She saw him crawl, get on a motorcycle for the very first time, but also make his debut in the World Championship, and celebrated his victories and titles with him. Who are we talking about? Simple. Stefania Palma. The person who knows Valentino Rossi better than anyone. During these first 40 years of the Doctor’s life, she was always with her son, not on a bike, but following him on TV or on the track. Stefania is a reserved person who prefers to stay out of the spotlight, while still remaining close to Vale and Luca.
Time has passed fast, actually, very fast, almost without realizing it, so much so that it’s strange to look back and think about the 46’s debut. This February 16th is a special day for Stefania, as well, and she already has a gift ready for her Vale.
Stefania, when Valentino reached his 113th victory at Jerez, you jokingly said, “Let’s call the police.” Now, if I say 40, what would you answer?
“Time has flown, and I still can’t believe it. In fact, I never thought these 40 years would be here so soon because now it makes me think about my age, and I prefer not to think about it much (smiling). I'm happy, however, that Valentino is home this year with all of us since, in the last few years, he was always away because of the tests.”
Has he already decided how he’ll spend this February 16th? Will you be together?
“We practically always see each other for lunch, but I still haven’t thought about what we’ll do on his birthday. I’m sure he’ll be going to the Ranch, and I’ll be there with him to for his training. The important thing is that we have always celebrated his birthday. Even when he was away for tests, we waited for his return.”
Valentino Rossi - 40 years old. Isn’t that strange to hear?
“I still can’t imagine him being forty because I always considered him a young man, a 20 year old. That’s because I hardly ever think of age anymore. I prefer thinking about something else.”
When Valentino started racing, did you ever think he’d become such a high-flying rider, whose fame is known worldwide?
“These things are much bigger than I am, so I don’t think about them. I prefer to focus on the moments when we’re together or when he was a child, when he used to go to school or when he started competing on motorcycles. I’m really happy with what he has achieved because this means that he’s worked well and methodically.”
If I ask you who Valentino Rossi is, what would your answer be?
“He is what you see on television. He’s attentive, he puts his all into doing things in the best way possible. On some occasions, he’s sometimes instinctive, but he’s level-headed. I can say this because I’ve never seen him get angry, once.”
Why is that?
“He is one of those people who gives a lot of space to those around him. When something goes wrong, he prefers a dialogue rather than arguing. One fundamental aspect is that of having alongside him people who love him and with whom he can share his passion for motorcycles, but not only that.”
Tell us about it.
“I think he’s like a surgeon. When he’s racing, he puts the same knowledge and attention into it like a doctor does when he saves lives in the operating room.”
Instead, you’re like the patient’s family member who waits anxiously outside, right?
“Unfortunately, yes. I’ve always been like this. I was worried since Thursday evening. for him and also for Luca.”
How much does speed worry you?
“I don’t think of the fear, I think of unpredictable accidents. However, I still try to look beyond that. Despite all the years that pass, you still always worry about your children.”
What has been the most difficult moment?
“I prefer to forget the difficult moments, since I only love thinking about the good ones.”
We talked about the track. Is this tenth world title really a curse?
“This tenth World Championship is a great distraction for me. In the end, there’s only one winner, like at the Sanremo Festival. So, I think it’s more important to participate and sing a beautiful song, which then perhaps becomes a refrain that people end up humming and, in that case, you’ve already won without even reaching first place.”
If I say Valentino Rossi, what is the first thing that comes to mind?
“When he started racing, I remember that we bought a lot of VHS tapes to see the accomplishments of past champions, those he could take a cue from and grow. If I think that kids now watch Vale’s videos to understand how to outdistance themselves or how to ride a bend, that’s the greatest joy.”
When Valentino was still very young, you were hoping he wouldn't become a rider, right?
“I had hoped he would study to become an engineer.”
With all this experience, you could think of him as a mechanical engineer, right?
“In some ways, I’d say yes, even if I preferred he become a civil engineer (smiling).”
Stefania, there have been many victories in these 40 years but also many opponents to beat. Who, among these, made the most impression on you?
“During every moment of his career, he’s met many rivals, and, in my opinion, each of them has had something special, since they all competed grandly on their bikes.”
If I mention Marquez, what comes to mind?
“He's a young guy who wants to win.”
What would you say to Marquez’s mother or to Marquez himself?
“We mothers can perhaps give our children advice, but the races are performed on the track. Right now, all we have to do is think about the new Championship and be ready for the season.”
You mentioned the new season. Did you watch the tests in Malaysia?
“Of course. Vale said that Yamaha is on the right track. So, we hope it really is. I saw Bagnaia do really well. Since he was very fast with the Ducati, I had imagined he would. Dovizioso and Petrucci did really well, too.”
The World Cup begins in less than a month. Will he go to Qatar?
“I still don't know. Let's see how he gets organized.”
Just a couple of more questions. When he was a guest on Fazio's show, Valentino said that you should count more on Luca to get married. Is this true?
“If I think of our family, we all got married late, so I’m pretty prepared (smiling).”
Besides your worries, what does it mean to be Valentino’s mother?
“I’ve never told anyone that I’m Valentino's mother because I prefer to be simply Stefania. Of course I sometimes talk about the competitions with my friends, but what matters most is being humble.”
One last thing. Have you bought him a gift for his 40th?
“Of course. It’s lovely, and I’m convinced he’ll appreciate it. Obviously I can’t tell you what it is. It’s a secret.”