Aug 26, 2015

Posted by in Science, Bikes

Doctored: MotoGP’s Obsession with Valentino Rossi – Part 2

Doctored: MotoGP’s Obsession with Valentino Rossi – Part 2

In Part One I looked at the fans, and their adulation and infatuation with Valentino Rossi.  You can read that here as well as all the disclaimers and comments.  I would strongly suggest you read Part 1 before Part 2 for reasons that should be really quite obvious.  

The media have had as big a role to play as Valentino Rossi himself has when we look at the state of MotoGP and its obsession was Rossi as it stands in 2015.  They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions and it’s an old phrase that rings true here.  And it’s gotten out of control.  It is of my opinion that vast sections of the sports and MotoGP specific press and media have slipped into fandom.

Now, a little disclaimer to start this one off as well.  I’m going to talk about the media.  I’m going to have a go at the media too at some points.  I recognise that I am part of the media, both in MotoGP and in my day job.  I am not blameless. I’m going to have a go at myself as well although I’d like to think (as I’m sure we all would) that I have a clearer head and more right to claim an impartial opinion than many in the MotoGP media, though certainly not all, but I’ll get to that.  But if anywhere is a more glaring example of the blight on the sport that is the Rossi obsession it is not on the fans, nor on the blinkered madness of internet comment sections, but it is on the supposedly impartial media.  Part Two is the one that might step on some toes.

Motorcycle News is a weekly newspaper printed in the UK that does what it says on the tin.  Road tests, news, sport and so on.  Every week.  It is, to many, the motorcycle bible of the UK and on the whole, it’s a great read.  It also has a dedicated magazine, MCN Sport, that comes out quarterly.  It’s aim is to focus on the entire world of motorcycle racing from MotoGP to the Isle of Mann to Speedway.  It’s a well put together publication with articles by some of the most respected motorcycle journos out there like Matt Oxley and Neil Spalding.  It also has some truly stunning photography in it and excellent regular retro articles.  But, since it returned to newsstands in late 2009 there have been 21 issues. Valentino Rossi has appeared as the cover star 10 times.  If you discount the annual IOM TT special issues, you’re looking at Rossi being on the cover around two thirds of the time.  That’s also not including his smaller appearances on numerous other covers, though not as the feature.

mcncoerIn that same time, across those sixteen issues, Casey Stoner graced the cover once.  Jorge Lorenzo, not at all as a featured star but did appear standing behind Rossi, with Stoner, on one occasion.  During the time period of these publications Valentino Rossi won 4 GPs and no titles.. Lorenzo won 33 races and two world titles.  Stoner won 18, a title plus he announced his retirement in 2012.  To be fair, Marc Marquez graced two covers in this period for his four titles and 45 wins, but that’s still well short of Rossi’s coverage.  In fact, just for a silly bit of maths, if Marquez graced a cover at the same percentage, per win, as Rossi, he’d have been on over 110 covers by now.  Which is obviously absurd but it illustrates my point.  This for a magazine claiming to cover all of motorcycling racing.  This is a massive problem.

Now, let me say, I am not an idiot, contrary to what some might have you believe.  As a producer of an online science magazine, The Incomplete Map of the Cosmic Genome, I get how it works.  I know that the issues that feature Stephen Fry or Brian Cox in the marketing are going to attract more attention, and probably sell better, than other issues.  I get that.  And the same goes for Rossi.  You put #46 on the cover, he’s the most popular, so more people will buy it.  But that’s an entirely short sighted way of looking at things.  You can’t just keep sticking the same guy on the cover every time, bank on fan obsession and then count the cash.

Firstly, there’s a matter of integrity.  I have heard referred MCN Sport referred to by a vast number of people as the Valentino Rossi Fan Club Quarterly Newsletter or words to that effect, and it’s not far off wrong.  Fair enough, you have to make money, so you could expect an extra Rossi cover or two. But 10?  TEN? Surely, as Britain’s premier motorcycle racing publication, they have a duty to represent the sport accurately. To praise and reward those that are winning no?  To not be ‘fans’.  

During that time period there were stories surrounding Rossi that arguably warranted a cover story, such as his move to Ducati, but in between this how can you journalistically justify a great deal of the others?  The short answer is you can’t.  The sad thing is there are some great writers for the magazine who could be out doing a cover story on Dani Pedrosa or Bradley Smith or Aleix Espargaro or any number of other really interesting and newsworthy riders.  Because what happens as a result is you are building up the sport to fail in Rossi’s absence by creating a new story.  The story, subconscious as it may be, that ‘Rossi is MotoGP’.

As I say, could this coverage not have been used to raise the profile of a Lorenzo or a Pedrosa?  The Nobel Laureatte John Harsanyi once said that one of the driving forces behind our social behaviours is status above all else.  And what MCN Sport is doing here is raising Rossi to a near God like status.  They are saying that even when Rossi is not winning, he is still the most important thing in MotoGP that we need to tell you about.  And, for better or worse, most people will trust their decision via the same principle.  If a publication with the status of MCN feels that’s right, fair and balanced, then it must be so.  Rossi is still the king.  That is the status to be desired and any rider not trying to achieve that, in all aspects not just in terms of success, is failing.  This feeds into all of the psychological ideas of not having the norm challenged I talked of in Part One.

