Multiple motorbike champion Valentino Rossi turned 30 on Monday, an event which was greeted with congratulations and tributes from a wide variety of people, including actors Daniel Day Lewis and Tom Cruise. Day Lewis saw Rossi racing at Laguna Seca in California and praised his ‘death or glory’ attitude. “It was an honour to shake your hand,’ said the Oscar winner.
I’ve always loved watching Rossi race. He has sublime balance and technique, an incredible desire to race and to win and he always makes things happen. He has that star quality which any sport really needs and yet which is so rare in F1, drivers and riders you just cannot take your eyes off.
I always hoped he would make the switch to F1 but it never happened. He started out in karts as a kid and has always had a desire to race or rally cars. He’s done some WRC events and may well rally when he stops racing bikes, but F1 was a step too far.
He tested the Ferrari a few times and did a good job, I’m told. But unlike when John Surtees and Mike Hailwood made the switch in the 1960s and ’70s, the downforce levels on modern F1 cars make driving them a completely different experience from riding bikes.
There was little or no downforce in Surtees day, it was all about throttle, brakes, balance and sliding. Now it’s maintaining downforce levels and huge grip. Not having been schooled in it, Rossi felt that he wouldn’t be able to compete; a great loss to the sport as he would have brought it alive.
I recall talking to Patrick Head about Rossi a few years ago. He’s a huge Rossi fan and he said that he would dearly love to see him make the switch and was all set to give the project all his encouragement. There was some talk when he was a Honda driver that he might run in one of their F1 cars, then he did the Ferrari tests and afterwards reluctantly accepted that he would see out his career on bikes. Now he’s the wrong side of 30 and the dream is well and truly over.