Cycle World Interview: Valentino Rossi

Nine-time world champion talks MotoGP performance, racing rivals, Superbikes and more.

Valentino Rossi race action shot

Two hours after the second MotoGP practice for last weekend's German Grand Prix, I interviewed factory Movistar Yamaha's Valentino Rossi for Spain's Tele5 with the understanding that the full interview would also be available on Cycle World's website. The short televised version of the interview, conducted in English with questions dubbed to Spanish and answers subtitled into Spanish, can be seen here:

Cycle World: First of all, congratulations on the two-year renewal of your contract. That's good news for racing. Last year, you said you would decide whether to continue or not after six races, but it seems you made up your mind earlier than that. When did you make up your mind and why a two-year deal?

Valentino Rossi: I decide very early. Essentially after the winter tests because I was a lot more competitive compared to last year at Sepang I and II. And also in the tests in Phillip Island, I had a good pace and I understand that we can work in a way on the bike to find a better setting for my riding style. So from that moment, I decide. I waited a little bit in the races, but I had already made up my mind that I want to continue.

CW: Why for two years?

VR: Essentially I never think of one year. I feel I have the motivation, and I feel good. Usually you do two years.

CW: A lot of people in this sport believe that at 35 you can't continue to be fast at this level, but I remember Kenny Roberts saying you can be fast and don't burn out as long as the racing is fun and you enjoy what you are doing.

VR: Yeah, I agree with that. This is really true. And there is something else for me: Now I am very, very fast compared to last year and compared to the past, too. The problem is that other riders, your opponents, become stronger and stronger now. So, during my career, I have some periods where I was clearly the fastest, but now the level of my rivals is going up, but I can stay and fight with them. Now Marc Marquez has made another step and it is very difficult, but being happy and having fun is important. I think that, for the body, to ride the bike on the limit, I think that until 40 you can continue.

Rossi and crew chief Silvano Galbusera

CW: Can you compare Valentino Rossi now to Valentino Rossi 10 years ago?

VR: I am very similar from a lot of points of view but different in other areas. Ten years ago, I had to demonstrate more and I was more hungry and especially more under pressure. Now I have already demonstrated what I want to demonstrate to everybody, and I am a bit more relaxed. But in this sport to be very relaxed is not good. I have to be a bit angry and show that I can stay in front.

CW: These new tires seem to have given Jorge Lorenzo a lot of trouble, but you don't seem to have had the same trouble with the 2014 Bridgestones.

VR: I never feel a big difference, and also, for my riding style and my dimension, I always need hard tires. So, for me, I suffer more with the tires of last year, which are softer on the edge than these, which maybe have a little less grip but are stronger. So, for me, for my riding style, and because I am quite tall compared to the other guys, these are better.

CW: Has Marc Marquez brought something of a new style to the championship or is what he is doing with the Honda something that you can't quite do with the Yamaha?

VR: For me, Marquez had made another step. He is always fast, very focused, very determined. He is fast everywhere and in every condition. He is very, very strong in braking and on the entrance to the corner. He is able to use the potential of the Honda, and with his skills, he enters the corner sliding. But with the Yamaha, this is impossible, unfortunately, so I think, in this area, Marquez would have some problems with our bike. But maybe Marquez has the skills to ride in another way.

Rossi bump start

CW: You are the only active rider who has raced 500s, 990s, 800s, and the current 1000s. Can you describe the evolution that has taken place in bikes and riding styles over this period?

VR: First of all, I think there has been a lot of evolution around the bikes with brakes and tires. I think tires are the things that make the most difference. And with engines, we have a lot of power but with smoother delivery. This is true especially compared to the 500s but also in comparison to the first 990cc four-strokes. And also the electronics have evolved very much. Now you can ride in another way. Before you were a lot more scared about the highside and about crashing, and now you can trust more in the electronics.

CW: Obviously you have discussed regulations with Carmelo Ezpeleta and with his Race Direction and technical directors, but if you had the power, the authority, to write the regulations for 2016, what would you change?

VR: First of all with the electronics, with the ECU, 30 percent of the electronic system is for safety for the riders and we have to keep. But 70 percent is only for performance and is nothing to do with the safety, so the first thing is we must keep the 30 percent for safety and cancel the 70 percent. This is more human, you know? About the tires and the change from Bridgestone to Michelin, I don't know; it can be better, it can be worse.

