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GP Week : Issue 150
Perhaps the most ringing phrase, in screeds of comments on Valentino Rossi’s career doldrums, came from Giacomo Agostini, racing’s most decorated rider, and doubtless highly relieved his record total of 122 wins now looks a bit safer – Rossi hasn’t added to his once-threatening total of 105 in more than a year. “It’s like an orange,” said Ago (right). “You can keep squeezing it, but at a certain point there is no more juice.” Given the glitter of Rossi’s career, it is hard to believe that the grand master of everything about racing is now firmly on the downward path. Surely he will come back? Then again, look at his age, 33, and the impetuous band of rivals in their early or mid-twenties. Then add in the distance Ducati is from being fully competitive plus the size of his bank account and the equation tips the other way. Watching to see which way it goes will occupy the rest of the season, half-hoping that he really can pull off a miracle and start winning races, and half anxious that it should all come to as dignified an end as possible, to avoid tarnishing either the rider or the motorcycle any further. Rossi has always been able to surprise, but never on a bad bike. He’s credited with transforming the Yamaha M1, and his contribution was significant. But the basis for that success came from Yamaha’s cross-plane crankshaft engine. Most inexorably, there is the passage of time. Sooner or later it must all come to an end. If not now, then when? But it’s hard for riders to stop. A look at past serial champions shows very few of them did so before their careers had gone into terminal and sometimes embarrassing decline. After Gilera quit, Geoff Duke carried on another downbeat year on a private Norton. Agostini was reduced to a showboating return on the outclassed MV. Phil Read was getting beaten too often when he quit mid-GP meeting in 1976. Barry Sheene was an also-ran when called it a day. More recently Freddie Spencer dominated then it was suddenly all over ... his repeated come-back attempts increasingly undignified. Eddie Lawson found a way to remain valuable, helping Cagiva to become competitive; two of his contemporaries – Wayne Rainey and Mick Doohan – are the only real notables cut short by injury. Kevin Schwantz also, but only after struggling on longer than he should have. But there are a couple of case histories that might offer Valentino some hope. John Surtees left bike racing after seven titles and went straight to F1, to become the only champion on both two and four wheels. Might be too late for Rossi, but car racing is tempting all the same. And Mike Hailwood quit after narrowly failing to win Honda’s first 500 title, when the company pulled out of GPs for 10 years, and had his own not inconsiderable car racing career. Then came back to two wheels and won two Isle of Man TTs. Now there’s a target for Valentino. OPINION MICHAEL SCOTT MotoGP Editor OPINION WHEN THE FIRE BURNS DOWN 19 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: