Rossi, a nine-time world champion, was left shaken after Franco Morbidelli’s cartwheeling Yamaha, travelling at around 300 km/h (187mph), flew across the track just centimetres in front of him.
Morbidelli and the Ducati of Johann Zarco had collided just seconds before the riders slipped through an early turn at Spielberg on lap eight of the race. Both men were unseated.
Zarco’s Ducati also bounced across the track and came desperately close to hitting Rossi as well as Vinales, who was just ahead of him.
“It was very scary. All four riders, but especially me and also Maverick, were very lucky,” Rossi said.
The veteran argued that being aggressive was good, “because everybody tries to do the maximum”.
“But for me we don’t have to exaggerate, because we need to remember that this sport is very dangerous.”
Rossi added: “You need to have respect for your rivals, especially at a track where you’re always going at 300km/h.”
– A lesson for riders –
Rossi questioned the manoeuvring of Zarco, who, he said, went wide in braking, slamming the door on Morbidelli, a protege of Rossi’s rider academy, VR46, who had no chance to brake.
“We were very lucky, but we hope this type of incident is a lesson for riders to improve their behaviour in the future,” Rossi said, hinting that Zarco would be facing even more scrutiny had there been a casualty.
“I spoke with Franco, he is okay, he is trying not to think, but when he thinks, he too feels scared.
“What makes the difference on this occasion is that nobody got hurt, all riders are okay, so this changes the situation.
“If something bad had happened, it would have been completely different.”
Zarco, dubbed “almost a murderer” by Morbidelli, was quick to claim he was innocent, insisting his manoeuvre was “not done on purpose”.
The MotoGP drama followed a sickening crash in Sunday’s earlier Moto2 race when Malaysia’s Hafizh Syahrin ploughed head-on into the bike of Italian Enea Bastianini, another VR46 graduate, which was lying in the middle of the track after a fall.
Rossi’s Factory Yamaha team director Massimo Meregalli said both incidents were “heart-in-the-mouth moments for all spectators, but especially for the riders”.
“We are so thankful that all riders involved are relatively okay.”
Meregalli went on to praise both Rossi and Vinales for having the nerve to restart after such a horrifying near-miss.
“Valentino didn’t let any of it faze him, and he got down to business as usual during Race 2,” he said, Andrea Dovizioso on a factory Ducati going on to take the honours for the second year running.
“Normally, fifth is a decent result, but under these circumstances it’s an incredible achievement that only top riders can manage.”
Racing had made for “a very eventful day”, Meregalli continued.
“But we’ll take a deep breath and keep pushing. We need to have a good look at all the data, because next week we’ll have a rematch here in Spielberg.”