As our mid-season review of MotoGP continues, we come to the man who was so bitterly disappointed in 2015, and started the current season out for revenge.
3rd: Valentino Rossi, Yamaha, 111 points
Yet another impostor. Valentino Rossi is arguably the most complete racer on the MotoGP grid, and probably the most complete racer of all time. His experience is unrivaled, as is his ability to adapt to circumstances. Yet he has thrown away one win and the chance of a very strong result through something resembling youthful impatience. The most experienced rider on the grid has made life impossible for himself as a result of two rookie mistakes.
That is a real shame. For Rossi, like Lorenzo, arrived at the start of this year in better shape than ever during his career. His training is more intense and more focused, his demeanor more single-minded. He has separated from his long-time girlfriend, and hired a rider coach in Luca Cadalora. Quite literally, Valentino Rossi has done everything possible to try to win the 2016 MotoGP title.
Perhaps that has been his downfall so far this year. Rossi had the sweet scent of his tenth MotoGP title in his mouth for much of 2015, only to be left with the bitter aftertaste of Sepang and Valencia. He came to the 2016 season to win, and that has led him to try a little too hard. A poor start at Austin left him trying to compensate and make up too much ground too quickly. He lost the front, and crashed out. After riding with such exaggerated precision all weekend at Assen, he started the second part of the interrupted race with the strongest credentials. He made one mistake all weekend, but it was a mistake which saw him on the floor and out of the race.
It has not all been Rossi's fault, of course. He has had a helping hand from ill fortune as well. At Mugello, Jorge Lorenzo's engine blew up during the morning warm up. Lorenzo went on to win the race. Valentino Rossi's engine survived morning warm up. It did not survive the race, blowing up as he was comfortably stalking his teammate, and looking easily capable of winning the race.
Those three incidents leave Rossi trailing Marc Márquez by 59 points. That is almost certainly too big of a gap to bridge, unless Márquez starts making mistakes. If he does, then Rossi stands ready to capitalize, for his 2016 season has been magisterial. His win at Jerez was one of the most impressive of all time – dare I say, Lorenzo-esque? - taking pole and leading from lights to flag. His victory in Barcelona was similarly impressive, controlling the race from the front and parrying the attacks of Márquez with ease. He has improved on qualifying, his Achilles heel in recent years. He now expects to start from the front row, rather than hoping to start from the second row.
Valentino Rossi signed a contract for two more years before Qatar. If he continues to show the form of the first half of the 2016 season, he may well be in with a chance of the title again next year, and the year after that. Which begs the question, will he decide to stay for 2019 as well?
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