Valentino Rossi’s success has been built not only on an incredible natural ability in riding a grand prix motorbike, but also in playing psychological games to get in the head of his opponents.
During his early reign, Rossi bullied main rivals Max Biaggi and Sete Gibernau on and off the track, depriving both riders of a MotoGP title and crushing them so comprehensively that their grand prix careers ended prematurely.
The next generation weren’t as intimated by Rossi, especially when his five-year run of championships came to an end in 2006. Casey Stoner defeated Rossi to the title in 2007, while Jorge Lorenzo’s rise forced Rossi to move to Ducati in what would be a bleak two-year stint at the Italian manufacturer.
Even when Rossi returned to Yamaha, it seemed as though he wouldn’t be adding to his tally of seven MotoGP championships. Lorenzo looked to have his measure within his own team, while new sensation Marc Marquez’s arrival seemed to be a definitive generational change that made Rossi look old and slow.
So six years from his most recent title, Rossi’s desperation to get back on top led to the dramatic shunting of Marquez as the duo battled it out for third place in the Malaysian Grand Prix over the weekend.
Rossi had targeted Marquez in the pre-event press conference, accusing the reigning champion of deliberately holding him up at Phillip Island and assisting his countryman Lorenzo in the title battle. So close to a return to the top, Rossi resorted to tactics that had worked so well in the past.
When Rossi ruled supreme, his rivals seemed to quiver in their boots at his manipulation. But Marquez, riding for his own manufacturer and facing up to losing his first MotoGP championship, was never going to accept Rossi’s stings.
Marquez rode out of his skin to keep Rossi at bay. No doubt there was gamesmanship involved, but Marquez had no reason to help Rossi. And Rossi’s pre-event baiting wasn’t going to rile a rider 14 years his junior and with two MotoGP championships from his first two attempts.
Rossi lost his head and eventually cracked when he kicked Marquez off his bike. It was the built up frustration of seeing what could be his last shot at another championship slip away, because the new generation wasn’t as intimated of him as their predecessors.
Rossi now faces a monumental battle at the season finale in Valencia, where he has been relegated to the back of the grid for his misdemeanor and with Lorenzo in the box seat to snatch the title at the final hurdle.
Rossi will not only have lost the 2015 championship but also the respect of many MotoGP fans. He always seemed to craftily avoid any backlash for his psychological mind games in the past, but there could be no hiding the professional foul on Marquez.
All the greats have that dark side, a win at all costs mentality that comes out in the decisive moments; think Ayrton Senna, Alain Prost, Michael Schumacher and many more.
Former MotoGP racer Marco Melandri once said that Rossi is your friend until you beat him. Marquez found that out the hard way, as Rossi battles to accept the loss of his dominance.
Adrian Musolino is editor of V8X Magazine, and has written as an expert on The Roar since 2008, cementing himself as a key writer who can see the big picture in sport. He freelances on other forms of motorsport, football, cycling and more.
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