Perebutan-Juara-2-MotoGP-2014-Valentino-Rossi-Dani-Pedrosa-Atau-Jorge-LorenzoAnd this trickles through the entire MotoGP media to some extent.

Because by doing so not only does it continue to perpetuate the myth that Rossi is bigger than the sport, but it drives a bigger wedge between he and ‘The Rest’.  In the previous article I talked about BIRGing and CORFing and this is one of the chief things that fuels that behaviour.  It justifies it.  It seeks to, knowingly or not, give credence to that stance.

And what it also does is continue to grow a bigger, very carefully manufactured image, of Rossi.  And this in turn continues to grow the preconceived image of his rivals.  Rossi is the king, the funloving, charismatic, good guy.  Pedrosa is boring, Lorenzo sulks and Stoner moaned.  For example.  Well, all four of quick character bios are both as true as they are false.  Rossi is undeniably characteristic.  It’s part of why the fans flocked to him in the first place.  But I have also seen, first hand, that same man chuck a tantrum with the best of them.  But that doesn’t fit the narrative and so it is not covered.  When the toys get chucked out of Lorenzo’s pram though, that is covered because that’s the character the media has set him up as.  And here in lies the problem.

caveLet’s go back in history a little.  Imagine if you will an era before Rossi.  An era, around 35 000 years ago.  That’s the oldest dated cave painting we’ve yet discovered.  It’s in Indonesia.  It’s of some animals.  The first human figure cave paintings are dated around 32 000 years ago at some caves in France.  I’ve seen them with my own eyes and they are breathtakingly beautiful.  Here is our first record of written storytelling.  We, as a species, were telling oral stories for thousands of years before.  Neanderthals may have told stories, we don’t know.  The point is, that’s how long humans have told stories and, whilst we can’t know for certain, studies would indicate narrative could have existed just as long.  Stories with lessons and morals.

We first encounter villains in fairy tales and they become as staple of storytelling throughout our history.  It’s not something just dreamed up in the last decade or so, it’s an engrained part of our evolution.  But we have also moved on from this, developed more nuance in our storytelling, although we tend to fallback on something that’s been part of human culture for thousands of years by default.  Just look at the success of Marvel films today.  It’s one of the most simple story structures we have.  We’ve evolved to understand this in our stories.  From cave paintings depicting men hunting bison to Batman vs The Joker.  And because it’s such a relatable story, it doesn’t just exist in fiction.  The news is constantly having needless debates in the name of balance.  A doctor versus an anti-vaccination campaigner.  We are constantly looking for goodies and baddies when often there is no need for either, but rather, just the story.  The problem with this is, we aren’t used to it.  Our lazy human brains take ages to process new structure and it’s part of the reason why Marvel films are more successful than non-narrative art films.  It’s why some people, let’s call them morons just for clarity, think vaccinations are bad.  It’s what’s wrong with a lot of MotoGP coverage.  

Rossi’s character has been set long ago.  From his 125 days even.  He was to be the saviour of MotoGP and so was set up as such.  And that story has never changed.  If he is the ultimate good guy there is nowhere left for the media to go but to set up the supporting cast as the bad guys.  You can show the bad guys respect, but you can’t root for them.  You can apint the good guy has having a bad day, or fallible, but never becoming the bad guy for too long no matter what he says or does. Never mind that no sporting journalist should be rooting for anyone but that’s another story. Goodies and baddies is the oldest story in the book and if Rossi was to be the perpetual good guy, he needed a supervillian to fight in each new episode.  Max Biaggi, Sete Gibernau, Casey Stoner, Jorge Lorenzo, Marc Marquez.  If you go back and look at almost all major coverage of any big spat between Rossi and those listed, the story will nearly always be, even if ever so slightly, tilted in such a way that Rossi comes out looking the good guy.  We’ve all been conditioned to think that is the way of things. Objectivity in the reporting of Rossi is few and far between unfortunately. 

That is not to say that Rossi has not been deserving of plenty of praise and spotlight.  Of course not.  There was a time in the early 2000s where it would’ve been impossible to talk of little but Rossi such was his dominance.  The point I am making is that those days of domination are over and we need to move on.  We must move on.  MotoGP and it’s media have not had any sort of succession plan.

I’d like to go back to the NBA as an example, because it is another sport I follow closely and one that I think handles its future superbly.  As their great players start to get towards the end of their careers, regardless of how good they may or may not still be, the focus of the media starts to slowly shift to the new talent to prepare fans for departures and to draw new ones in.  Take the state of play now.  Kobe Bryant, Tim Duncan and Kevin Garnett, three players in the twilights of their careers.  One of them as good as he’s ever been, still fighting for championships.  They are still immensely popular with fans, getting voted onto the All Star Team, leading jersey sales and so on.  But the media does not saturate us with Kobe, Tim and KG.  The focus, in profile pieces, not basic reporting, shifts to the likes of young superstars like Stephen Curry and Anthony Davis.  No-one is disrespecting the elder statesmen, they are simply preparing for the future.

tim-duncan-gallery-introduction-4_3

Tim Duncan Photo Credit SlamOnline

Duncan and Rossi are great parallels in many senses.  Both are multiple champions at the highest level (7 for Rossi, 5 for Duncan) and unquestionably in GOAT conversations in their respective sports.  And both are still in the hunt for championships right now, with the end much closer than the beginning.  And yet in MotoGP, it is still the Rossi Show with a supporting cast.  You can argue that he’s the most popular so he should get the most attention but all this argument does is simply prove the point I’m trying to make.  The media plays such a massive role in informing fans about all the different riders and they are only offering up one, time and time again, what happens when that product is no longer available.

