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GP Week : Issue 161
21 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: Who is the second-best bike racer in the world? The question arose over dinner. Next day we were still all arguing. Second-best next year, I mean. In other words, without Stoner. He’s off. That leaves Lorenzo unquestionably number one for 2013. The importance of who is number two revolves around Dani Pedrosa and Valentino Rossi, and is tied up with Rossi’s destination next year. He might, of course, be obliged to stay with Ducati. Yamaha doesn’t need him, having an embarrassment of riches beyond Lorenzo, with Spies, Crutchlow and Dovizioso jostling for position. And Honda doesn’t want him. Too much excess baggage, both literally with his huge entourage including a pit full of mechanics, and figuratively, with his profile, sponsorship and other complications. Not to mention the bad taste he left when he walked out on them at the end of 2003, telling the world he wanted to prove to Honda that it was the rider that made the difference, not the bike. But does Honda need him? In other words, is he still better than Dani Pedrosa? Set Rossi’s 79 premier-class race wins against Dani’s 16 and the question might seem ridiculous. Bring in some other factors and it is less clear. Dani’s first of 16 came in 2006. Since then Rossi added 26 to his total. But count just the last three years plus half of this one, and it skews the other way: Dani 11/Vale 8. And riding a Ducati is a poor excuse: Stoner won on it. Age may be more pertinent: Rossi 33 and Dani 26. To be the best a racer needs more than just sublime skill. He needs fire in the belly. Say what you like, this simply doesn’t burn with the same strength as you clock on past 30. Honda has made it clear there will be no slot for him in the factory team. The two places are earmarked for Pedrosa and Marquez, although not yet signed. If he should return to the big H, it will be in a satellite team and probably at the expense of Bautista. What then? He would clearly require a factory bike, but there is plenty of precedent in the Gresini team, including Sete Gibernau in the past, and more recently Marco Simoncelli. But what happens if and when he starts taking serious points away from Pedrosa? And is he capable of doing so on a regular basis? Rossi’s popularity and pulling power remain enormous. But the two years after dumping Yamaha have seen him change from being every team’s desire to something less enticing. And his winning potential is now being openly questioned. No wonder that, at Germany, he was newly at pains to limit the damage of his recent outbursts against Ducati’s lack of progress, and to express hope that forthcoming changes will help him move back up the top 10 to the rostrum. Staying put is starting to look as though it might be his only option. OPINION MICHAEL SCOTT MotoGP Editor WHO WILL CHALLENGE JORGE IN '13 OPINION