Now that Casey Stoner has left the building, no rider in MotoGP can play head games better than Valentino Rossi. And The Doctor spent more time than usual complimenting his top rivals - especially Yamaha teammate Jorge Lorenzo and Repsol Honda rookie Marc Marquez - at the two Sepang tests in February.
It's uncertain whether Rossi is trying to play down expectations for his return to a competitive bike at Yamaha, playing possum or simply realizing that, at age 34, there are younger, faster riders than him with far more sand left in their career hourglass.
But once again, Rossi gushed about the talent and riding style of wunderkind Marquez after staying welded to the rookie's tail pipe for three laps Thursday at Sepang.
"It was very funny from behind watching him," Rossi said to English media about Marquez. "I enjoy a lot because his riding style is very spectacular. F*ck, he rides very hard. I like his riding a lot. I said to him yesterday that this year we can fight and we can enjoy."
Rossi continued the compliments by comparing Marquez to Rossi's greatest rival of the last five years.
"He rides very similar to (Casey) Stoner, and this is also because the Honda is like this," Rossi said. "He is very spectacular, and the bike moves and he slides and he always touches his elbow on the tarmac. He is very good and is already so fast. He is particular because he has a strange riding style, maybe something new. Jorge and I ride in a more classic style, but Marquez is something different."
He's also something fast, which beneath the good humor must concern the hell out of Rossi. Marquez ended up third overall in the three-day test this week, with a top lap of 2:00.643 on his RC213V. Rossi was fifth overall at 2:01.062 - more than four-tenths behind Marquez - on his M1.