2015 is an absolute prime example and the coverage of this year’s championship on the world feed is partly what inspired this series of articles.  Rossi is back fighting for the championship this year and so we might expect to hear more of him.  Although this is not the case.  Because there was never a drop off even when he was struggling to make the Top 10.  Because the story then is, ‘Casey Stoner couldn’t develop the Ducati’, for example, rather than, ‘Rossi fails at Ducati’ because the latter does not put him in the role of the hero.

Back to 2015.  Now.  Well.  There’s no other way to put it.  The commentary for this year’s racing has been nothing short of embarrassing.  And that’s difficult to write because Nick Harris and Matt Birt are both lovely guys who’ve forgotten more about MotoGP than most people will ever know. However this year the commentary has been so Rossi focused it’s a true concern.  Often my wife, who is not a MotoGP fan but is obviously around the house whilst I am occasionally watching a race at home, has commented on more than one instance this year, ‘Is there anyone else in the race or is it just Rossi?’  And even worse I am often forced to respond, ‘This is just practice’.

Three quick examples from the recent Czech Grand Prix.  During the Moto3 race I lost count of the number of times Nick Harris mentioned Valentino Rossi either as a friend, a mentor, a team owner, an observer or God knows what else to various riders in the class.  Obviously this is a fact that bears mentioning during the course of a race however the excitement and consent references end up taking away from the actual riders out there.  The genuine stars of tomorrow.  Credit must be given to these riders, pump them up, give them the profile, rather than going on and on about Rossi.  He gave some of these riders a leg up, that’s fantastic, and more power to him for that, but it cannot, and should not, take up so much of the commentary drawing attention away from the future and back onto Rossi.

Secondly, a word about language use.  The way things are framed has an incredible bearing on how we react to them particularly in issues where blame is attributed.  Jackson Katz did a great TED talk on this in regards to domestic violence a while back if you’re interested.  In FP2 Dani Pedrosa had an issue with his Honda that caused a brief leak.  This resulted in a massive high side for Dani in which he injured his foot and then came a small, innocuous low slide for Rossi who was not able to avoid the fluid which had him get away scot free, save for a bit of an annoyed look in the direction of the luckless Dani afterwards.  The Yamaha rider was able to skulk off back to the pits.  As Harris and Birt tried to dissect what had happened the focus was entirely on Rossi.  When replays showed smoke billowing from Pedrosa’s bike, Harris said, numerous times, ‘But where’s Rossi?’  What this does is shift the audience’s focus.  It says, ‘Here is a thing that is happening.  Here is the thing you are seeing.  But that is not as important as what Rossi is or isn’t doing elsewhere’.  Bear in mind this was not a replay of a block of wood whilst Rossi was crashing off screen.  This was a hugely relevant replay to the course of the weekend especially since we had already seen Dani limping away, clearly in some pain.

UMY5GMVVGMHVDRIEV27XAnd then in the dissection of it is where language comes into play.  Matt Birt says, “Dani Pedrosa, yeah, it’s those crashes, clearly what happened was something leaked onto the rear tyre of Dani Pedrosa’s Honda, it threw him over the handlebars and then poor old Valentino Rossi was pretty close behind the #26 and he lost the front as a result”.  In this case both riders are unfortunate victims of an incident out of their hands although the addition of ‘poor old’ in front of Rossi adds an extra layer of sympathy.  Now, you might say I’m cherry picking.  I’m being an overly picky dickhead.  And you’d be right.  If this was a one off.

The phrase ‘Poor Old Valentino Rossi’ was trotted out many more times during the weekend.  We then follow this up with things like, during the main race, ‘Valentino getting stuck behind the Ducatis’, language use which again insinuates Rossi has been hard done by and not the Ducatis made a better start than Rossi.  Harris, unfortunately, then borders on cheering Rossi forward.  The role of a world feed commentator is not thus.  It might be deliberate, it’s probably not, but it’s an example of the wider problem.  The language used to talk about Rossi is constantly different.  Rossi is frustrated.  Lorenzo is complaining.  And so on.

And finally, to my personal bugbear.  Rossi is constantly referred to as a nine time world champion.  Which he is.  But almost every time Lorenzo is mentioned, he is the double world champion.  The same for Marquez.  Or Pedrosa, still searching for that first title.  If Lorenzo is a double world champion, then Rossi is a seven times world champion.  It is still apparent Rossi has had more success and it’s accurate.  Or if Rossi is a nine time world champion, Lorenzo is a four time world champion.  It’s unconscious stuff like this that plays into the whole broader problem.  i

It’s subtle, possibly unintentional, but it’s immensely powerful and plays exactly into what I was discussing in Part One.  An impartial media can drive a narrative, false or otherwise. It might seem like nothing, it might seem like mountains out of molehills but this sort of thing has proven to be true time and time again, through various sorts of testing in the media, in things like elections.

