While F1 continues to be the most mainstream racing sport in the world, its little brother MotoGP that has truly captured imaginations and hearts over the last half a decade. Much like Roger Federer, Italian rider Valentino Rossi dominated the noughties, and reached the very pinnacle of his sport when he won his sixth MotoGP pro title in 2009. It was his ninth title overall, combined with his 250cc and 500cc titles, and even he was starting to get bored. He tried his hand testing at F1 and dipping his fingers into many other racing activities. There was only so much to achieve on a bike, after all.
In Search of a Higher Peak
And then, he made his switch to Ducati from Yamaha, just to challenge himself in 2011, after getting injured in 2010. For the first time in his career, he went winless through a season. Again, in 2012, it didn’t work, as his Ducati was always a few seconds off the pace of the Yamahas and Hondas at the front. He quickly discovered that he wasn’t bigger than his machine. He returned to Yamaha, back to partner Spaniard Jorge Lorenzo, who was soon to become his nemesis. By now, Lorenzo had risen from the shadows of his more illustrious teammate, and had already won the 2010 World title. He went on to win the 2012 title as well, and Rossi was starting to age a bit by now. He was a Champion, but was being overtaken by the next-gen riders like Marc Marquez – who won the 2013 and 2014 World titles on his Rapsol Honda.
The 2015 season, however, was to be one for the ages.
The Yamahas stormed ahead of the Hondas at the beginning of the season, winning six of the first seven races. Rossi won two of the first three, before teammate Lorenzo won the next four in a row. By now, rivalries were beginning to simmer in the same garages – much like the Mercedes team in F1, where Hamilton and Rosberg were to battle it out bitterly till the end.
Rossi had three collisions with defending World Champion Marquez through the season – and the last one, at Sepang, where Rossi was accused of kicking Marquez off his bike, cost him dear, and meant that he would begin the final race in last position, only three points ahead of Lorenzo – who had already started to form a sort of all-Spanish alliance with Marquez and Pedrosa, the two Honda riders. The final race at Valencia began with Lorenzo leading from beginning to end, and Rossi storming to 4th position. But Rossi had to finish in second, and as fate would have it, it was Pedrosa and Marquez ahead of him – who ‘failed’ to overtake leader and compatriot Lorenzo in the final few laps, though they behaved like they came close.
A Spanish Sandwich
Rossi called it a ‘Spanish Stitch-Up’, and he wasn’t entirely wrong. He was denied, in the most cruel fashion, a 10th World title – possibly his final crack at the title at the age of 36. He had led the Championship throughout, till that final race, where Lorenzo came from behind and won his third MotoGP title, and 6th title overall.
Together, they denied Honda by more than 200 points, and easily won the team title. It isn’t all bubbles and balloons in the garage though, with there being quite an undercurrent of resentment and tension, with the tables being turned at the turn of this decade. Lorenzo has now won three of the last six titles, and Rossi has none.
This was in stark contrast to other sporting arenas – F1, where Hamilton sped away with the title once again, and Tennis, where Novak Djokovic is not yet done with the most dominant season in men’s open era tennis, or even cricket, where Australia won yet another World Cup.
‘The Doctor’ is not the winning machine he once was. But he still managed four victories in the season, and came mighty close to becoming one of the oldest living World Champions in any sport. He will still remain a legend of his sport, what with his 73 MotoGP wins and 152 podiums out of 238 starts.