The plate on the front of Valentino Rossi's bike has never carried the number one on it even though he's an eight time world champion. The irony of this is of course that there are few individuals in sport that are more worthy of carrying such an accolade as the Italian.
The utter domination he inflicted on MotoGP last year was something to behold when you look back on it. Sixteen podiums from 18 races. Wet or dry, crashing on the first lap or not (as he did at Assen), he scored in every race.
Rossi bagged the most points ever in a season last year, and although he is now one of the elder statesman in MotoGP, there is still a title or even two left in him.
Valentino Rossi © Back Page Images
Like when Juan Manuel Fangio was in his twilight years, or when Mick Doohan was too in his latter laps, fathers dragged their sons to circuits just so they could say that they'd seen the great Argentine or Australian.
The same is true over the next two seasons with Rossi; if you haven't seen him, then get yourself to a race and watch the yellow flashes of the sun-and-the-moon-adorned crash helmet, before Rossi is no longer racing bikes.
Here and now, there are two more dates you can see Rossi at the Tuscan Mugello circuit. Once this year and once next year. You've just got to experience the overwhelming fever for someone who is genuinely one of the nicest guys at the top of any sport the world over.
Mind you, who says he's going to win some of these races you might drag yourself or your son or daughter to?
Rossi is now into his fourteenth season of racing and has not missed a single race in 210, so in theory he should be waning a little. Nothing could be further from the truth however. He's stayed ahead of many by completing all his winter tests, and now he has a year's experience on Bridgestone tyres. Then again, that hardly held him back last year.
The 2009 Bridgestones, which the entire field now runs on, are different from last year's compounds. But they are at least similar in nature.
The people who will struggle with the single tyre rule will be those who have plainly not done the miles on them, either through injury or lack of testing.
There are no qualifying tyres this year, so riders may well get quite a few laps out of a tyre on Saturday afternoon, but likewise there will be some massive crashes in the early few corners of a quali lap as people haven't got enough heat into the Bridgestones. See James Toseland at Jerez.
But therein lies the ruse. As part of the cost-trimming measures introduced for 2009, there have been just three tests this year at Sepang, Qatar and Jerez with no possibility for teams to whizz off to Phillip Island on their own for days on end. It's just not allowed anymore.
Plus the fact that once we get into the season there are no more 'let's stay on after the race and test on Monday tests'. That means that there will only be testing after Catalunya (June 15th) and after Brno (August 17th) and even then it will only be with test riders.
Dani Pedrosa testing the Repsol Honda at Sepang © Back Page Images
Dani Pedrosa is automatically on the back foot, having missed most of pre-season testing due to the injured hand and knee. The Spaniard only confirmed he'd be at Qatar on the Tuesday before the race. However, there is still much doubt if he will actually see the lights go out on Sunday night. Remember he went all the way to Laguna Seca last year only to pull out after free practice.
The weight of Honda, or as we now know Repsol - which is calling the shots, must be heavier than many others have felt in that garage over the years. After all, Nicky Hayden won his title for HRC in his fourth year in MotoGP, and he had so much less experience of the circuits than the little Spaniard has. The pressure is on.
Sessions have now been trimmed. Friday morning's one has been canned completely while Friday afternoons are now down to just 45 minutes. Ditto Saturday morning and qualifying - which means a total of 1.5 hours has been cut from the schedule.
So the older, wiser, heads should have the upper hand setting things up and getting sorted. Wise engineers will come to the fore too.
But in the end, the champion will still be the best in the world. Rule changes never throw up rubbish champions. The cream will always rise.
The worry for some in the paddock is the quality of the racing. Last year the average first-to-third position gap at the flag was well over 10 seconds, unlike six in 2006 and the zenith of the 990cc era.
Rossi did say in Jerez that he wondered why the change had been made from 990cc to 800cc, sparking the thought in me that if/when he gets bored, he'll go off and do something else. And that could be at the end of this year.
Ah! I hear you bark. He has a contract with Yamaha for 2009 and 2010. Yes, indeed he has, but he might go to World Superbikes and win that for Yamaha because at the end of the day he has a contract with the manufacturer, and not MotoGP.
Time to drag yourself to a race this year and see that # 46 then, because next year he might not even be showing it off in MotoGP.
|MotoGP 2009 Season Preview|
|MotoGP 2009 Runners and Riders|
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