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What makes Rossi great?

Valentino Rossi
Rossi is 31 but still leaving his younger rivals in the shade

Nine world championships. Seven 'premier class' titles*. 103 race wins, 164 podium finishes.

Valentino Rossi is the greatest motorbike rider of his generation, arguably of all time. But what makes him tick? What sets him apart from his rivals, and can he still perform to his old untouchable standards after 14 years at the top?

With the start of the 2010 season in Qatar just round the bend, BBC Sport commentator and former British 500cc champion Steve Parrish gets under the skin of the supreme racer.

ROSSI'S UNIQUE SET OF SKILLS

"If you took him apart, you'd expect Rossi to have a bigger memory board inside him than anyone else. He seems to absorb so much information.

Rossi has legions of fans wherever he goes
The personable Rossi has legions of fans around the world

"He seems able to take in so much, analyse it all and benefit from it.

"When everyone else is flustered and unsure what to do out on the track, he has the ability to continue sorting out the data and come out with the right answer.

"Wherever he goes in the world, from the time he steps off the plane, everyone wants a piece of him, just to touch him and grab him. Somehow, he copes with it all.

"The extraordinary thing is that he has time for everyone. I don't think I've ever seen him be sharp with anyone.

"Rossi's got it all. He's the perfect sportsman."

THE KEY MEN AROUND HIM

"Rossi's camp is a fairly small, close knit team. He has a few key people, like Uccio, his minder, who seems to do everything with him. Another is Jeremy Burgess, his mechanical minder.

"Rossi and Burgess have a great relationship. Jerry could set a bike up without Valentino having ridden it and know that it would be pretty much perfect. When Rossi tells him something, just like that he can transform the bike into something that works.

"Sometimes at the circuit he'll have thousands of fans trying to get a piece of him. That's where Uccio comes into play.

"He'll put him on his scooter and try not to drop below 20mph as they drive away, so Rossi doesn't get dragged off the bike by fans."

HIS HOLD OVER HIS RIVALS

"Despite all Rossi's light-heartedness, you don't win that many titles without being fiercely competitive - and the Italian has left a trail of beaten rivals in the dirt to prove it.

"He just has this hold over people. In the case of Max Biaggi and Sete Gibernau, he was better in every way - tactically, in terms of riding ability, and results-wise.

606: DEBATE
Thunderbird64

"Eventually, having to deal with that, can destroy a rider. They have to accept they're second best, which is very hard to do as a top-class sportsman.

"Now, though, Rossi has got the two biggest adversaries he's ever had - and both at the same time.

"Team-mate Jorge Lorenzo will get under his skin this year, while Casey Stoner did a good job of doing that a couple of years ago when the Australian won the world title.

"Rossi's 31, Stoner's 24 and Lorenzo is only 22. Rossi is now racing against people who have grown up watching and learning from him.

"Whether they know it or not, those young rivals will have been soaking up Rossi-isms like a sponge."

THE CHALLENGE OF CHANGE

"He's not changed that much over the years. He makes fewer foolish mistakes, but he hasn't changed as much as I thought he would do.

"There will come a point where he cannot continue getting better. He's not getting worse but he surely cannot improve any more.

"It's not just about losing the edge on things like reactions and ability - some fire in the belly is required to stay at such a high level.

"Rossi will never get bad but he might get bored - that yearning to succeed and risk it all will disappear.

Losing the title to Nicky Hayden in 2006 and Stoner in 2007 was a wake-up call to Rossi and a challenge to his Yamaha team

"One thing that definitely hasn't changed is his determination to win. He's not a percentage man who's happy with podium places. To him, a win is so much more important than being on the podium.

"I think he's still up to it. I think around 35 would be a time when a rider starts to feel it more. That's when you don't bounce, you break.

"Amazingly, he's never missed a race, but one day he might have a tumble. It might be a collarbone or a wrist that goes. That'll be when we see how young or hungry he still is.

"Losing the title to Nicky Hayden in 2006 and Stoner in 2007 was a wake-up call to Rossi and a challenge to his Yamaha team to come up with a better bike.

"He told them to 'improve or I'm off'. They got the message and didn't leave any stones unturned. When they came back, rider and bike were both better and unbeatable."

HIS LEGACY

"When people ask me what I do for living, I say I cover MotoGP. Their response is: 'What's that?' Then I say the name Rossi, and they know what I mean. He is a way of describing the sport of MotoGP.

"Of course, everyone in the sport is concerned how we will feel when he goes. It was the same when Barry Sheene stopped.

Expect this to be the view most MotoGP riders will have of Rossi this season
Expect this to be the view most MotoGP riders will have of Rossi this season

"There are plenty of riders we'd happily see the back of, but Rossi will be very sadly missed and I don't know where his replacement will come from.

"I'd like to think all the youngsters coming through while Rossi has been around will try to emulate him.

"He's dabbled in driving, but, despite testing for Ferrari, he's smart enough to know it's too late in life to change to Formula 1, so maybe he will emulate Kimi Raikkonen and do something he loves, like rallying.

"I think Rossi will be smart enough to know when to stop. We've seen some greats like Freddie Spencer go on a bit too long, but I'd love to think Rossi will retire as number one.

"Even though he's been entitled to wear number one as world champion so many times, he chooses not to, sticking with 46. He doesn't need to wear number one. Everyone knows he is the best."

* Rossi won the 500cc World Championship in 2001, plus six MotoGP titles.

Steve Parrish was talking to BBC Sport's Julian Shea.

The 2010 MotoGP world championship starts on Sunday 11 April in Qatar, live race coverage on BBC Three 2045-2200 BST



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see also
MotoGP keen to expand into Asia
06 Apr 10 |  MotoGP
All set for Rossi v Stoner again
02 Apr 10 |  MotoGP
Stoner sets pace in Qatar testing
19 Mar 10 |  MotoGP
Meet the new face of BBC MotoGP
17 Mar 10 |  MotoGP
MotoGP on the BBC
15 Mar 11 |  MotoGP
Rossi dominates testing in Sepang
26 Feb 10 |  MotoGP
Rossi sets pace in opening test
05 Feb 10 |  MotoGP
Steve Parrish's MotoGP column
15 Dec 09 |  MotoGP
MotoGP calendar 2011
15 Mar 11 |  MotoGP
MotoGP poised for bigger engines
11 Dec 09 |  MotoGP
Cool Rossi crowned world champion
25 Oct 09 |  MotoGP
Report - Rossi seals title win in Sepang
25 Oct 09 |  Motorsport
MotoGP standings
31 Oct 10 |  MotoGP


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