Editor's Note: This continues a series counting down the top 15 stories in MotoGP in 2012, as determined by the Soup staff.
This was the year Valentino Rossi was supposed to sprinkle his magic pixie dust at Ducati. Instead, clouds of smoke and ash were the only matter floating in his garage after the 2012 MotoGP season.
Rossi's two-year tenure with the Boys from Bologna was a crash and burn of epic proportions.
Many people in the MotoGP garage gave Rossi a pass after a disappointing first season with Ducati in 2011 in which he scored just one podium finish - third at Le Mans - and finished a career-worst seventh in the standings.
Explanations rolled in from paddock insiders, media and fans.
The carbon-fiber Desmosedici GP11 didn't suit Rossi's need for front-end feel ... Rossi and crew chief Jerry Burgess needed time to adapt to the Italian methods of development and work after spending their entire partnership with Japanese manufacturers ... The GP11 already was deep into its development cycle when Rossi joined the team after the 2010 season ... The GP12 would return Rossi to competitiveness, especially since he convinced Ducati technical overlord Filippo Preziosi to scrap the carbon-fiber frame for an alloy box frame used by Japanese manufacturers with which Rossi was so familiar.
After 18 races in 2012, those explanations were worth about as much as a Confederate dollar in June 1865. They were alibis. Nothing more.
Rossi and Preziosi never could see iris-to-iris on the development of the GP12. The seat-of-the-pants-driven Rossi insisted the bike didn't feel right, and the engineering-driven Preziosi continued to counter that his data accurately showed the bike was improving. Burgess was caught in the miserable crossfire, wondering if Ducati's long-simmering developmental pace ever would come to a boil.
Desperation set in early, as Rossi cut a gaunt, ghost-like figure after finishing 10th, ninth and seventh in the first three races. Seven-time MotoGP World Champion Rossi - who helped to resurrect Yamaha's M1 in just one season in 2004 - was lost. Completely stranded and broken.
Rumors in Italy had it that the situation was so desperate that Rossi had rolled one of his personal M1 MotoGP bikes into the race shop at Bologna so that Ducati could understand the kind of MotoGP bike he needed in terms of weight bias and general proportions. True? No one will ever know.
A false dawn was created by the runner-up finish at Le Mans. That result came in wet conditions, which masked the front-end problems of the GP12. Finishes of seventh, ninth and 13th followed, and Rossi had enough.
Rossi and his management team started to look for an escape hatch from Borgo Panigale in early July. Returning to Honda wasn't an option, as HRC still stung from criticism by Rossi in his autobiography.
That left a prodigal son homecoming at Yamaha. Negotiations between the Crossed Tuning Forks and Rossi accelerated once Yamaha team leader Jorge Lorenzo blessed a return by The Doctor, vital since their relationship resembled dry ice when Rossi left Yamaha after teaming with Lorenzo from 2008-10.
Yamaha confirmed Aug. 10 what had become the worst-kept secret in the paddock: Rossi was coming back in 2013.
Rossi stands at a crossroads of his illustrious career. He hasn't celebrated on the top step of a MotoGP podium since Oct. 10, 2010. That drought can be written off by many as two years in the wilderness on a sub-par motorcycle.
But now Rossi is riding the bike of the 2012 World Champion. He's back in comfortable, familiar surroundings. He has nowhere to hide. He even admitted during the pre-race press conference in August at Indianapolis that he needs to discover whether he still can summon the killer instinct that delivered seven World Championships and 79 victories in the premier class.
Rossi also will be 34 in the 2013 season. This will be his 18th season in the World Championship, nearly double the 10-year shelf life of a Grand Prix rider as once described by Kenny Roberts.
We'll find out in 2013 whether Valentino Rossi's problem is mechanical or if it's Valentino Rossi.