Legions of fans waving yellow "46" banners worldwide don't want to hear this, but the Grand Prix of Japan was one of the more damning indictments of Valentino Rossi's fading status as one of the best Grand Prix motorcycle riders in the world.
Rossi could have put Yamaha teammate Jorge Lorenzo into a more realistic position to win the World Championship last Sunday at Motegi, but "The Doctor" failed when Lorenzo and Yamaha needed him the most.
Seven-time MotoGP World Champion Rossi produced a superb start in the race, jumping to second behind teammate Lorenzo on the first lap. Championship leader Marc Marquez was running third behind Rossi early in the race.
But then Rossi ran wide in Turn 11 on Lap 2 and Lap 3, dropping to 11th. He rallied to finish sixth, but the damage was done.
If Rossi could have kept Marquez behind him for the entire race, winner Lorenzo could have pulled to within nine points of Marquez with only the season-ending Grand Prix of Valencia remaining. Lorenzo could have won the title with a victory even if Marquez finished third in the final race.
But now Marquez only needs to finish fourth or better to clinch the title. He has finished in the top three at 15 of 17 races this season.
"I did a great start, but on the second lap I arrive at Turn 11 and have not enough power in the brake," Rossi said. "I arrive too deep the first time, and I lose two position to the Hondas but also on the next lap it was worse.
|If Rossi could have kept Marquez behind him for the entire race, winner Lorenzo could have pulled to within nine points of Marquez with only the season-ending Grand Prix of Valencia remaining. Lorenzo could have won the title with a victory even if Marquez finished third in the final race.|
"It was my mistake because I have to remember the lap before that I do not have enough power in the brake. I cannot stay on the track, so I lose a lot and after I try to do the maximum. My pace was very good, and I think that without the problem I could arrive in fourth place but not enough to stay on the podium."
Moments after the race Rossi himself made his feelings known as to who was to blame for his bad race. He put his hands over his head mimicking a donkey.
Rossi's post race quote reveals that he's the fourth-best rider on the MotoGP grid on a good day, when every top rider stays on his bike.
The imperious Rossi of five years ago would have tucked behind Lorenzo to protect Lorenzo and parry Marquez, if needed. But mistakes on consecutive laps under pressure proved once and for all Rossi no longer is among the top three riders in the world.
There are three aliens riding elite-level factory bikes on the MotoGP grid. And for the first time since Marco Melandri coined that famous phrase in the mid-2000s, Valentino Rossi is not among them.
Rossi has a decent history at Valencia and has to be hoping he can muster a huge performance at the season-ending GP.