In two races, Valentino Rossi has cut his deficit to Marc Márquez by 35 points. He now trails the Repsol Honda rider by 42 points. All of a sudden, Márquez' lead in the championship looks a good deal less dominant, despite the Spaniard already having wrapped up the 2016 title at Motegi. Márquez' crashes at Phillip Island and Sepang have kicked off a whirlwind of "what ifs" among Valentino Rossi fans. The elusive tenth title suddenly seems a good deal closer than it was four or five races ago.
The one "what if" on the tip of fans' lips is the engine blow up at Mugello. The two Movistar Yamahas had a small but comfortable gap over Marc Márquez, and Rossi was clearly stalking Jorge Lorenzo. It was a matter of when, not if Rossi would pass his teammate. But on lap 8, Rossi's engine let go, just as Lorenzo's had in the morning. He was out of the race, and went from trailing Márquez by 7 points to being 27 points behind the Spaniard. Had Rossi won at Mugello, he would have gained 29 over Márquez (25 for the win, plus the 4-point differential between second and third for Márquez). That would have given the 2016 title a very different aspect.
Was Mugello the moment that Valentino Rossi lost the 2016 MotoGP championship? As tempting as it might be to say yes, it is a mistake to pinpoint a loss on a single result. There are 18 races in a year, and each one is so filled with incidents and events that have the potential to change the flow of a championship that singling out a particular race fails to do justice to the richness and complexity of each season. The best proof of that thesis comes in the 2006 MotoGP championship, when Valentino Rossi lost the title to Nicky Hayden by just 5 points.
One hand on the title
As the clouds of yellow smoke from the fireworks celebrating the 2006 season finale dissipated, Rossi fans immediately started trying to explain the Italian's loss. Hayden had been consistently on the podium almost all year, but had only two victories to his name. Rossi, on the other hand, had won five races, and yet still come up 5 points short. He had mounted an epic comeback from midseason, trailing Hayden by 51 points after Laguna Seca. He had cut that deficit to just 12 points before the penultimate race of the year at Estoril, and with two races to go, was the clear favorite to have staged the greatest championship comeback of all time.
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