CW: What would you ask from Michelin?

VR: I would ask for safe tires like the tires that Bridgestone has improved a lot this year, tires that you can ride at a good angle but at the same time a good tire for sliding and spinning. This can be maybe positive because usually Michelin was a good tire for spinning. Bridgestone is a different ride, especially in acceleration.

CW: Would you be in favor of a rev limit?

VR: For me, yeah, because, in my personal opinion, the bikes are too fast on the straight. So (with a rev limit) we can take out 20 or 30 kph (12 or 18 mph) minimum of the top speed.

Rossi on latest Yamaha YZ-M1 racebike

CW: So you believe that if the bikes delivered 230 horsepower instead of 260–270 that no one, the crowd, the TV audience, would notice the difference?

VR: No, they would not. For the show, it would be also better because from the outside, a bike that goes 320 kph (199 mph) or 350 kph (217 mph), there is no difference. But inside, for the rider, with less power, you can have more battle because at the end of the straight, there can be more opportunity for overtaking.

CW: Looking back over your long career and all the rivals you had, your most intense rivalry seemed to be with Max Biaggi. Why was that? Was Italy just not big enough for the two of you?

VR: (Laughs) The reason is that Biaggi was a very good rider, so in his mind, it was for him the time to be the number one. But in that moment, I arrived so he was very angry with me (laughs) because I ruined his idea to be the number one. I was younger and faster, so for Biaggi, it was difficult to accept this.

CW: What is your relationship with Max like now?

VR: Hmm...not a lot essentially, but not bad, not bad.

CW: Of all the rivals you have had over the years, excluding Marquez in the present, who was the toughest, the most difficult of all?

VR: It is always difficult to say, but I want to say Casey Stoner and Lorenzo, and for me, more Lorenzo. Lorenzo is more my greatest rival because we were in the same team on the same bike.

CW: Both you and Marc have revitalized the image of dirt-track as a training method that is valid for roadracers, something that pleases Kenny Roberts and Wayne Rainey because this was always their philosophy. What does dirt-track do for you as a training method besides being fun?

VR: I was always growing up with dirt-track and sliding because Graziano always followed Kenny Roberts, Wayne Rainey, and all the Americans because he liked dirt-track a lot. It's very important because it is lots of fun and good training to improve your skills to control the bike when it slides. It is important for riding MotoGP.

Rossi, Marc Marquez, Dani Pedrosa, and Jorge Lorenzo race action shot

CW: You invited Marquez to come to Italy and ride with you at your dirt-track and TT track in Tavullia. Has he accepted?

VR: Not yet. I want to try to bring Marc to my home to ride, but I think Emilio Alzamora does not like so much this because he thinks we make a race and maybe it is dangerous (laughs).

CW: You often said in the past that you would like to race Superbikes someday—maybe a season, maybe just a few races. Do you still intend to try Superbikes some day?

VR: I always follow Superbike because I like it a lot, and if you make me this question three or four years ago, I was quite sure I would race SBK someday. But now, unfortunately...(long pause)...Superbike is now not as good as it was three or four years ago, so now I want to say no.

CW: Just one last question: My colleague in Tele5, Mela Chercoles, always refers to you as "Patrimony of the Humanity," which would put you in the same category as the Mona Lisa, the Statue of Liberty, and the pyramids. It's normal that you have this level of popularity in Italy, but does it surprise you that you have this connection with fans all over the world?

VR: In the beginning, it was always a great surprise; now it is a great pleasure. Yeah, I have a lot of fans in Italy, but what is great for me is to have this type of support around the world and to know that a lot of people follow me and take me as, how do you say, an example, of someone who never gives up in life. This is great. I like a lot, and it is also this that gives me a lot of power to continue.

Rossi and crew chief Silvano Galbusera.

Rossi and Yamaha teammate Jorge Lorenzo.

Rossi bump start.

Rossi on latest Yamaha YZ-M1.

Rossi, Marc Marquez, Dani Pedrosa, and Jorge Lorenzo.

Rossi and Marquez on the podium in Spain.

Rossi with his fans.