And if you are a Rossi fan you are probably forming thoughts currently that I am out to get Rossi. You’re more convinced of that than you were a little while ago.  And a lot of that has to do with the language use I’ve been talking of.  Because a couple of paragraphs ago I simply stated some facts of the events of FP2 but I wrote in such a manner to subtly attribute blame.  By using Dani instead of Pedrosa it adds familiarity whilst I did the opposite for Rossi.  My descriptions of his crash, compared to Rossi’s was done deliberately to overplay one and underplay the other.  I ramped up the consequences of one, and brushed off the day.  I even chose a specific sentence structure for Rossi’s crash that implied that the crash on the liquid was not unavoidable, but rather HE was unable to avoid it.  And so on.

The point is, nothing I’ve said is wrong but I deliberately set it up to drive a narrative.  This is what happens in the media all the time with MotoGP.  Sometimes unconsciously due to years of habit and conditioning.  Sometimes consciously because either you have been directed to by editors or directors or because you know what will play better.  But it is dishonest in some respects and worse than that, it’s doing a disservice to the sport.

I have only highlighted MCN Sport and the Dorna commentary team here as examples but in no way are they alone.  I don’t wish to appear to be slating them to the exclusion of others however they do offer some perfect, and current, examples.  There are plenty more of course.  From the footage Dorna choose to show, to the way Rossi is positioned in short films by the major broadcasters to even the headline quotes chosen from various riders on sites.  From MotoGP specific media, like the covers of race programmes, to mass media coverage in major newspapers, it’s “Rossi is MotoGP”.

Nor am I suggesting that it is a brush that can be used to tar everyone.  Whilst we might know of some personal favourites outside of the commentary box or away from the laptop, this doesn’t creep in to create anything that even resembles favouritism.  I’m thinking here of the likes of Julian Ryder, Dennis Noyes, David Emmett, Michael Scott, Dylan Gray and many others too numerous to mention, and yet, they remain in the minority.  If you ever get a chance to attend a MotoGP press conference in which Rossi is on the panel, after Nick Harris has gone down the line you’ll wonder why every other rider doesn’t just leave when they open questions to the floor.

I mentioned films earlier and the counter argument could be made that if a big star like Brad Pitt is in a film, he’s probably going to get main billing over the supporting players or the writer no matter how good they are, or who they are.  And that’s true, and fair enough from a business point of view.  And that is often the approach taken when we think of Rossi and MotoGP.  But I’d suggest there’s two major differences.  If Brad Pitt doesn’t take your fancy then there’s plenty of other films to choose from.  Go see another one.  With MotoGP it’s not like there’s another premier class of prototype motorcycle racing to choose from.  This is it.  Also, the entire marketing for said film won’t almost entirely focus on Pitt. 

One of my press MotoGP jobs used to be writing betting previews for a couple of sports betting sites in Europe.  People would take my advice on the best bets for the race be that for a winner, a podium or something a bit more left field like a front row qualifying position.  As such, my opinion and tips in each article had to be formed based on the events of the weekend, or history at the track or whatever the case may be.  Clearly there was no room for bias in a betting preview.  And yet I found myself delighted in some senses if Rossi was a genuine chance for the victory that weekend.  Because  I knew I could recommend placing a particular wager on him, with a clear conscious, and that meant the editors would run a picture of Rossi with the story which would mean more hits which meant they were happier with me.  I get it.  I’m not entirely blameless.  Hell, I understand that writing these articles, even though they take an often unpopular stance, will get much more attention than some of my other writings purely because of the Rossi factor I’m fighting against.  The temptation to big up Rossi all the time is incredible for all entirely understandable reasons.  But that does not forgive manufacturing focus.

rossitobyWhat ends up happening as a result of this is that, due to many of the collective identity and social identity theories of psychology I discussed in part one, any open adulation of another rider can be viewed as an attack on Rossi.  Even on sites who’s impartiality could never be called into question an article talking about the talents of Marquez or Stoner is seen as just another way of suggesting they are better than Rossi.  Because that’s how the casual fan, and particularly the Rossi fan, has been conditioned.

But, in all of this, my concern is for the future of the sport I love.  The time to shift the focus off of Rossi is now, whilst he is still competitive.  Let the fans see the other side of the other riders so they have someone new to support when Rossi calls it quits in the next few years, which, at 36, we must assume is coming. Rossi is great TV, no-one is questioning that.  It’s obvious why he is so popular.  But facing that with the attitude of ‘So what’s the problem’ is a disaster waiting to happen in a sport that is already incredibly cash strapped.  Again, I mention the hordes of fans that stayed at home, or changed channels, during Rossi’s broken leg in 2010.

But it’s also a great injustice to the rest of the paddock.  Pedrosa is seen as dull, because that’s how he’s portrayed when, truth be told, he’s one of the funniest riders in the paddock.  Lorenzo is painted as surly whereas it’s actually more just determination and a commitment to perfection that should be admired, not admonished. And whilst Rossi was praised for speaking his mind, Stoner was labeled a whinger for doing the exact same thing.  Because the story says he’s the bad guy.  Truth is, when the tape recorder was turned off, you couldn’t ask to meet a nicer chap.

