Sans Rossi, This Year’s MotoGP Could Lack Flair

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With Valentino Rossi out of MotoGP due to an injury earlier this year, MotoGP athletes and fans are worried that the ever-growing sport could lose a portion of its following. Rossi is by far the biggest star in the sport. His flamboyant showmanship outshines his rivals by a wide margin, and his absence is being deeply felt.

Teammate Jorge Lorenzo, for example, has expressed his sense that, without Rossi, winning a world championship just isn’t the same, saying, “I want to be world champion with Valentino on the track.”

Rossi, the nine-time champion, broke his leg in practice for the Italian Grand Prix last month, and it’s expected that he could need four or five months to recover. Although the personal setback for Rossi should only be temporary, it could have big effects on the sport itself.

Lorenzo is not alone in feeling Rossi’s absence deeply. Nicky Hayden, the American rider, has said that any races he wins between now and Rossi’s recovery won’t feel like real championships. “But that’s how it goes,” Hayden says. “He made a mistake.”

This last comment calls attention to a sentiment that many in the racing community share but are reluctant to express publicly—that injuries generally result from the types of driver error that professionals should be able to avoid. When a MotoGP rider goes down this way, even when it happens in practice, it’s akin to blowing a big race. It’s part of the sport.

Plus, there’s the fact that the veteran Rossi is now 31, which means that his career may be winding down soon anyway. MotoGP riders can generally compete well into their 30s, but a modest decline tends to set in during the early 30s. In light of this, it could be that Rossi wasn’t going to win this year’s championships anyway.

But of course, that’s not helping things. Even when he doesn’t win, Rossi’s star power is a boon to the sport. He draws crowds, and his style of riding gets the people excited. There are plenty of other stardom-worthy riders in MotoGP, but so far none have stepped up to fill Rossi’s shoes.

This will all work itself out if Rossi is to return within six months, but these injuries tend to drag on longer than expected. In the meantime, it’s going to be up to the other athletes to provide the fireworks. It has to happen in the long run, so they might as well start now.

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