For many, it’s a painful thing to consider, but signs pointing towards the diminishing competitiveness of Valentino Rossi are becoming increasingly prominent.
It may have been hasty of some – myself included – to assume that it was only a matter of time before Valentino would once again win in MotoGP, following his return to Yamaha. A re-acclimatisation period was going to be required for the returning Rossi; the Yamaha team he has returned to has changed some since his departure in 2010. But it seems that no amount of time will be long enough for Rossi to return to the top step of the podium; his rivals are only getting quicker. Or is he getting slower?
There was a glimmer of hope at the opening race of the year, in Qatar, where Rossi stormed from seventh place in the early stages to finish second, behind his team-mate Jorge Lorenzo. Since then however, Rossi has struggled to match the impressive pace of Lorenzo and other Spaniards, Dani Pedrosa and Marc Marquez. Even Cal Crutchlow, on a non-factory supported Yamaha, has had the measure of Rossi on occasions.
The Italian Grand Prix at Mugello, surely, would give a true reflection of the Valentino Rossi many hoped still existed but alas, before a lap had been completed, an over-ambitious Alvaro Bautista sent Rossi crashing down, along with the hearts of thousands of passionate Rossi supporters.
“In Mugello he [Bautista] did a mistake and f**ked my home grand prix and we could have had big pain [in the accident]. But one mistake can happen… He said he didn’t see me.”
Then came the Spanish Grand Prix from Catalunya and another “impossible” overtaking attempt by Bautista. Rossi sums it up; “For me, when Bautista sees me, Lorenzo and also the other top guys he becomes a little bit crazy”.
Rossi wisely avoided the crashing Bautista and survived a race that saw many riders fall from their tyre-chewing machines. The concern for Rossi however, is that he finished a distant fourth. Other than running wide to avoid Bautista, Rossi had no major incidents or hold-ups; the pace of the top three – Lorenzo, Pedrosa and Marquez – was just too much; something that has been evident previously this season.
Rossi knows it, too. In a press conference before the race in Catalunya, Rossi was asked if he planned a repeat of the last lap, last corner move for the lead on his team-mate from 2009. “Maybe if Jorge waits for me” was Rossi’s tongue-in-cheek reply. But behind the large grin and laughter, Rossi knows he’s up against much younger and it seems, much faster riders.
The question is, will Rossi continue to fall behind the likes of Lorenzo, Pedrosa and Marquez or will there be one last hurrah? And how long can he sustain doing either? Is it time for the 9-time World Champion to hang up his leathers while he remains (almost) on top?