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GP Week : Issue 166
21 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: Valentino Rossi shares more than just wins, championships and a cavalier riding style with his great predecessor Mike Hailwood. Both of these men could deploy another weapon: formidable charm. In this way, the killer instinct is veiled in bonhomie and good cheer. Rossi is vastly popular not only because of his racing success. Now the greatest rider of his era is making the big move back to Yamaha, to put his reputation on the line. Or, as one of his compatriots put it rather more colourfully, his balls on the table. He didn’t mean billiards. His approach in public is becomingly modest. He “just wants to see” if he can still run with the best. No mention of beating them, except possibly now and then. On a good day. The mantra espoused by him and his acolytes firmly pushes championship hopes aside, talking instead of winning occasional races. We’ve heard this from Rossi (if obliquely), Jerry Burgess, and even from Yamaha team boss Lin Jarvis, who announced that “We consider Jorge the most capable to win the World Championship ... he is the key for pure results.” Does this mean they really believe this? If so, it can be for only one reason. They think he is past it. Having directly followed Rossi’s whole career, I find it hard to take his modesty at face value. It’s part of his charm. A laser-like instrument, wielded with the same level of skill and understanding as the controls and balance of his motorcycle. (Well, not the Ducati, obviously. But the M1 Yamaha is truly his motorcycle.) No other rider has Valentino’s people skills. Nor (I venture to suggest) his breadth and depth of intelligence. Can you believe him now? Look back at the trail of broken hearts and spirits that litter Rossi’s path to glory. Biaggi and Gibernau, to name just two. There were other casualties on the circuit, and others within racing’s hierarchy, especially after he walked out on Honda. Even one in the press room: an established Italian newspaperman whose slip of the pen (in response to his father Graziano’s admittedly eccentric habit of sleeping in the back of his estate car in the paddock at GP weekends) dubbed the Rossi family as “gypsies”. He didn’t last much longer in GP racing. Now, for all the honeyed words from both sides, he has his next victim clearly in his sights. The cross-hairs mark the soft part of Jorge Lorenzo’s temples. Some might think he really is past it. I am totally sure that Valentino is not one of them. He’s coming back to win. He knows no other way. OPINION MICHAEL SCOTT MotoGP Editor THE RETURN OF THE SNAKE CHARMER OPINION