Milan, Italy (SportsNetwork.com) – Once the F1’s dominant team, always the champion of the sport, Valentino Rossi stopped short of claiming “clean” dominance of the sport in the twilight of his career.
But with an acceptance speech like that, he’d have to be so bold.
In a sea of yellow at the age of 40, Rossi was afforded a rare extension of his career by the patience of Yamaha.
Rossi’s 35th career victory in Sunday’s Italian Grand Prix at Monza was truly special, as it gave him his first win at the historic track and the 61st career win overall, a total that trails only seven drivers in Formula One history and only four drivers in motorsports history.
In the heart of Italy, the home of all racing fans, Rossi finished 1.1 seconds ahead of past teammate Jorge Lorenzo, who started 10th and finished second.
Michael Schumacher has the record with 91 wins.
But Schumacher, as soon as he left F1, debuted in Formula 2 in 1993 and never won another race in the second-tier sport. By contrast, Rossi holds nine world titles in F1 and has two more titles to his name. He now has 52 career wins.
And yes, all of this with a series that was reduced to nine races in 2000 and to a minimum of 20 races since the start of 2005.
Rossi’s 36-point advantage in the championship over Lorenzo is one point shy of the record for most championship points, held by Schumacher.
“I won a lot of championships at Yamaha, so I’m not disappointed for that (small margin),” Rossi said. “Last year I was very close, and this year I tried everything for the championship and tried a lot to be in the top five. But now I have the chance. I’ve never won this race.”
Rossi kept things simple to one-word closing statement. His first words in his statements, so to speak, were the words that sent fans into total and complete pandemonium on Sunday.
“Clean” was the last thing out of his mouth. And yes, it was the perfect ending to a brilliant career.
It was this final Monza that marked Rossi’s retirement from motorcycling for good.
Rossi will continue to race in M-Sport road cars at the Spa-Francorchamps circuit this season, though with a four-year break between his road-racing efforts and his racing for Yamaha.
Only Rossi, Schumacher and Michael Andretti have won more points in MotoGP. He was runner-up on his debut at the Milwaukee Grand Prix in 1990 and finished as the runner-up for 10 consecutive seasons.
Rossi was never better than in the first series he raced with KTM, which won the 2006 and 2007 world championships. He won five races in 2007 and five races in 2008.
Rossi sat out the 2009 season in order to undergo surgery after his motorcycle overturned and ended up on his head while riding at high speed in qualifying for the 2007 Australian Grand Prix. He spent just one night in the hospital. His sustained brain damage, but it was not serious and only required physiotherapy to learn to walk again.
Rossi returned to the team for the 2010 season, winning three of the five races he competed in that year. A dramatic crash in practice for the United States Grand Prix later that year earned him a one-race suspension and a $100,000 fine. He competed in the following year and finished runner-up to Jorge Lorenzo.
Rossi’s victory on Sunday was his third at Monza. He won the past two Italian Grand Prix and finished second at the other two in 2006 and 2011.
Schumacher had a 17-race win streak from 2000 to 2004 with Honda.
Rossi’s 65 career podium finishes is the most in the history of F1. One of those podium finishes was on his first competitive appearance in F1 at Monza in 2001, when he finished second in the race behind Kimi Raikkonen.
“I had a chance to win the first race that I had with the GTR team in Magny-Cours back in 2001,” Rossi said. “I took it with my heart. But in the race here in 2001 I could have done better. Just a small detail, but one which changed the race for the team and for me. That is still my motivation to win this race — I know I have the good advantage, but I still want to prove myself.”