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Grazie Vale! Norris and Hamilton pay tribute to 7-time MotoGP champion Rossi ahead of his final race

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SPIELBERG, AUSTRIA - AUGUST 05: Valentino Rossi of Italy and Petronas Yamaha SRT laughs during his

Lando Norris and Lewis Hamilton paid tribute to MotoGP legend Valentino Rossi as the Italian prepares for his final world championship motorcycle race on Sunday.

Rossi, 42, has won nine motorcycle world championships – seven in the 500cc top tier – and his last race will be on Sunday in Valencia, Spain. McLaren driver Norris has confessed to being a Rossi superfan, even sporting a helmet in tribute to the rider back in 2019. On Thursday in Brazil he said Rossi contributed to his dreams of being a racing driver.

"Funnily enough he sent me a message last night, just because he’s going into… the final race of his career," said Norris. "I mean, it's sad times, I’m still going to try and watch as many MotoGP races as I can, and he was the guy I watched when I was what, four, five, six years-old?

READ MORE: F1 reacts to MotoGP legend Valentino Rossi's retirement announcement

"He got me into racing and got me onto a motorbike first so yes, he’s been the guy that I’ve looked up to, the guy that I guess has kind of helped me get to this position where I am because probably without watching him, my ambition of being a racing driver wouldn’t have been so high so yes, I’m going to miss it.

"I’m lucky I got to meet him once, got to go to a race at Silverstone. I’m going to miss him in MotoGP. I don’t think it’s just me, I think there are millions of fans who are going to miss him, in F1, in the paddock - and his character because that’s one of the best things about him, the guy he is, the character he is, amongst people, amongst fans he has time for everyone. He’s a special guy and I think he’s definitely going to be missed."

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Norris's Valentino Rossi tribute helmet

As for Hamilton, he's even swapped rides with Rossi – having ridden the Yamaha motorcycle in 2019 while Rossi stepped into Hamilton's Mercedes W08 (see the video below) – and the Briton said the motorcycle racer is "one of the greatest to ever do it, if not the greatest..." as he looked back fondly on the ride swap.

"It’s obviously sad to see Vale [retiring] but I just think his drive, his approach, everything he’s done is just incredible," said Hamilton in Brazil on Thursday.

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"The passion that he’s had for so long has shone through and just such a legend, one of the greatest to ever do it if not the greatest to have ever done it.

"It will just be sad to be watching the races and seeing him… but I think it’s a beautiful time for him because he’s got family now he’s started to build. I’m grateful to have been able to share a really special day with him on track – I’ll always remember that."

The ultimate ride swap - Valentino Rossi and Lewis Hamilton trade machinery

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