Opinion: Why Valentino Rossi Will Try To Ride At Aragon

20 days ago today, Valentino Rossi fell off an enduro bike at slow speed, breaking his tibia and fibula in the crash. That night, he had pins fitted to fix the bones, and went home the next day to recover. It looked like his championship was over. He would have to miss both Misano and Aragon, and that would put him too far behind to ever catch up.

20 days later, and Rossi has already ridden a motorcycle on track. Twice. On Monday and Tuesday, he rode a Yamaha R1M around a damp Misano. A few laps on Monday, a total of 20 laps on Tuesday. The press release Yamaha issued said that he finished the second day "with an improved feeling and a more positive impression compared to yesterday." Translation? He's going to try to ride at Aragon.

There are a couple of obstacles to be overcome before that happens. Today, Wednesday, he will undergo a medical examination to see how his leg held up. On Thursday, at Aragon, he will face a medical exam by the circuit doctors, who will assess his fitness to ride. He will be made to stand on his broken leg, possibly hop, to show it has some strength in it. Riders are very good at masking pain. I can't imagine he won't pass the test. And so he'll ride on Friday, in FP1, to see if he is actually capable of riding a MotoGP bike at full speed.

Why would he do this? He is 42 points behind in the championship, and can surely only expect to finish closer to tenth than to the podium. At one of Marc Márquez' best tracks, the Repsol Honda rider has a good chance of winning, and opening the gap further. Andrea Dovizioso, in the form of his life, will surely finish well ahead of Rossi, extending his lead over the Yamaha rider. And Maverick Viñales, at Aragon on a Yamaha at last, is a sure fire bet for at least a podium. Rossi can only lose points.

But riding is still the right decision. What, after all, does Rossi have to lose? The worst-case scenario is that he crashes and injures his leg again, making the injury much worse. His season is over, and he can't ride the bike for months. But then again, it is six months before the opening of the 2018 MotoGP season at Qatar, and that is a very long time for a professional athlete to recover.

Even if he dings his leg, bends the titanium pins, and suffers extensive tissue damage putting him out of action for months, he will be fit by the time the bikes line up at Qatar. He will have four months to be fit for the Sepang test. It can be done. What's more, Dainese will have a specially reinforced cast for his leg, and a special boot to give him support. His leg will be better protected than normal.

Why risk a season-ending injury? In effect, his season is already over if he doesn't ride. Missing two races, and coming back with four races left, would make it almost impossible to recover, say a 67 point deficit to Márquez, if the Spaniard wins. If Rossi can finish seventh or eighth, that would leave him 58 points behind. If Rossi can finish fifth, or fourth, then the gap is much smaller.

He would still have 50-odd points to recover in four races, but he would still be in the championship. Yes, his chances of a title would be small, but he has three weeks to recover for Motegi, meaning he would head to the flyaways much fitter.

Above all, though, this has not been an ordinary championship: Marc Márquez leads the title chase despite three DNFs. Anything can happen this year, and you have to be in a position to exploit an opportunity when it comes along. Rossi can't do that from the comfort of his couch in Tavullia.

What this shows is two things: Valentino Rossi is still incredibly driven, motivated enough to try to come back from an injury like this. And what drives Rossi is the belief – with some justification – that he is still competitive enough to win another title. He is in it to win it. That drive is what separates elite athletes from us mere mortals, who would be sitting at home feeling sorry for ourselves.

The absolute worst-case scenario is of course that Rossi crashes and suffers a career-ending injury. Why would he take that risk? Because every rider takes that risk every time they go out on the track. Just ask Ben Spies, who had a massive crash at Sepang, then another a year later at Indianapolis, which damaged his shoulder badly enough that he was forced to retire prematurely.

The risk of a career-ending injury is just part of the job. Yes, the chances of Rossi being forced to end his career early are higher if he rides at Aragon. But not significantly higher than any other weekend.

Realistically, Rossi must also know that he doesn't have too many more chances left at winning a tenth Grand Prix title. He is signed up to race in 2018, and all the signs are he will race in 2019, but beyond that, how much longer can he be competitive? He doesn't have another ten years ahead of him, so even if his career is cut short, the years he would miss would be few. Rossi has much to gain, and little to lose by racing at Aragon.

What of the other riders, though? Sure, Valentino Rossi may be capable of piloting a MotoGP bike around a track at high speed, but does he have sufficient control to do so without causing a danger to his rivals? He will only know that once he gets on the bike. Riders are usually sensible enough to understand the limits. Ben Spies, again, pulled out of Mugello in 2013, when he realized he didn't have enough strength in his shoulder to be able to ride the bike safely. Is Rossi as sensible as Spies? Probably.

