In 1994, Aprilia took Rossi on to improve the RS125R and Rossi grasped the finer nuances of the 125cc bike. A Sandroni in the 1994 Italian championships helped him see the 1995 season through as well, in the European and Italian Championships. In 1996, Rossi ventured into the World Championship season but failed to finish quite a few races and crashed a number of times. Despite his problems, he won his first race at Czech Republic. He rode his AGV Aprilia RS125R to ninth place in the championships. Although he wasn’t competitive in his first year in the championships, he used it to gain further experience. And he made his presence felt in 1997 dominating the entire season by winning 11 of the 15 races.
In 1998, he moved into the 250cc class, still with Aprilia. He was looking at his new bike’s performance through the new season and another learning curve meant that he wasn’t moving up to challenge for the title just yet. The death of two friends in a road accident also took a mental toll on Rossi but he still managed to finish the season in second place. He ensured that in the next season, his 9 wins got him the pole position in the championships.
Rossi’s performances again ensured a promotion, this time to the 500cc championships. He got a chance with the Honda bike and Rossi got support from all sides. Jeremy Burgess had introduced Valentino to the NSR500 machine while retired 500cc champion, Mick Doohan, became the personal mentor to the Italian. This was also the first time ever that Rossi would face Max Biaggi, someone who became a fierce rival in the coming years. Again, Rossi took time until the ninth race of the season to register his first win. This however was, again, just a preview of what was in store for season 2. Even then, in his first season, Rossi finished at second place ahead of Max Biaggi.
In 2001, he took 11 unbelievable race wins on his way to the 500cc World Championship Title. With the turn of the year, 500cc got converted into MotoGP and Rossi, meanwhile was taking part in with Colin Edwards for the Suzuka 8 Hours race. The race was in the Superbikes category and the duo rode a Honda VTR1000SPW and despite Rossi never having been on a Superbike before, they won the whole thing.
Rossi came into the newly developed MotoGP class as the defending 500cc champion and in just his third year at the top level expectations were beginning to run high. With everyone struggling to cope with the new bikes while some struggled with the 500cc ones, Rossi decided that he would take another championship with 8 wins out of the first 9 races. He finished up with 11 wins overall.
Things were beginning to get monotonous in the MotoGP arena as Rossi took another 9 wins to take his third consecutive championships. One event, at Philip Island, was of particular note when Rossi had to face a number of unique circumstances. He was given a 10-second penalty for overtaking under a yellow flag scenario but Rossi countered it by taking the lead, extending it to about 15 seconds and thus canceling out the penalty while taking the win as well.
Speculation mounted on Rossi’s future. Some felt that after winning three straight titles, Rossi might look to other sports including rally driving, something he had already tried in the 2002 Rally Great Britain. He was only to be at Honda till the end of the year and he felt his work was done. He had won them three titles, and had helped perfect the RC211V into an unbelievable racing monster. But despite his entire contribution, Honda was still unwilling to pay him what he wanted and so, amidst claims by the team that the bike was the main reason behind Rossi’s success, Rossi decided to show who’s boss and left Honda for greener pastures.
Ducati were chasing for his signature but it seemed rather unlikely that they would be able to convince Rossi after a lackluster 2004. But Rossi, in his autobiography, revealed that the actual reason for his choosing to not go to Ducati was the fact that the team had the same mindset that he was running away from, at Honda.
It came down to Yamaha who were willing to offer the Italian $12 million for a two year contract. Rossi was in for the big one. He had an inferior bike and everyone in the fraternity claimed that he would not be able to repeat his feat of the past years with the Yamaha YZR-M1. Max Biaggi had moved to Honda and with the increased development on the RC211V, promised a really tough season for Rossi. Rossi skipped Suzuka for safety reasons but in South Africa, he started his season and claimed the win. In a season when everyone thought that the Yamaha would be second fiddle to the superior Honda, Rossi won 9 Grand Prix races and battled furiously with Sete Geibernau for the title. The two had been competitive in the past but this time, things were getting fierce and Rossi wasn’t one to back out. Rossi shut Sete out at Philip Island and to make things worse for the Honda team, won the last race of the season to take his 4th consecutive title, and comfortably.
In 2005, he made it look all too easy as he romped home in first place with a 147 point lead over Marco Melandri, in second place.
In 2006, the story began to change. Rossi was the favourite but after a troubled first half of the season, Rossi had to slowly force his way up the ladder. Riddled with mechanical and electronic problems, Rossi began an extraordinary fight back. He climbed his way up to the top of the standings at the second to last race of the season and with one race left, a troubled Rossi was in the lead once again. However, a fifth lap crash didn’t help his cause and Nicky Hayden won the 2006 title with Rossi in second place.
In 2007, Rossi had a new Yamaha YZR-M1 800cc for the season. But a flamboyant Casey Stoner on a Ducati Desmosedici had found his winning touch. Rossi had many mixed results during the season, which was mainly due to the poor tyre reliability. Rossi was clearly frustrated with Michelin and asked them to pull up their socks and the French tyre manufacturer did. But things didn’t get much better for the 7 time World Champion and 5 time MotoGP Champion.
‘The Doctor’ was having issues with the bike and even though he took to the tracks in 102 fever conditions, tyre issues took their toll and he had to sit back and watch as Stoner ran away with the Championship. Although Rossi did come close to Stoner and cut his lead down to 21 points at one time, he just didn’t have the support to make it to the top.
For 2008, Rossi will be hoping that he can bring things back to normal at the MotoGP championships and again, with Yamaha, he will look to counter Stoner’s title defense with his own incredible style of racing. Known to be the best motorcycle racer on the planet, Rossi will always start as the favourite irrespective of the goings on in previous seasons. Only time will tell whether the legend will have the last laugh.