finished second once again, this time behind Marc Marquez, though this time the gap was 49 points rather than 5. His form slipped a little after 2016, still scoring regular podiums and featuring in the championship. All the way up to a streak of six no scores, including being absent for two races with Covid-19. From that point on, his form collapsed.
Crunching the numbers makes the pattern even more clear. In 2015, Rossi was on the podium 15 times from 18 races, taking 4 victories. His average finishing position was 2.6, or basically a podium every race, while his average gap to the winner in the dry was 5.3 seconds. Four DNFs the following season basically put him out of contention for the title, but when he did finish races, he finished closer to the lead, the gap being 4.5 seconds in the dry. With 10 podiums, it was clear he was still competitive.
dry races/no crashes
Rossi's form started to slip a little in the following three seasons, though some of that can be attributed to the performance of the Yamaha stagnating, while the Honda and Ducati leaped ahead. From 2017, Andrea Dovizioso and Ducati took over as the main challengers to the supremacy of Marc Marquez, while HRC found ever more speed out of the Honda RC213V, culminating in Marquez' spectacular 2019 season, where he never finished outside of the top two.
Between 2017 and 2019, Rossi's average finishing position fluctuated between 4th and 6th. His average gap to the winner in the dry was 9 seconds in 2017, 7.1 seconds in 2018, and 11.3 seconds in 2019. He scored 6 podiums in 2017, 5 podiums in 2018, and 2 podiums in 2019.
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