When Valentino Rossi went into partnership with arguably MotoGP’s worst team for 2021 in order to find a way to bring the VR46 brand to the grid and to find a place for his brother Luca Marini, it’s unlikely that he expected to find himself crashing out of races as he tried to find a way past the Team Sky Esponsorama Ducati – but that’s exactly how things panned out in Sunday’s Portuguese Grand Prix.
And while it might have meant an unfortunate result for Rossi, it also asks bigger questions about the changing of the guard we’re currently witnessing in the premier class, not just for Rossi but for some of his fellow veteran competitors.
“Unfortunately I had to make an aggressive move on my brother,” Rossi admitted after the race, “because at that moment I was faster than him. I was behind Alex Marquez who had a similar pace, but I lost a lap and a half trying to overtake Luca.
“It’s a strange feeling to overtake a VR46 bike, but especially to overtake my brother!”
He wasn’t the only rider to get somewhat bogged down behind class rookie Marini, either, with Tech3 KTM rider Danilo Petrucci also finding his fellow Italian somewhat of a surprise to overtake. Eventually finishing behind him in 13th to maintain a poor run of form of his own, Petrucci says that qualifying is what cost him.
“It’s always difficult when you start so far back,” Petrucci said. “I was able to make up some time in the early part, but for the last five laps I got stuck behind Marini. That was the main problem I had in Qatar too – we’re making the laptimes, but we’re making up our time on the entry of the corner.”
His three points were still more than what Rossi got, perhaps pushing on just a little too much after his run-in on track with family. Trying to close down Alex Marquez, who eventually finished eighth, Rossi hit the deck, adding to a dismal run of form that’s seen him score only 12 points now from the last nine races.
He was cautiously upbeat afterwards, though, thanks to the overnight progress they made going into Sunday’s race at Portimao. Still not quite at the sharp end, he says that he believes they might have found something to be optimistic about at long last.
“In the race I was better,” he said, “because we improved the setting of the bike, especially with the hard rear tyre. It gave me a better feeling, more stability, and my pace wasn’t bad but it’s always difficult when you start from behind.
“I made one mistake in Turn 1, I lost a bit of time overtaking Luca, but I could have arrived in the top ten and taken some points.
“But then I lost the front. It was a decent race until that moment, and I’m very sorry for the mistake. It’s a shame because I could have taken some points, but at least I felt a bit better in the race.”
For his own part, Marini recorded his best MotoGP weekend so far, starting from eighth and recording his first premier class points in 12th, just ahead of Petrucci. But, with typical racer mentality, he was left frustrated that he wasn’t able to deliver on his full potential – a good sign of things to come.
“It was a disappointing race, because I expected to be much faster – half a second a lap, more or less,” he admitted after the race. “I don’t understand why, but the track conditions were worse and the temperature was higher and I struggled with the rear tyre.
“It wasn’t enough. I struggled to stay with the group in front of me, and I dropped my pace a lot at the end.
“We have to look at the data and analyse the data very carefully because in Qatar I was slower in the race than in practice too. But at least here it was a very good weekend in general, and my feeling with the bike is improving”