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10 hours ago
By Matthew Birt

Rossi's tenth title: over or set to break more records?

Valentino Rossi is 60 points behind where he was at this stage in 2015, but Matthew Birt doesn’t think it’s all doom and gloom just yet.

With 21 years of experience reporting on MotoGP™, Matthew Birt knows the championship inside-out. For the 2016 season he remains with the team to bring you exclusive news and opinion from inside the paddock.

Valentino Rossi has become accustomed to defying logic and ripping up the record books in his glittering 20-year career in the Grand Prix paddock. He’ll need to buck the trend again in 2016 if that elusive 10th world title is to finally find its way to Tavullia.

Rossi’s costly crash out of the lead in the Dutch TT last time out was his third DNF in the opening eight races. That’s as many as he had in the previous 63 and leaves his title chances looking almost as gloomy as the conditions in Assen.

The odds are already stacked firmly against him when you consider that none of Rossi’s previous seven premier class titles were claimed in a season where he failed to score points in three or more races.

In the seven years that Rossi won the MotoGP™ crown he suffered just seven DNF’s, which include 2003 and 2008 where he registered points in every race. In fact, Rossi has already had as many DNF’s in the opening eight races of 2016 than he had in total when he captured his first three premier class titles for Honda in 2001, 2002 and 2003.

The size of the task facing Rossi is even more daunting when you consider the last time a rider overcame three DNF’s in a single season to win the title was Mick Doohan way back in 1998.

Can Rossi do a Doohan?

I’d imagine Rossi is feeling pretty frustrated at the moment because since the battle moved to Europe, I think he has been the fastest rider in all but one race and that was in Le Mans.

Had he not had a Yamaha engine destroy itself in Mugello and then make that mistake while leading in Assen, Rossi could have easily won four of the last five races and the title battle would have a very different feel to it heading to the halfway stage in Germany this weekend.

As it is, Rossi is riding better and faster than ever, yet he is a massive 60-points worse off than he was at this stage last season when he had a 100% podium record after eight rounds of 2015. This year his podium hit rate is only 50%.

Assen’s crash would have particularly stung. At one stage in that race he was looking at slashing the advantage held by Marquez to just 15-points.

His rare unforced error leaves him 42-points adrift of Marquez and I think we are already in the territory where one more mistake from Rossi and he can kiss goodbye to any aspirations of an eighth premier class crown.

But I don’t think Rossi is out of contention by any stretch of the imagination. I say that because I can’t see Marquez going through the remainder of the season without a DNF or two. And I think in both wet and dry conditions over the last few races, Rossi has been stronger than Marquez.

The luxury position Marquez finds himself in is that he can afford another DNF and still have a comfortable buffer over Rossi in the title chase.

In stark contrast to Rossi, Marquez is a massive 56-points better off after eight races than he was in 2015.

The Spaniard has brilliantly applied control to his chaotic and captivating riding style to go from being the man who made the most mistakes in 2015 to the man who has made the least of the leading contenders this year.

I’ve never seen him so animated and ecstatic with a second place like he was in Assen but I think like all of us he knew the magnitude of those 20-points.

A pivotal result for Marquez?

Rossi’s crash and Jorge Lorenzo’s capitulation again in wet conditions may well have been a crucial turning point in this year’s title chase. The way Marquez celebrated there was no doubting how important he felt a third successive second place was.

If Rossi and Lorenzo were hoping to pile some pressure back on Marquez then I’d imagine Germany’s Sachsenring was the last race they’d have chosen to visit next on the world tour. Marquez has spent so much time on the top step of the podium in Germany that he could almost claim residency on it. He has the Midas touch when it comes to racing at Sachsenring having taken six successive victories from pole position.

A 125cc race back in 2009 was the last time he didn’t top qualifying or see the chequered flag first, and he will see this weekend as a great opportunity to put more daylight between himself and Lorenzo and Rossi.

Sachsenring is tight, twisty and dominated by left-hand turns, which might go some way to explaining why Marquez has such a bond with it given his dirt track pedigree. Marquez himself even joked last year that he was such a force at Sachsenring because its abundance of left-hand turns favoured his dirt track background.

It is also a circuit that Honda has a big affection for too. Rossi was the last non-Honda winner there way back in 2009.

He badly needs to be King of the ‘Ring again this weekend to prevent the crown slipping away even further.

Marquez ready to rock the Sachsenring