So my bet is that Valentino Rossi heads out on Friday morning for FP1 aboard his Yamaha M1. Ten laps on a MotoGP bike should be enough to tell him whether it will be possible to race. And while I would put money on him riding in FP1, after that, all bets are off.


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Total votes: 26
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Comments

Back in June I broke the same bones in the same leg and had the same operation that Rossi has had.  When the reports say he had pins inserted, it can be a bit misleading. What the surgeons actually do is drill a hole through he length of the tibia and hammer a bloody great titanium rod down through the length of the bone. So it is no minor operation.  I am a pretty fast healer (in fact when I went for a 2 month check up the nurse though my operation had been done in 2016 not 2017) However I am amazed that Rossi can comtemplate riding a MotoGP bike this soon after his operation. I could barely put any weight at all on it at that stage.  Goes to show his level of passion for the sport. 

Total votes: 22

will be sure disappointed if he doesn't get out on the M1, even more nervous if he ends up riding in FP2!!

Total votes: 18

I can understand (as much as a mortal, non-world championship rider can understand) Rossi's singleminded desire to ride, but I don't think the numbers can rationalize that desire.  Even if Rossi rides and places just behind Marquez and Dovi this weekend he'll have 4 races left and both of those other rides will have 2 races in hand (and Vinales may have almost as many points in hand too).  We can say anything can happen, but will it?  Will the 2 riders tied for 1st in the championship drop 2 of the last 4 races while Rossi wins them all, because that's more or less what will need to happen.

I do admire the grit, but even for MotoGP riders I think there might be a time to be sensible. On a related note I hope that if Rossi rides this weekend VdM will still get a wildcard, if that's even possible (it seems as though it's not).  It would really suck for VdM to get sidelined after being given such a great opportunity. 

Total votes: 22

Motorcycling (for some) is like a drug even on peasant spec bikes we get as the public.  At the elite level of MotoGP, it must be like the most addictive drug imaginable.

Championships, etc. are one thing, but i think Rossi enjoys riding the bike.  I mean, you don't have your own purpose built training facility at home without this level of addiction or commitment.

He's not going to be able to ride the bike forever; if he can still ride it, let alone be competitive, i think he will do it no matter how crazy it might sound - if he is physically capable.

 

Total votes: 12

More than the slim title hopes, the reason for him to come back must just be his obsession with being Yamaha's top dog. The longer he's away, the longer Yamaha have no option but to throw everything and the kitchen sink to make things work in Maverick's favour, including vital bike development, so he remains in the thick of the title fight.

His readaptation to Yamaha once he returned from Ducati and Lorenzo's shocking speed must have been playing in his mind. Having to go through something similar again is not a desirable scenario.

Total votes: 21

I have a feeling it’s more about his competitiveness than the Championship.   I get like that at times, I try to overcome the impossible just because someone said I couldn’t or shouldn’t.   It’s an internal challenge to mount up so soon and potentially make heads turn at the “wow can you believe what he did”.  

Like you said, he’s not the type to just sit on the couch.   

Total votes: 30

It is beautiful that it isn't numbers or rationality but sheer drive.
Fully alive. Trancending immense obstacles and pain. The few so very congruent with greatness are so wonderful!

I am inspired.

Total votes: 30

Aside from Rossi's personal goals, I have to imagine that on some level Yamaha and Dorna are thrilled at this. It's a new and surprising development in the narrative of their main "character." It'll probably boost interest in the Aragon race (though perhaps not attendance?), and if he actually manages to score some points, it means his championship race is still half-alive...which means he could continue to be a big draw for the rest of the season.

I have to admit, when I heard Rossi had broken the tib/fib again after Silverstone, my initial reaction was, "Well, I probably just watched the last race of his career." Umm...yeah. So much for that theory. Guess I should have been listening the thousand-odd times Nick Harris has said "write him off at your peril."

Total votes: 17

If Mugello serves as a reference, he was easily in the top 4 and it seemed as if only his physical form prevented him from going for the win. Aragon has never been as favourable to Rossi as Mugello, but a top 10 result seems realistic.

With a little luck and attrition, Rossi might score a decent result - maybe 6th or 7th - and not fall over 50 points behind (which I like to call the dead zone) either Marquez or Dovizioso. So he'd still be alive in the hunt, barely, and the sacrifice and risks would have been worth it.

Total votes: 13