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GP Week : Issue 36
> AWARDS> MotoGP: Valentino Rossi DID Rossi win all the votes because of his results, or because of who he is? The two don’t go hand in hand: fast riders don’t automatically also have oodles of professional charm. Nor do they have Valentino’s extraordinary good luck – attested to by the fact that he has never had a serious injury in some 20 years of bike racing. Rossi broke all sorts of records this year. One was to outrank Giacomo Agostini to become the biggest premier- class winner of all time (Ago still beats him in the total of races and titles won, but he’s getting closer). A closer past parallel is another great rider: Mike Hailwood, who also won and won and won, and did so with an easy charm that made him loved even by his rivals. Mike the Bike smiled whether he won or lost. Valentino is the same. It’s hard to marry this easy insouciance with the clear and awe-inspiring will to win that drives competitors like this. Racing at this level, in any discipline, is an all-consuming Michael Scott MotoGP editor task … week in, week out. It’s a rare racer that has much time for a normal life on the side. Maybe this is why his four-wheel peers chose Valentino above all the others. Because they understand the pressures, and admire the professionalism. Because above all else, Valentino is professional. His easy charm isn’t an act: it comes naturally. But the way he uses it is far from happy-go-lucky. Rossi likes to win on the track. And everywhere else as well. I’ve watched his astonishing progress every since he turned up as an androgynous 17-year- old with Prince Valiant hair as a prodigy of the 125 class in 1996. Back then, Valentino was impossible to miss. Ubiquitous in the paddock, he’d spend hours with the Italian Press, his cackling laugh a frequent punctuation. He started his series of post-victory pantomimes I HAVE had a great season and my hardest championship ever, so to be acknowledged by the other drivers is quite special. Especially the rally drivers. Rallying is my second passion after motorbikes. This year was special for me because I lost the championship for the last two years. Before that I had achieved every goal, and it felt as though it was my right to win. It was very important for me to learn how to lose. I signed up with Yamaha for two more years after this one because I still love racing. There are some great younger riders now, to make it interesting. When that contract is finished I will be 31. I think I will be too old for Formula 1, and the test that Ferrari has arranged for me is just like a present, not a serious test. I am sure I will still want to have some fun with motorsport. We will think about these two coming years, and then see what happens next. – VALENTINO ROSSI 29 the next year. They were innocent enough: a Robin Hood costume at Donington Park (near Nottingham on the fringe of Sherwood Forest); a comic-opera Gothic warrior wielding a studded ball-and- chain club under the shadow of the brooding castle at the Nürburgring. They would become much more elaborate with time. But he was still just learning how to be a Grand Prix rider, and also learning how to play the public game. Valentino of today, eight World Championships later, rations himself much more carefully, and with great skill. He’s the quick-witted master of the TV sound-bite, the clown who plays to the cameras, the guy with 90 percent of the fans, and most of the income. Then he goes out and races like a demon. There have been many landmarks in his career, winning titles on 125, 250 and 500 two-strokes, 990cc four- strokes and now an 800cc four-stroke as well. A fresh one came in 2008. It was the American GP at Laguna Seca. It was a crucial time. Defender Stoner had a run of four pole positions and three wins, and he was on pole again at the challenging home of the Corkscrew. For 23 of the 32 laps Rossi gave a display of sheer brilliance, putting himself in the way of the faster Ducati, and if Stoner ever did get ahead, he’d get him straight back. It was brinkmanship and brilliance combined. And then Stoner fell off. As he did (out of the lead) of the next two races. His championship challenge was undone. Rossi’s strength, say his rivals, is his completeness. And after two years of tasting title defeat, in the year he turned 29, which is getting for a motorbike racer, he came back stronger than ever. And just as entertaining. Few can but love Rossi. Never forget how much to respect him. Media star and prince of the people he might be. He’s also one of the greatest racers ever. That’s why he won nine races, the World Championship, and even beat Hurricane Ike during 2008. And that’s why they all voted for him. opinion