Valentino Rossi is having to start dealing with a major problem. From every one of his 42 years of age, he continues to race in MotoGP and by now his rivals are starting to be even less than half his age. These are riders who grew up in the legend of Rossi, who saw him dominate when they were kids, who dreamed of becoming like him. And, at least in part, they have succeeded.
Because if we look at the photo that heads this article, it is impressive seeing the happy look of those young fans who were delighted to have succeeded in taking a photo with the undisputed king of MotoGP. If we look at the photos one by one, we can see that the last one in chronological order is the one with Joan Mir and it probably dates back to 2013 given the sponsors on the Doctor's leathers, or the year of his return to Yamaha. Just 8 years later, that smiling little boy has become world champion, beating Rossi among others.
At the top left there is his brother Luca Marini, in a shot dating back to the celebrations for the 2004 title, the first one won with the Yamaha M1. Marini will make his debut in MotoGP this year, wearing the colours of VR46 and SKY on a Ducati. A really difficult scenario to foresee in that now far-off 2004 at Phillip Island.
Quartararo and that manga tuft: would he have ever imagined 'stealing' the official M1 from Rossi?
Just to the right is the shot with Fabio Quartararo, probably dating back to 2009, the year of the last title won by Rossi in MotoGP. Fabio is smiling, he has a tuft worthy of a manga and he certainly did not imagine that a little more than ten years later he would get on the official M1, actually tearing the #46 from the fairing to replace it with his #20, the number of El Diablo.
Another great photo is the one that portrays Valentino Rossi and Marc Marquez together, holding two models of the rally car used by Rossi in his attempt to race a stage of the off-road world championship. They are two Subarus... maybe one was intended for Alex. Judging by the sponsors, this is a photo taken in 2007, the year Rossi was beaten by Casey Stoner with the Ducati. It was only 8 years since that idyllic moment to the Sepang disaster in 2015 and Rossi has recently confirmed that he will never forgive the Spaniard for that perceived slight (read HERE).
Below left is another image of Rossi alongside another MotoGP rookie in 2021, namely Jorge Martin, the rider who will be alongside Johann Zarco in Ducati Pramac. The photo is from 2006, the colours are Camel and Rossi at that moment is really at the peak of his career. Unbeatable on the track, reigning champion ... at least until Valencia and the triumph of Nicky Hayden, who managed to snatch the title from Rossi by interrupting a domination that had continued in the top class since 2001.
It is up to you to look down to the right to find together two other riders who will also challenge Rossi on the track in 2021, namely Miguel Oliveira and Maverick Vinales. It is difficult to date the photo, but judging by the Doctor's haircut, it is probably around 2005. The Portuguese rider in 2020 was the protagonist of an excellent season, taking two victories on the KTM, while Maverick Vinales earned the confidence of Yamaha while not exactly being the protagonist of a sensational season. In the photo both kids, today men claiming a throne that used to belong to their hero.
The photos are all awesome in our opinion, they have something romantic and we are sure that each of these riders remembers exactly the moment they were taken. But once the visor is lowered there are no friends, there are no heroes, there are no legends. There are only other rivals on the track to beat. Rossi will still be on track, while authentic generations of riders have come and gone. Valentino is no longer the man to beat every Sunday, but he will certainly continue to be somehow a legend to shape up against for anyone who arrives in MotoGP. This could be his last season in MotoGP, or next year we will find ourselves looking for more photos of MotoGP rookies who asked Rossi for a photo as kids, maybe one day dreaming of challenging him on the track. We will only know around mid-season. Meanwhile, let's start looking … just in case.