Rossi Interview - A Good Long Read !!!
Valentino RossióPart I
Interviews with Valentino Rossi are always welcome, but this one is particularly appropriate. After all, today is his day (Valentineís Day), and his 27th birthday is on Thursday. Not only that, but he graces the cover of our new issue, which also contains an excerpt from his forthcoming autobiography, What If Iíd Never Tried It. This interview was conducted by Italian journalist Enrico Borghi, who worked with Rossi on said autobiography. The interview actually took place just after the final round of the 2005 MotoGP season, and it originally appeared (in Italian) in Moto Sprint, the Italian motorcycle weekly, but we think itís still very pertinent.
By Enrico Borghi
RRX: [Last] season, you were strong in conditionsóthe wetówhere youíre known for having troubles: China and England, for example. How was that possible?
I improved again, but that depends a lot on experience and on the feeling you have with the bike. Because riding in the rain is something that depends a lot on the setup. It becomes much more important for you to feel good on your bike. I didnít have that feeling in 2004. The bike was too new for me; I didnít know it well enough.
Even after a winter of testing?
Yeah. Think about it: In a year, we race about 30,000 kilometers [18,600 miles]; 29,000 [18,000] of thoseómaybe even moreówe race in the dry. Therefore, for me the M1 was a very unfamiliar motorcycle when I arrived at the wet races. [In 2005], my feeling improved, so it must be said that my riding in the wet didnít improve: itís that I got better with the bike, and it did as well. That also happened to me with Honda: it took a while, but then I found the feeling in the wet with the NSR and the RCV.
Do you think you were better [in 2005] than you were in 2004?
I donít think so. In 2004, in the preseason, I was the strongest. [Last] year, I went faster because my bike was better, so there were many more occasions in which I was able to ride at 100 percent, like I was able to do with Honda.
So 2004 was a unique season.
Well, even if a year has passed and many things have happened, thinking back, I can say that in my opinion, I was very good in 2004.
What did you like the most?
Many times, I was able to ride well even though the bike wasnít set up perfectly. That was the masterpiece of 2004óa season that, as a sporting accomplishment, remains unique: some may have already forgotten, but in 2004, the gap between Honda and Yamaha was really quite large.
Your competitors say that you always have special tires, which they donít have.
This story of the tires bothers me a lot. I would like to clarify, but starting from further back.
First, the problem was the bike: that is, I had the Honda and the others didnít. Then the problem became the factory Honda, which only I had. Actually, at this point, letís even name names: Biaggi and Gibernau. Yes, they said that I had the factory Honda, so I had an advantage; then I went to Yamaha and I won anyway! But evidently it wasnít over, because Gibarnau, and others as well, often said that they couldnít get the tires that I did. Well, thatís just stupid.
Okay, your point is clear.
No, letís continue: Michelin has contracts with the teams. Based on that, they must furnish all the teams they support with the same quality of tires. And if they donít respect itóthat contractóthe situation can justifiably end in troubles. Does it seem to you, then, that a company like Michelin would mess with a company like Honda? Therefore, to say that I was treated specially by Michelin is really stupid.
As for the rest, itís like when they say that I mess with my competitors, staying behind them until the final lap and then screwing them. Itís not true: If it happens, itís because I decided that in those conditions, that was the only tactic to use. Can it be that they donít understand that itís always better to stay by yourself, and that having your competitor nearby is always dangerous? Still, some people like to say things like that.
This topic brings to mind how often you beat Gibernau. Were you expecting such a collapse?
No. He went very fast, but he collected very little, if you look at the average of his speed and his points. But that shows that with bikes, going fast isnít enough. You must also be serene, humble, mentally strong. Heís someone who can do two incredible days of testing, an exceptional warmup, and then in the race heíll mess up just once on the brakes and be finished.
Some say that itís your fault, that you demolished him psychologically.
Oh, come on, be serious. If he were better than I am, he would win. Period.
Where did he mess up [last] season, in your opinion?
His biggest mistake was to want to take a step that was longer than his legsóthat is, than his real potential.
At the end of 2004, he thought: now I have the factory Honda, so Iím the strongest rider in the world. And it was an error. And then, this legendary, blessed, factory Honda; this magic bike that, according to general opinion, could win without a rider. Well, this blessed Honda screwed him up! Just like it did Biaggi. And Barros too.
Gibernau, after his ďpromotion,Ē decided in his head that he had become the strongest rider in the world. But that wasnít the case. He had to deal with that reality, and he went into crisis. Therefore, it wasnít my fault; it was his!
In effect, there is some sense in all that.
After he battled with me, Gibernau at a certain point said: If I battled with him when I didnít have the factory Honda, it means that now Iím the fastest. Not only that, but [in 2004] he actually said that if heíd had the factory Honda, he wouldíve beat me. He didnít think that his standard Honda (and by the way, it wasnít standard, because he, like Biaggi, had a factory Honda in 2004) was faster than my factory Yamaha. That part, he didnít actually say.
Before [the 2005] season, there was a feeling in the air that it would be the year that the Honda riders would beat you.
Because we werenít ready with the bike. We never were during the tests, and not even in the first races. I went fast only once, in Malaysia, but it was an isolated incident. We werenít consistently fast. And at Jerez, we were still having troubles.
How was the situation resolved?
The bike was very new, so we had to completely develop it. During that time, we also made some errors. At a certain point, we realized it, and we also found the biggest problems.
The electronic management of the motor was one of them, at first.
The 2005 M1, during the season, acted strangely: it often went very well, only to enter into crisis at moments. Is that the fault of MotoGP, or of the M1?
I believe the M1 was a little at fault. Itís a characteristic, remaining also in that bike; and itís one of the major differences with respect to the Honda.
Such a big difference?
