With retirement the furthest thing from his mind, nine-time world champion Valentino Rossi is aiming to repeat his 2015 British Grand Prix victory following a sensational qualifying performance on Saturday.
The 40-year-old veteran hasn’t tasted victory since the 2017 Dutch TT, and it is toiling through a 2019 campaign which has only featured two visits to the podium.
However, Rossi steered his Monster Energy Yamaha to second on the grid at Silverstone, and will be sandwiched by pole sitter Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda) and Jack Miller (Pramac Racing Ducati) for Sunday’s race.
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Rossi had been strong all weekend leading into qualifying, and Saturday was no different.
However, he had his first Q2 flying lap scratched for track limits abuse, putting the heat on to piece together a strong second run.
Rossi led Marquez and Miller on the final runs and it was the reigning champion that managed career pole No. 60.
However, Rossi’s second-placed finish was as good as a win, but race day is where it all counts — and the Italian was pleased to be able to ride his Yamaha at the limit.
“It’s been a long, long time, too much,” Rossi said.
“In the mid-part of the season we struggled a lot, we were lost and I wasn’t able to ride the bike at the limit.
“So, for this reason, I’m very, very happy because we changed something with the bike and I feel better.
“Race by race I’m more competitive. Starting from the front row here is crucial for the race tomorrow. We will see because I have quite a good pace.
“We need to make the right tyre choice, but I feel good on the bike. Starting from the front row the target is to make a good start, try to stay in front and the race is very long but I want to try fight for the podium.”
Rossi has been prodded over retirement at every turn this season, but has remained adamant he can still challenge for the top step. He pressed the point further when he tested Yamaha’s 2020 bike earlier this month.
His Yamaha contract expires at the end of 2020, and the team has conceded there is a future beyond Rossi.
He finished second in two of the first three races in 2019, but hasn’t returned to the podium in the eight races since.
A last-start fourth-place finish in Austria fuelled the fire at a weak circuit for Yamaha, and after his Silverstone qualifying effort, the seven-time premier class champion opened up on the retirement chatter.
“It’s normal at my age and at my point of my career, if I make three very bad races, people start to say ‘he’s old, it’s time to stay at home’, it’s like this,” Rossi said.
“For this reason I’m happier [with the qualifying result], because I know I can be competitive if I ride well.
“It’s already a good result, but it is important on Sunday to make a good race and fight for the podium. I know I have the motivation and I can be strong, because also I feel good physically.”