Again, and it’s sad that still needs repeating, I am not for one second suggesting Rossi does not deserve respect and attention.  Fans can support who they want.  But Dorna and the media must, must, must start to take notice on a larger scale that something needs to change.  Because they have played a big hand in creating a story that says Rossi is MotoGP and if that’s true, when he’s gone, what happens then?  Rather than sit around waiting for ‘The Next Rossi’ we must simply realise there’s plenty already around.  One day Rossi will be gone as are Sheene, Schwantz, Rainey and many others.  And Rossi will be mentioned with them while we get excited about someone new.  The point is, let’s not set ourselves up for a dark period between the two.  Take the NBA’s lead.  Start doing the legwork now.

To quote David Emmett of MotoMatters, ‘What will the colour of MotoGP be when Rossi is gone?’  The media can have a big say in letting the most important people in the sport choose that, the fans, if only they’d let them see that they could.

In the final instalment I’ll be looking at the sport itself, its organisers and governing bodies.

Let it be finally noted in the fine print, as I’ve mentioned throughout this article, I am not interested in having a go at Rossi or MCN or anyone else mentioned in this article.  I am simply trying to raise some issues I think are being glossed over in MotoGP and are a risk at damaging this most beautiful of sports.

 

  1. Interesting about the role the media plays in determining people’s opinions. I know it happens in politics etc but I never looked at motogp that way… I always assumed journalists talk about Rossi because he sells, so they ‘give the public what they want’, but I suspose in the same way that say radio stations play certain tracks and in that way ‘condition’ people to buy certain artists, maybe the motogp media consciously or unconsciously is having a similar effect in selling Rossi? Is that what you mean?

    I know some journalists like Birt yeah they are obvously big Rossi fangirls but it never bothers me, I don’t see it as if they were all part of a plan to sell the rossi brand or anything, I just think they happen to like Rossi a lot and can’t help themselves. I suppose what you mean though is that as journalists, they should be more neutral, like for example commentators on a futbol match, they migth be fans of one team or the other but they have a responsability to remain neutral to the public? I am not sure if that’s what you mean but definetly interesting subject.

    (question: don’t you think you are paradoxically contributing to the ‘obsession’ with articles like this?)

    About what will happen when Rossi retires I don’t think anything will happen. The show will go on. They’ll show shots of Rossi in the pits like we see now of Ago sometimes, people who watch only for Rossi will hopefully move on to something else, those who watch for the sport will keep watching and enjoying, and the world will keep on turning.

    • The paradox is something I’m acutely aware of yes, and raised as much in the article. As someone who gets income from writing about MotoGP, as I said, I’m not entirely blameless myself.

  2. I was enjoying your article up until you mentioned Emmett and Ryder as non fangirls. REALY?! Emmett once stated that if Rossi was on a Honda he would be winning, this was of course around the time Honda were in the doldrums 2008-1009. Apparently he can ride around the clear flaws of the bike in that time. Sure, Emmett has calmed his ways this year. And Ryder!? im not sure what feed you listen to but a race doesnt go by without Ryder frantically wondering what Rossi is upto. He almost is willing Rossi along no matter what position he is in. Ryder, along with his Rossi and manufacterer obsession with Yamaha aswell as that blockhead Huewen have completely forgotten any need for impartial commentating.
    Apart from that great article, and well written. I definitely liked the NBA parallel.

  3. You are very right about the language used. I have been noticing that for years. Rossi’s weaknesses are masked as “unfortunate” while other riders strenghts are often diminished or just ignored. A particular example is how commentators big up the fact that Rossi can qualify behind and still make it to the front, when in reality, he can’t make it to the front nearly as fast as Lorenzo can, as seen at Assen.

  4. Torquil Paterson says:

    Whilst I understand your frustration at the Rossi fandom it’s clear to anyone that he is the most successful rider of the modern era by a BIG margin.

    It’s unfortunate for all the other riders that they are racing at the same time as him, but in 5 to 10 years time in might be the same for Lorenzo or Marquez if they can continue to win at the same rate.

    Rossi transcends all others because of his incredible record to date, and his continuing success. When he was on the Ducati and not doing much he was pretty much forgotten about. And even the first year back on the Yamaha people were luke warm, but his form in the last two seasons in incredible up against younger competition.

    Also Rossi has managed to get himself known outside MotoGP doing things like test driving a F1 Ferrari with view to a switch, competing in WRC. All things that increase his exposure globally.

    Even though you are frustrated by his continued limelight hogging, he does at least justify it with a record second to none.

    • Numbers are relative. Marc Marquez has won more in the last two years than anybody else. Rossi hasn’t won anything more than a handfull of races in five years. So i suppose we should all be talking about Marquez by your own logic.

      • Torquil Paterson says:

        The numbers are absolute, Rossi has won more, and is STILL winning, that’s the point. He’s not relying on past glories, he STILL creating more.

        It will be interesting in 10 years time to see what Marquez has achieved compared to Rossi, then the numbers can be compared properly, but not now.

