Anyone who follows MotoGP knows who ‘The Doctor’ is. The MotoGP World Champion with nine Grand Prix World Championships to his name, Valentino Rossi is one of the most successful motorcycle racers of all time.

Success and fame aside, Rossi is known by a name that is nearly as legendary as himself – ‘The Doctor’. Many interpretations exist regarding the origin and meaning behind this title. One explanation would be the champion’s ‘doctor-like’ precision when it comes to controlling his bike. Rossi’s ability to practically bring the front tire of his bike within inches of another rider without touching remains one of his strongest suits. His focus and discipline in pouncing at the right moment to overtake is another that makes him a remarkable rider. And his vigilance in studying and picking his opponent apart one corner at a time – outlasting them mentally – is a trait only champions have.   

But Rossi didn’t become ‘The Doctor’ overnight. It took countless laps, at every step of which, the Italian picked up things that made him the champion he is today.

Let’s take a look at Valentino Rossi’s journey from a scrawny cocky kid in 2002 to the ‘The Doctor’, and the ups and downs that came with it.

The Evolution of a Legend


The Aprilia Years (1996-1999)

In 1993 at the tender age of 14 (the minimum age for racing in the 125cc class in Italy), Rossi made an impression from the start. With the backing of Peppino Sandroni, Rossi at 16 went on to win the Italian GP 125cc in 1995. After finishing ninth in the 1996 125cc World Championship, Rossi came back stronger with the Nastro Azzuro Team. He won the 1997 125cc World Championship and that too with a huge margin of 83 points. He finished second in 1998 on the Aprilia RS250 and went on to win the 250 MotoGP in 1999. Soon after this victory, Rossi came to be seen as someone to look out for in the future.

Rossi goes to ‘Med School’ During the early Aprilia years, Rossi’s racing was considered a little ‘immature’. This exposed Rossi’s inexperience. He was recklessly competitive and failed to finish five of the races in the 1996 Championship. So much so, Rossi earned himself the title ‘enfant terrible’. All of this may have been discouraging, but it was during these years with Aprilia, Rossi gained a solid command over his bike and attitude.  These early years showed his raw talent which needed a lot of polishing.

The Honda Years (2000-2003)

Soon after his successful yet erratic streak with Aprilia, the big boys came calling. In 2000, he joined Honda and rode their fearsome NSR500, with legendary chief mechanic Jeremy Burgess at the helm. Even though he was still learning at Honda, he managed to finish second to world champion Kenny Roberts, Jr. Gaining confidence one lap at a time, the Italian went on to win the 500cc World Championship with 11 wins, 13 podiums and 4 pole positions. And this was only the start of what was going to be a highly successful run at Honda. As the sport shifted into the MotoGP era with the 990cc four-stroke machines, Rossi’s confidence only grew. He won four consecutive titles with 11 wins and an impressive 15 out of 16 podium finishes.

The Doctor’ will see you now It was at Honda, Rossi was given the best machines to prove his mettle on the track. And with practice, he soon learned to take control of his new bike. His attitude that had ruffled quite a few feathers in the past, began to develop. He started taking more calculated risks and developed his in-born talent during these formative years at Honda. However, the title didn’t come easy. It was his dominance of 500cc and MotoGP that gave birth to the legend. As compared to his frantic and often inexperienced racing style in the 125cc and 250cc days, with Honda, Rossi developed a cool and calm composure on the track.

The Yamaha Years (2004-2010)

To the surprise of his fans, the media and sports pundits, Rossi announced he was leaving Honda for Yamaha, following three massively successful seasons. Given Yamaha’s recent poor performance, many doubted if Rossi could win a single race in 2004, never mind the title.

But he proved everyone wrong!

He not only won the first race of the season, he also beat Biaggi and became the first ever to win back-to-back races in the sport’s top class on different machines. Rossi also achieved the seemingly impossible task of winning the world championship with Yamaha.

The next two years saw Rossi suffer some setbacks. An unreliable bike blunted his bid to win the title in 2006, with him finishing second. The year 2007 was also a write-off, with Casey Stoner of Ducati, dominating and leaving Rossi in third place.

