Eyes that have guided him safely through the perils that are part and parcel of his high-risk profession, widen in mock horror and the familiarly squeaky and heavily-accented voice splutters: "Me go to Formula One? No. That idea is dead and buried". Valentino Rossi, hailed as the greatest motorcycle racer of all time and a multi-champion at all levels, recognises the risks of rumours shadowing him when he takes time off from two wheels to play about "for fun" in a Ferrari F1 car at the invitation of the Italian Grand Prix giants from Maranello.
Even F1 kingpin Bernie Ecclestone was entranced by the notion that Rossi, notably fast in his test run-outs and barely three seconds off legend Michael Schumacher's pace at the test track, might be tempted to switch in a spectacular finale to his race career. "It would be fantastic for our sport to have such an amazing character on the grid," said Ecclestone, himself a one-time bike racer-turned-car driver, albeit with moderate success.
"Too late," reveals Rossi. "Anyway I have signed a deal to race Yamahas in MotoGP for another couple of years. By then I shall be 31 and that is far too late to make such a major change and go to Formula One." He adds: "The Ferrari tests are just a present to myself? a celebration? for winning the championship again. But it is only for fun. Nothing more. "I love my bike racing too much to even think about leaving for another sport where I might struggle to keep up with the regular Grand Prix guys.
"They are all so quick. OK, driving an F1 Ferrari is an amazing experience and a complete thrill. But it is a whole different ball game when you are up against regular, committed and fully experienced drivers rather than just going round a track on your own." What could have accompanied Rossi to F1 was a sense of the ridiculous and mischievously unbridled fun, a prevailing attitude of competitiveness with a readiness to fearlessly mix it in the toughest of circumstances with the most fiercely-committed rivals.
Instead, all of those qualities will remain in MotoGP, much to the enjoyment and benefit of an ever-growing population of bike race fans worldwide. Tonight he races in Indianapolis looking to extend his 50-point championship lead over Yamaha teammate Jorge Lorenzo. His former teammate Colin Edwards calls him the Goat - the Greatest Of All Time. Edwards has both suffered and revelled in Rossi's presence in on-and-off track activities.
Hollywood superstar Brad Pitt, too, counts himself a friend and admirer. Crazy about bikes, the movie idol is the owner of a Ducati, MV-Agusta, a Suzuki and a couple of Harley-Davidsons and was treated to a ride on Rossi's title-winning Yamaha YZR-M1. He says: "We celebrities, I know, should not worship idols - but I have one of my own who stands above all the rest in my mind and in his field... Valentino. I love to watch him race and go to MotoGP whenever I can. He is an absolute genius. And a lovely guy, too. We are real good friends."
Rossi has given up living in Knightsbridge, London, one of the United Kingdom's most desirable and wealthiest areas, and has moved back to his birthplace, Tavullia, Urbino, Italy where, he says: "I can be with my family and all my friends. I needed to return to my past and be on familiar territory now that I seem to have more free time. It is very relaxing." He moved to the UK originally to escape the fame he had built for himself and the consequent attention he attracted on homeground.
"My face was not as recognisable in London," he grins, "and that meant I was able to move about freely without drawing attention to myself. I know that could sound strange, but I am not really interested in celebrity [status]. I prefer to be anonymous away from the race track. "The important thing is that my passion for riding motorcycles and the taste I have for racing right on the limit remains as strong now as it was when I made my Grand Prix debut way back in 1996.
"This has always been, and still is, very much the base of my performance and when it starts reducing I believe it will be the time for me to stop. I can't see that happening at the moment. Hopefully, it won't be for a very, very long time yet." Has there been anything, a rare moment of upset, to shake his self-belief and his joy in a year of overwhelming achievement? He takes hardly as second to answer: "Yes. There has been one really bad thing... very sad... about the year.
"My dog, Guido, passed away the day I arrived home from the Australian Grand Prix last year. That was a great hurt and a shame, but not completely unexpected because he was quite old. I have had a sticker picture of him on my bike since 2001. I will always miss him - but I cannot live without a dog so I have bought two new ones." email@example.com