After a total of 15 seasons, Valentino Rossi bid farewell to the Factory Yamaha MotoGP team at Portimao on Sunday.
The result, twelfth place but just a fraction behind team-mate Maverick Vinales, wasn’t anything special.
However, as Rossi returned to the pits – and especially his crew – for the final time, “it was an amazing, emotional moment. Because the story is finished not just with the team, but with some very important people of my box.
“I think the technical situation doesn’t change a lot, but it’s 15 years of my career and an important part of my life. I have a lot of friends in the team, a lot of good relationships. So I’ll miss especially the human side.”
Rossi will remain a Yamaha rider next season by switching to the satellite Petronas team.
In an official Yamaha statement, the 42-year-old Italian reflected in detail on his time at the Factory squad, “divided into two parts – almost like a good movie”.
After three titles for Honda from 2001-2003, Rossi joined the struggled Yamaha factory the following season, where he sensationally took victory on his M1 race debut and gave Yamaha its first world title since Wayne Rainey in 1992.
Rossi’s first chapter at Yamaha ended in 2010, the season where the #46 broke his leg at Mugello and team-mate Jorge Lorenzo claimed his first title, but after two winless campaigns at Ducati he returned ‘home’ to Yamaha in 2013.
Ten more race victories have followed during his second Factory team chapter, while finishing world championship runner-up in 2014, 2015 (losing at the final round) and 2016.
But Rossi hasn’t won a race since Assen 2017 and will be replaced by triple 2020 race winner Fabio Quartararo next season.
“This is an important moment, because this is the end of our long journey together. Our history, between me and the Yamaha Factory Racing MotoGP Team, is divided into two parts – almost like a good movie, I think,” Rossi said.
“The first part is from the beginning in 2004 to 2010. I think that was the best part of my career. We wrote history for Yamaha. We were able to win the championship for Yamaha after twenty-something years. I will always remember these achievements, for sure, because they are key moments in my career too.
“But I‘m also very proud of the second part. I want to say ’Thanks‘ again to Lin and all of Yamaha. They gave me a chance to come back to the Factory Team after two bad years with another factory, when I was already ’getting old‘ by MotoGP-standards, so I was desperate.
“I will never forget the moment when Lin [Jarvis] told me I would have a chance to come back here. I‘ll always be thankful for that moment, because maybe I could also have stopped riding at that time if I wasn‘t able to come back here.
“My return to the Factory Yamaha team has lasted 8 years, so one year longer than the first part. The second part was a bit more difficult in terms of results, but we did come close to winning a championship at one point, which could have changed our story. But things happened the way they happened, and I‘m still thankful for the support I got from Lin, Maio, and all the Japanese engineers.
“But especially I want to say ’Thank you‘ to my crew. We‘ve been together for a long time. Bernie, Alex, Brent, Matteo, Mark, David, Idalio, and more. I also want to say thanks to the other guys from the team and the hospitality staff. And of course to my mate Maverick: we also had a good atmosphere with that side of the box, so I want to thank them too.
“Next year I will still be riding a factory bike with full factory support, just in different colours. It‘s true, I will not be sitting in the Yamaha Factory Racing garage, but I will be just next door – together with Matteo, Idalio, and David – so for sure we can still say hello.”
Yamaha Racing managing director Lin Jarvis said: “This is an emotional moment. It‘s always sad to bid farewell, especially to people who have been such a vital part of the team. But nothing in life is continuous, nothing remains the same, and that‘s also the nature of MotoGP. The situation in the paddock is constantly evolving. People come into the team, some leave, and some come back again.
“2020 was Valentino‘s 15th season with the Yamaha Factory Racing MotoGP Team. I have very vivid memories of those years. There have been highs and lows – it‘s been a roller-coaster ride, but his list with results on a Yamaha is seriously impressive: 4 MotoGP World Championship Titles, 255 Grand Prix races, 56 victories, 142 podiums. It‘s amazing how much he achieved during his time with us.
“In Valentino‘s case we are now facing what I would call ’a changing of the guard‘. Though he is leaving the Factory Yamaha MotoGP Team, this is not the end of his career. This is not a complete farewell scenario, this is a transition moment. It‘s important, regardless, because Valentino has been part of our team for so long. But next year he will be next door, so he will stay close.
“His factory-rider status continues, and he will continue riding a factory YZR-M1 with full support from Yamaha Motor Co., Ltd. He will also be taking Crew Chief David, Data Engineer Matteo, and Rider Performance Analyst Idalio with him, so he will be surrounded by some familiar faces in the Petronas Yamaha SRT garage.
“Brent, Alex, and Javier will finish their long-term working collaboration with Yamaha. Their expertise, professionalism, and passion for the job is something that kept our team going for many years, so it‘s very sad to have to say goodbye to them. We wish them all the best for the future and hope to stay in touch.”
Monster Yamaha team director Massimo Meregalli said: “After 15 years of fighting for championship titles with the Yamaha Factory Racing MotoGP Team, it is now time to let Vale go to another Yamaha team. It‘s been such a privilege to work with him all these seasons. We have shared many great moments, we even wrote some history together, and that is something we, the Yamaha Factory Racing MotoGP Team, can always be proud of.”
The highlight of Rossi’s final Factory Yamaha season was a podium in the second Jerez event.
But the Italian eventually finished just 15th in the world championship having missed two of the 14 races after contracting Covid plus five DNFs, including an engine failure.
Meanwhile, the Petronas squad was far more successful than the Factory Yamaha team this season, winning six races with Quartararo and Franco Morbidelli (on the A-Spec bike) on its way to second in the riders’ (Morbidelli) and teams’ standings.
Monster Yamaha took only one win, with Vinales, who finished sixth in the riders’ championship. Monster Yamaha was also sixth in the teams’ championship.
“Today I felt good on track, so it‘s a good end to the story,” Rossi said. “The weekend didn‘t start well for us, because I needed a bit too much time to adapt to the track. But in the race I was quite strong and we could fight with the rest of the group.
“It‘s the end of a complicated season for everybody. We will see next year. We need to work and train hard to be competitive and try to be ready for the first race.”
Covid restrictions permitting, Rossi will make his Petronas debut when 2021 pre-season testing begins at Sepang in February.