        • Rossi has lost a lot more to Marquez than the opposite. So we can say that Marquez is now the biggest force in motoGP. I don’t see the media talking so much about Kobe Bryant, no matter how many games the guy wins again, as they talk about the new rising stars. Thats the point. Rossi can very well win more things, but is nowhere dominating like he did in those years long gone. By the contrary, of the 4 guys he is the one that has by far won the least in the last 5 years. These are facts my fiend, facts that dont correlate with the media atention he gets.

  5. I am clearly a Rossi fan and have been one since the Biaggi times. Always liked bikes and motorsports in general. The reason why Rossi is so popular is that he gives something back to the viewers and fans. He turns around and waves at the onboard camera, goes into a portable loo at the end of race, celebrates his wins with funny gigs and so on. He loves what he’s doing, he’s not there just for the titles, wins and fame. He’s having fun whilst doing it. He’s not without his flaws but he makes the sport more entertaining to watch and draws massive crowds to the races. When someone else will do the same thing or even better him, that rider will get the attention. As a rider you can’t expect people to like you and root for you just because yourgoing fast on a bike. It’s the personality, the effort and passion that he invests in the sport that made him popular. If Lorenzo, Marquez or any other rider will accomplish what Rossi did, they’ll get the respect they deserve. It’s their turn to prove themselves as champions, media wizards and social media experts. Rossi’s got nothing else to prove.

  6. Steve Windred says:

    Rossi is the only reason MotoGP still exists. Look at the attendee numbers who are there for Rossi and then still if you think it is semantics.

  7. mark ireland says:

    Adrian makes a good point : Rossi looks like he loves both bike racing and life and that makes him likeable – Even during his Ducati days he still had time to laugh & smile, in spite of what must have been professionally for him an awful time on many levels. Many,many other riders just list their bike issues and problems and appear very egocentric, and Casey never ever looked like he was enjoying himself or the milllions he was paid to race bikes for a living. (I have spend thousands of pounds bike racing and would have been absolutely delighted if even just my tyres had been subsidised for one race weekend).
    Ultimately, people WANT to see the winners looking happy and delighted and he gives them that,
    P.S. He has today just won the British GP and I don’t know anyone who wasn’t delighted ! (Me too).

  8. Bill Murray says:

    He won again. At 36, in a race that had it been dry, he probably wouldn’t have, and took the lead in the title race to edge closer to an 8th motogp world title, 10th in all classes, and 10 race wins behind Ago’s all time record.

    He has been involved in all of the best motogp races in the modern era, and continues to be the best rider to watch in a scrap.

    He is a consummate proffesional, reinventing himself and his abilities constantly throughout his career to try to stay ahead, or even just with the current brood of racers.

    He loves his sport, loves to race, and oozes charisma.

    In short, it’s pretty bloody obvious why he’s as popular as he is. Hell even some of the riders he’s racing against had Rossi posters on their walls growing up.

    Maybe you should look beyond basketball if you’re really struggling to understand the Rossi phenomenon. History is peppered with these types of people that capture the imagination of the common man, both in sport, and in other fields.

    Here’s some starters for 10. Maradona, Ali, Tyson (his fans forgave him a rape conviction), Senna, Napoleon, and Steve Jobs. That’s just off the top of my head, without any digging.

    There, we really don’t need a third article now, do we?

  9. After reading the comments from Rossi fans I have reconfirmed my opinion of the lot.
    They are more akin to Princess Di fans than motorcycle racing fans and when Rossi finally leaves the stage, we (motorcycle racing fans) will not miss the fools.

    • You really don’t get the point do you? This guy is about to equal Agostini’s record and you want him out of MotoGP so the other racers can have a go. Sad.

      • I think its you who don’t get the point, its not about Rossi, it’s about his fans, people like YOU.

        And by the way. 15 titles? I’m not seeing it happening.

    • I love.. LOVE motorcycle racing. BSB, Irish Road racing, GP, WSBK, can’t wait for new AUS SBK next winter.. and I couldn’t care less about Rossi and those who follow him and him only. There was racing before and there will be racing after Rossi. If Dorna (actually it’s a bunch of Canadian pensioners who own it) owned championship can survive Rossi’s retirement is another thing I couldn’t care less about.

  10. Phil Robinson says:

    Very interesting and thought provoking article. I certainly agree with the overall theme of what you’re saying, and saw much evidence of your points when attending the recent British Moto GP at Silverstone, which Valentino won. The cheer that followed Marquez’s crash, many not even waiting to see if Marc was hurt before displaying their glee. OK so Vale did become a hero of mine for leaving Honda ( the anti-Christ for me because I love 2 strokes ) and winning on a Yamaha despite HRC vowing to crush him, but that was now a long time ago. And whilst I still admire him, I also enjoy watching the beautiful smooth flowing style of Jorge Lorenzo in full flow.

    Funnily enough it’s not just Moto GP where such obsession can exist, try critising Ayrton Senna in certain Formula One circles, and boy, do you cop some flack. Sure Senna was a great talent, but to me he was most definately flawed, and quite frankly at times a cheat who put other drivers at risk on several occasions – most notably the Japanese F1 GP at Suzuka in 1990.