2008 was the year of the legendary fierce battle at Laguna Seca. The climax between Rossi and Stoner reached its peak when for 23 laps, the two fought like prizefighters going toe to toe, bumping, pushing, leaning and shoving. Rossi eventually ended up winning as Stone crashed his Ducati at the final corner. The next two years gave Rossi a first place and a second place finish respectively.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure - After leaving Honda, Rossi realized he needed to develop himself. He wanted to prove to the world (and more importantly to Honda) that it was his ability, and not the powerful Honda machines, that won him those championships. His riding with Yamaha became more calculated. He refrained from taking unnecessary risks and even with an unreliable machine and against strong opponents, Rossi rose to the top, practically snatching the title away from Casey in 2008. He developed a certain sense of urgency in his riding style as he aimed to retain the top spot. This period was perhaps crucial for Rossi in solidifying his status as one of the best ever. The calculating professional with a purpose, Rossi rode strong through various setbacks and managed to claim the top spot repeatedly.

 

The Ducati Years (2011-2012)

In August 2010, Rossi confirmed that he would ride for Ducati, signing a two-year contract with the Italian giant. The short stay at Ducati was not exactly what Rossi had initially imagined. He later acknowledged that “it was a mistake” and his wish “to win with Ducati, it would have been something very special, because it was an Italian rider with an Italian bike” didn’t materialize. Rossi couldn’t get Ducati Desmosedici to perform, finishing at 7th and 6th places. The Ducati bike practically became a weight around Rossi’s neck for these two years. So much so, that he even expressed his admiration for his rival, Stoner’s noteworthy ability to extract speed from a bike that just was not as good as its lap time showed.

The Doctor’s Maturity and Lapse - The Ducati years may have been barren but they weren’t without a few lessons. The Italian learned that not every machine can be mastered into a title winning bike. With Ducati, Rossi’s entire body language changed, making him look almost nervous, as if he was always waiting for an inevitable crash to happen. On the heels of this realization that he just could not get comfortable with the Ducati machines, he made his next calculated career move.

Back to Yamaha (2013 – Present)

After leaving Ducati, Rossi rejoined the Yamaha team with Jorge Lorenzo. Unwilling to bow out as many thought he would, Rossi’s return to Yamaha was potentially one of the greatest challenges of his career. Even though it didn’t exactly turn out to be the silver bullet he had hoped for, a second place on his debut in Qatar served as somewhat redemptive. However, he still finished fourth in 2013. The next two years saw Rossi claw back one race at a time. In 2014, he pushed past the 5000 career-points total, the first and so far the only rider to have achieved this feat. He also ended up in the hospital following a serious crash at the Aragon Grand Prix and eventually finished second, 67 points behind Marquez.

The 2015 season started strong with a win in Qatar. His second victory of the season came in Argentina, consolidating his championship lead and also making him the first rider to win a race using an extra-hard Bridgestone rear tire. After an eventful season marked by controversy around a collision with Marquez in Malaysia (for which he was heavily penalized), Rossi managed to finish second in the championship, five points behind winner, Jorge Lorenzo.

The ‘Doctor’ Returns - Even though Rossi hit a rough patch during his years at Ducati, he managed to regain some of his stature in 2014 and 2015. Sports pundits, having seen his resilience, are predicting a full-blown victorious return of the Italian in the upcoming championships. His form has been improving consistently with his recent performances at Yamaha and great things are expected of him in the upcoming 2016 World Championship.

Rossi – A Champion all Around

A lot goes into being a champion. With a heavy helping of skill and talent, champions are consistent, charismatic and show a lot of love to their fans. Here ‘The Doctor’ checks all the boxes. 

Over the years, Valentino Rossi has won himself a large fan following from all over the world. Along with his victories, his eccentric attitude with a ‘fun-loving’ side makes him a media darling. When he steps on to the track, he is a consummate professional. Off the track, he’s light-hearted and fun loving. Not only that, ‘The Doctor’ loves his ‘patients’, taking time out to answer fan mail and signing autographs.

With many of his ‘patients’ aka fans hoping to see Rossi get back up, could 2016 be the year ‘The Doctor’ comes up with his latest masterpiece. Or will 2016 be the final season of Valentino Rossi’s illustrious racing career – a career he has promised to end at Yamaha?

To answer that, ‘The Doctor’ will need to see you again at his next race.