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GP Week : Issue 183
21 GPWEEK.com // 21 GPWEEK.com // PARTNERS: One should always be wary when making predictions about Valentino Rossi. The great man is nothing if not mercurial. Like quicksilver, he could be back at any moment. Perhaps Mugello, his great favourite, will at last play into the Doctor’s hands. But it’s hard not to see his Le Mans race as a point as low as any of his dark days at Ducati. At least on the red bike there was some excuse. Rossi’s return to Yamaha got off to a fine start at Qatar. He couldn’t match team- mate Lorenzo, but he beat everyone else, including Marquez in a stirring duel. Over the next three races, it looks increasingly as though the artificial lighting created a false dawn. At Austin and at Jerez – where he’s won six times – he was struggling to find the balance his particular brand of biking brinkmanship requires. Sixth and fourth showed he was not yet in the hunt. So too did his qualifying positions – second row in Spain, third row everywhere else. Le Mans should have been the antidote. The conditions were difficult: cold and wet. Made for the maestro. Similar conditions on the Ducati were enough to give him two of only three rostrums in two years. He started out gamely enough; gained three places on the first lap. When he passed Lorenzo for third on lap nine he was barely a second off the lead. Whatever next? Well, nothing much. One reason was visor fogging problems – frequent, it seems on his special AGV. And Valentino started to fade. Crutchlow was firmly past after a few laps; in a few more Rossi was losing touch and under severe threat from Hayden’s Ducati. The outcome of this poignant battle was never decided. Rossi fell off. “I took a bump under braking,” he explained, with as much good cheer as he could muster, after remounting for 12th. We have just seen, quoth a Dutch colleague known for his gloomy predictions, the beginning of the end. I like to hope not, but the words had a terrible knell. Always in the past Rossi has been able to come back grinning and winning. But he spoke some other words that seemed to have a dark portent, explaining his poor qualifying. “The other guys can use the new tyres better than me.” And the old tyres too? And the new bikes? Mugello may be the last chance for him to prove to himself and the world that old can still beat the new. The last chance also, 36 points adrift, to make a serious impact on the championship. This one should also play to him. He has seven consecutive wins – 2002- 2008 – to set against his 2010 disaster, breaking his leg for his first serious GP injury. He loves Mugello, Mugello loves him: vast tracts of the hillsides will be yellow. As importantly, the sweeping curves should play to his Yamaha’s character: high corner speed and high momentum versus the Honda’s mastery of stop- and-go grunt. A good result at Valentino's home race, by which I mean that if he’s behind Lorenzo it should be by no more than an inch, will show that Le Mans may have been the end of the beginning, rather than the other way round. DARK DAYS FOR THE DOCTOR OPINION OPINION MICHAEL SCOTT MotoGP Editor