To eliminate the last 10th, the Honda also has to be set up well, obviously, but itís a bike that more or less always goes well. Ours, on the other hand, suffers a lot if itís not ready, if itís not properly balanced: that is, the correct weight on the front wheel and that on the rear wheel. Also, the M1 still has a problem with delivery.
Itís still ornery?
It has a delivery that imposes one to ride in a certain way: if youíre not able to ride it in the way it imposes, it becomes a problem to which other problems are added.
The Honda is more rideable?
Itís more elastic, so itís easier to ride. The useable range of the Yamaha is a bit reduced; at times it reminds me of the 500 two-stroke. To give you an example: maybe from 9,000 to 12,000 rpm, it wonít go, then from 12,000 to 13,500 it goes well, whereas the Honda has a broader range. In addition, with the M1, if you start to have problems as soon as you get it on a trackóand if the track is unfamiliar itís even worseóitís very easy to get into problems that become bigger. And then you really end up in troubles. It happened to Colin, many times, because when you go the wrong way with the M1, it becomes unrideable.
Is that one of the priorities with the development of the 2006 M1?
Yes, because from one track to another, the M1 can change a lot. For example, letís take the two new tracks [last] yearóthat of China and that of Turkey. We had many problems, whereas the Hondas went well from the first turn. Itís not a concidence: the Honda is much easier to set up, it adapts more quickly. Thatís where you can see the difference between Honda and Yamaha.
But how do you solve the problem?
Much of it depends on getting the right grip on the front: the M1, if itís not balanced correctly, loses much of its front grip. Therefore, it becomes difficult to manage on the brakes and on corner entry. And thereís another problem too: because itís very sophisiticated, the M1 can get to where it confuses all of the other parameters if you donít get it set up right; so instead of improving, it becomes even more difficult to control. It can get to a point where thereís a problem with engine braking that wasnít even there before.
Technically, are MotoGP bikes more difficult to set up than the 500s?
More or less the same. The MotoGP is more complicated because thereís the whole electronic part to set up, but itís also true that all those systems are a big help to the rider: with the 500 we had crashes on acceleration, which you donít see anymore. Because the systems that assist the motor help a lot. These are bikes that weigh 145 kilos [320 pounds] and have 250 horsepower: if there werenít those rider aids, we wouldnít even be able to get out of the garage.
Is technology becoming the most important thing in bikes?
It must be said that we should be careful not to go too far; we shouldnít exaggerate, like F1 has done: there, everythingís becoming easier. Weíre at a good level, in my opinion, because with bikes the rider can make the difference.
Is that why you also went fast when the bike wasnít set up well?
Thereís little to be said: thatís the big difference that exists between those who are fast and those who are faster!
Thereís a legendary phrase [in Italy]: ride over your problems.
When the bike has problemsóand there are always problemsóitís easy to complain; you finish fifth, and at that point you can have a thousand excuses: the bike doesnít turn, there are problems under braking, the tire slips, etc. On the other hand, itís precisely at those moments that you need to make the difference, because when you add everything up after the 17 races, you also count the races in which you had problems but managed to patch things up.
Is that the definition of talent?
Talent certainly consists of winning the race. But if we speak about the way a championship plays outóbecause anyway, what counts is winning the titleóthe true difference is made in the ability to finish second or third on the days that are shi--Ö okay, letís say the days in which you have problems. Itís there that you have to make the difference.
But the throttle also counts.
Fortunately, yes. In our sport, the right wrists also counts, and how. The point at which you shut off the throttle counts, and above all, that at which you reopen it. He who opens it first, goes faster, period. Sure, many things count, like serenity, or the team, or the setup, but in the end, thatís always the main thing.
Today, at 20 years old, the kids all want a MotoGP bike. Isnít that strange?
Our world has totally changed. Up until a few years ago, one could decide to make a career in the 125 or the 250 class, and he would be more or less considered to be the same level as the 500 riders. There were three different classes, but all at the top; there wasnít this desire to make it to the 500s. But now, with MotoGP, thereís one class that attracts all the money, the media, the interest. Itís the F1 of motorcycles, basically. And even the kids dream of immediately arriving there, without considering the other classes.
Is that something you share?
I think itís a mistake. Today everything is undoubtedly in a rush. Sure, the MotoGP title is worth much more than the other titles, but Iím very happy with the way I took: going forward winning title after title, in every class. To these riders who are so young, Iíd like to say that you have to understand if you can win in one class, and then try; if you realize itís not possible, then change classes.
Hondaóthough very cautiously and without ever actually saying soómade it clear to you many times that you would be welcome back; Ducati, on the other hand, actually tried to get you again. You chose to stay with Yamaha. Leaving Honda aside, didnít the Italian challenge attract you?
It would be great to race with Ducati. But the troubles that I had to go through in 2003, to plan the transfer of my team, to convince my mechanics and above all Jeremy [Burgess], and then to organize everything, was very hard. Since I wouldnít move without my team, I didnít have any desire to re-live that whole mess. And anyway, Iím happy at Yamaha.
And thatís probably the biggest factor, in regards to your choice.
I like the people with whom I work: from number one, Furusawa, to [Davide] Brivio, and then the guys on the team, we all have a great human rapport. In the end, thatís how I am: I wonít stay in a place if thereís not that good human rapport. Iím very happy at Yamaha: and for me, Yamaha is Italian now.
Weíve created a group in which ďItalianismĒ prevails. The bikes are in Milan, the team is coordinated by Italians, and there are many Italians who work in it. Also, the Japanese of Yamaha have a mentality thatís pretty similar to ours. Therefore, even if weíre talking about a Japanese company, weíve ďItalianizedĒ Yamaha. I also have to say that itís the first time Iíve ever felt so attached to the brand for which Iím racing.