  11. great article.although i am fan of rossi,i love the sport more.maybe thats why i love the great riders of past time..right from 1949,whether they waved to fans or not,whether they put on an elaborate victory celebrations or not.duke,surtees,hailwood,ago,sheene,kenny,..i just admire every one of them.and no..i am not an old guy who have watched these legends race.i am just 25.maybe the people who will watch the race may drop down to just a few 1000 once rossi retires.but its not going to end there.i am writing this because its really sad to see some people even going to the extent of saying “without vale,motogp wont exist”.pathetic!seeing those words,i truly feel rossi should retire,not because he is too old,but just to keep such people away from the sport.this sport has been around before vale,and so it will continue on after his retirement too.

  12. Great piece backed up by tremendous research and a very easy-to-read layout. Thank you very much for taking the time to write that for all of us. I think the one thing that I take exception to however is the fact that what Rossi is doing is historic. Nobody has ever compete at this level in motorcycle racing at his age. The very fact that he is not only giving Jorge Lorenzo a run for his money, but putting up a truly deserving fight for the championship with one of the fastest and smoothest riders the sport has ever seen (Lorenzo).

    I don’t think even the most ardent Rossi fans will tell you that he is the fastest of all time, the cleanest of all time, the most versatile or even the gutsiest of all time. What I believe defines him, is that he is the smartest of all time. Race strategy aside, if he had not garnered the Fanbase and capitalized on his brand can you imagine a successful factory team like Yamaha offering him a ride after the two terrible seasons he had? Not to mention his incredibly opportunistic racing style that has shown to be especially evident this year as he picks up every single point his 36 year old body and waning skills can possibly get him ( I cringe as I write that sentence, because he has more talent in his pinky than I do in my entire body, but I don’t think anyone denies that he is not as strong a rider as he once was). Bottom line, despite probably being a an incredibly fun loving guy, his public persona is absolutely no mistake. He loves motorcycles and I believe appreciates his fans more than most, but of course he intentionally manipulates the viewers feelings for him for his own gain. Perhaps that is what makes the anti-Rossi crowd so vitriolic in their criticism of him. I for one don’t mind. I think it’s all part of being a professional sportsman.

    Lastly, I might be stretching things here, but keep in mind that most of the men who cover the sport are themselves on the downhill stretch of their career. Although their coverage might be as thorough and well written as ever, they look in the mirror and see wrinkles, buried fears of aging and the feeling that we all get post 20s as the reality of our mortality creeps up on us. These commentators deep down love and resonate with the idea of an old guy still being relevant and forcing the young guns to have humility. So yes, I would agree that MotoGP media absolutely adores and values what Valentino Rossi brings to their jobs.

    • Ah yes sir you are quite correct the news reporters in most stations and newspapers bend over backwards to fit the narrative and in some cases kids in schools are educated to fit the narrative and if their parents or more likely grandparents say otherwise they are looked on as morons or rednecks.
      As I stated in a previous post I’ve followed GP racing since its inception and followed it devoutly all my life over the years I’ve had my favourites,but I’ve always had the love for the racing rather than the racer and as a result of that a few of my all time favourites have never won a WC, now a Rossi fan would likely call me a looser, and my answer to them would be did say Casey have the same bike, backing ect that Vale had well you would know better than me but I doubt he would have, (follow the money), and another thing they never take into consideration is the greats from the past Hailwood who shattered the TT lap record on a bored out 250cc Honda six.
      With the exception of CS who used little or no TC and I’ve been told by many he used more than anyone just because it doesn’t fit the narrative.
      Once again thanks for an honest review.

  13. John Hirano says:

    Thank you! I’m really looking forward to the next installment.

    Whilst I agree with that the human brain can sometimes let emotion devolve logic and induce behaviors that degrade our opinions of others in a specific context, that there is also an escapist mechanism that is driven by inherited culture, genetics, and rapidly evolving media.

    In general, survival and social instincts required information sharing, and in the nascent era of the press, it was information driven. People paid for books to understand the past and for new information to predict and shape the future. Then came the ad era which subsidized information gathering and dispersion costs by circulation figures shaped by populist desires.

    The economics of the digital era dictate the current community dialogue. You simply cannot push bits out free.

    Benoit Mandelbrot gave a TED talk, and while he did not focus on the human brain or his particular brain’s ability to look at something in order to guess at the “roughness” of a curve, when asked by a fellow mathematician what the “roughness” of a curve was, he guessed “less than 1.5.” It turned out that the roughness of the curve was 1.48.

    The human brain is amazing and Tango Orange’s career is an interesting portion of the MotoGP curve. Your pieces thus far have given me food for thought. Why do I cheer for THE DOCTOR more than other riders? Why do I personally like Marc Marquez more than Jorge Lorenzo? Why am I a spectator/fan of the sport and different riders? Why is “sharing a pint” necessary for honesty among males? And how is it exactly that you’ve determined who is nice in the paddock?

    The “Rossi Phenomenon” is a period we’ll chuckle about in future years and his story arc is rich in novelty as it unfolds in front of us race to race, and now the arc tug becomes ancient and primal and emotional. Old story arcs are cast anew in this age of rapid change (e.g. the old bull being put out to pasture – preferably not in the streets of Spain, et cetera).

    There are other stories, but Vale has an uncanny habit of being in the right place at the right time. It could be my flawed group-minded human brain making me think that right now, or the Mandelbrot portion of my brain is saying that the fandom for Rossi creates an interesting data point.

