If I were Fabio Quatararo I wouldn’t be that bothered about clinching the world title next weekend, for the very good reason that nobody will take a blind bit of notice. For the Gran Premio Nolan del Made in Italy e dell’Emiglia Romana (the race that hacks still paid by the word look forward to) will be the last race on Italian tarmac for Valentino Rossi. And not just in Italy but in Vale’s back yard. His home town of Tavullia is so close to the Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli that the fan club used to walk in on Sunday morning like an army of liberation. Nothing, but nothing, this weekend will alter the script; basically it reads “Ciao Vale! Grazie Vale!” repeated an infinite number of times. Fabio could lap the entire field, breaking the lap record every time round, while standing on the ‘bars and the script would not change. We’ll discuss the remarkable young Frenchman another time.
Not that Misano will be easily distinguishable from most of the other tracks we’ve been to this season. Much of the year has felt like a farewell tour for Valentino, from the usual yellow grandstands to the helicopters trailing banners at the Red Bull Ring, organisers and circuits have marked the last occasion on which the great man left a tyre mark on their tarmac. Thanks to Covid, there will only be 35,000 fans in on race day, but Misano is a small track and even with a full house could never generate a fraction of the atmosphere of Mugello. Nor, of course, is it in the same league for scenic grandeur or as a challenge to the greatest of racers. Valentino’s seven year run of wins at Mugello, a feat unmatched in my time, culminated in 2008 when he beat Stoner’s Ducati and wore the best crash helmet design he and Aldo Drudi ever created. Mugello was always a wild event but at the height of Valentino’s reign it was out on its own combining everything from a recreation of Woodstock to a weekend of national rejoicing. Not that Valentino worship was confined to his homeland. I realised what effect he was having in the early years of the century as I saw grandstands from Motegi to Rio turn yellow. Every race became a home race for Valentino Rossi. In about 2016 I noticed that the stands at Aragon were more orange than yellow. Aragon is Marc Marquez’s Mugello. the nearest GP to his house, his real home race. Then the yellow started to retreat in other countries. It’s still there of course, but no longer dominates every corner of every picture you see.
There is another Valentino legacy apart from massive merchandising sales, and it is making itself felt on track now and it will into the foreseeable future. The spearhead is Pecco Bagnaia, a product of the VR-46 academy and all its works. His classmates are winning in Moto2 and Moto3. Valentino said that he started the Academy in response to the lack of Italian riders coming through to challenge the Spanish hegemony. I am not sure even he could have expected the results he’s getting. The idea of all three Italian world champions wearing Dainese and AGVs with VR-46 on them is not an outlandish thought. Not this year though. His pupils’ results already rank as one of Vale’s greatest achievements, we may come to view them as the equal of The Master’s Mugello domination.
We can’t realistically expect Valentino Rossi to win next weekend, but at least we can hope for another iconic helmet design.