Say what you will about Valentino Rossi's second-place finish Sunday at Misano. Dani Pedrosa was crashed out on the first lap. Casey Stoner wasn't there.
But it's arguable that Rossi standing on the second-highest step on the box in the Adriatic sunshine could have a more lasting impact on the MotoGP World Championship than Pedrosa rolling through the asphalt run-off on the first lap after a clumsy Hector Barbera clipped the rear wheel of Pedrosa's RC213V.
Maybe not this season. But definitely next season. If Rossi returns to "VALENTINO ROSSI!" form in 2013, look back to the Grand Prix of San Marino on Sunday, Sept. 16, 2012 as a possible turning point.
First, the obvious: This was Rossi's first dry-weather podium in two years at Ducati. His two previous podium finishes both came in wet conditions at Le Mans, in 2011 and this year. Racing in the wet helped to mask the diabolical balance of poor grip in the front end and tire-chewing tendencies of the rear end on the Ducati GP11 and GP12.
But Ducati's technical team, led by Filippo Preziosi, brought a new swingarm and frame for Rossi's GP12 at Misano, and it was the first elixir that appeared to work in nearly two years. Rossi turned consistent lap times for most of the race. And while he never threated winner Jorge Lorenzo, Rossi finished just 4.398 seconds behind the winner and was nearly 1.7 seconds ahead of third-place Alvaro Bautista.
The bike just looked better. Gone was the familiar sight of Rossi gingerly tipping the bike into corners, hoping the front end would stick. He was carving into corners like a downhill skier. The rear tire didn't skate all over the track in the later laps, either.
Rossi is heading back to Yamaha next season. But an improved Ducati will help Hayden, Andrea Dovizioso, Ben Spies and Andrea Iannone become more competitive next season, which will help the World Championship.
Everyone - even the most ardent critic of Ducati Corse - should hope this breakthrough isn't a false dawn. An improved Ducati eliminates the Honda-Yamaha duopoly in the World Championship and creates more suspense, more excitement and better racing for the rest of this season and possibly for 2013.
This championship needs that injection of passione rosso badly, even if Rossi isn't on a Ducati. Fans worldwide follow Ducati simply because it's Ducati, damn it.
It's too late for Rossi to capitalize on any improvements found by Ducati this month that will carry over to next year's GP13. But the runner-up finish for Rossi at Misano still could pay long-term dividends for The Doctor if trips to the podium - or at least close to it - continue through the final race this season at Valencia.
Last month at Indianapolis, Rossi gave a rare glimpse into the cracked shell that his swagger has become during his nightmarish two seasons at Ducati. He told media just a few days after his return to Yamaha was announced that he faced two challenges next season with the Crossed Tuning Forks.
One was Jorge Lorenzo. He is faster, more consistent and more of a leader than during his last season teamed with Rossi, in 2010.
But doubt was possibly an even greater foe for Rossi. He admitted in Indianapolis that he needed machinery to prove to himself whether he still had the skill that delivered him 79 victories and seven World Championships from 2000-2010 in the premier class.
Everyone figured that machine probably would be the 2013 M1. But in an odd twist, Valentino Rossi may regain his mojo aboard the bike he has loathed since preseason testing this year - the GP12.
If that's the unexpected final legacy of Rossi's troubled tenure with Ducati, then MotoGP and its fan base can be thankful.