    Rather than focus on group behavioral theory, I’d much rather read about how tyre changes will affect the suspension/engines/ECUs next year.

    The fact is that a lot of people just like Valentino Rossi because…

    …you can’t quantify charisma.

  14. digitalrurouni says:

    Now this article I am definitely a lot more agreeable to! Very astute and interesting observations!

    • Old Timer says:

      We must not forget that when Pedrosa had his crash at Brno and Rossi was brought down as well that he was in fact leading the championship whereas Dani was not a contender.

      It seems quite reasonable to analyse such an incident by focussing on someone whose championship chances may have been affected rather than an extreme outsider. Dani’s injury would be discussed as soon as it became obvious but that may not have been in the few seconds it took to get the replays up for discussion.

      Astute observations may have been made but I’m not sure that this was the best example to use.

  15. Blackhorn says:

    While I agree to the content of this well written article. I know you don’t want to dwarf his achievements. And I am sorry, niether am I one of those people to whom the Grid is empty except for Rossi. I always read up on other riders as well. And I enjoyed the the fight between Rossi and Dani, and as far as I am concerned, I like Dani as well, perhaps slightly more so than other riders, because I like his focus, and dedication to his art. I did not watch the Catalunya race in 2009, until 2012. However we should always look at things from the other point of view also, and in so in the why as well. The observations are to what has developed and I am quite sure it was not developed with this in mind that these many years down the line it would become this. The fans are moronic on both sides of the line, one who ridicule him and the ones who defend him. I enjoyed motogp at the outset. I liked Rainey as a small child. I liked his consistency, I watched his career ending crash live. The point I am trying to make, very inarticulately is, that Rossi is a ambassador of the sport, and a live one at that, he is still racing and while not fastest, he is still competitive. And I think we can all appreciate that, why I follow him now, and what I really appreciate in a champion, is the humility when he is not winning or competitive for a span of time. I was not a Rossi fan, in fact I thought his relentless winning years were a little boring for me, niether am I now, I don’t appreciate the kind of criticism or adulation over and above who he is. But I do appreciate a person, trying to learn, trying to adapt(and being successful if only to a certain extent) in a horde of younger guns, who are hungry and ready for a fight with him. I like Marquez also, he is a real talent, in assen also, I did not mind his ill advised pass. What did bother me was his reaction in the post race conference. Maybe he was emotional about losing out. Regardless, to me it was unbecoming as a champion that he clearly is. Yamaha have kept him on, at their interest and not at Rossi’s, I am sure if a faster rider is presented to them, they will take him, no questions asked. For me, motogp is not Rossi, to me it is the art of motorcycle riding, the shifting on the bike, the fishtailing marquez, the solid dani, the artful rossi and the smooth lorenzo. For me without any of them, motogp would be incomplete.

  16. Rob Hennon says:

    Great article, and a justified concern about the health of post Rossi MotoGP.

    I do think a better comparison in sports would be of all things golf. Golf is focused on individuals, not teams. The golf world (American, at least) seems to generate personality cults from Arnold Palmer (Arni’s Army) to a Tiger Woods. I don’t follow golf, but flipping around TV channels a year ago, long after Woods had lost all dominance, watching a golf show he was the only golfer mentioned.

    So it makes me wonder how golf has managed to transition to a non Tiger Woods focus and economy. I believe in MotoGP that transition will revolve around a hopefully healthy and long lived in the sport Marc Marquez, but depending on just one or even two individuals is indeed dangerous for the sport.

    Looking forward to Part 3.

  17. It’s getting worse I think.

    I have been a subscriber to the Dorna video pass for the last ten years. Aside from the mentioned acute focus on Rossi, Nick Harris’ exhausting favoritism and the blatant attempts to create a good&evil narrative every weekend, to my chagrin the offered video and photo material has also been more and more exclusive of any rider outside the Top 4 or Top 5. So when one of these “unknown” riders suddenly challenges for a podium or otherwise becomes interesting, it’s like they jump out of nowhere and we know pretty much nothing about them. It’s getting ridiculous and this is my main reason for finally cancelling my subscription as I can see just as much of the riders that don’t make it to the podium on TV, i.e. nothing.

  18. Phil Robinson says:

    Changed the habit of ( recent )lifetime today and actually purchased a copy of MCN. What’s the main headline? “Rossi – I feel cheated!” The fact that Jorge Lorenzo won both the race ( and I believe Marc Marquez DID try to prevent that but failed, )and the title is in much smaller print and underneath.

    Kinda says it all doesn’t it?

  19. Divine Gumasing says:

    I enjoyed reading the first and second installments of the article.
    I’ve been waiting for Part 3. Has it been written?

  20. Interesting Articles and comments by the way!

    in my opinion (just make a point), media and fans are the motogp itself and at the moment supporting “Legend and God” of VR.
    Anyway, MotoGP won’t run without the media and fans….
    What would riders and teams want? racing without audience? how they manage to race anyway?
    it’s still Rossi time, new blood is coming… they may still failed as everyone hope but their time will come!

    and that was just my opinion!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Doctored – MotoGP’s Obsession with Valentino Rossi | Trunk Talk - […] Part 2 is here. […]
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