Valentino Rossi is poised to secure his fourth successive MotoGP world championship title next weekend in Australia after victory here yesterday put him within touching distance.
His closest rival in the overall standings, Spaniard Sete Gibernau, trailed home in seventh to lose further ground on Rossi, who, having left Honda to join Yamaha at the end of last season, is close to becoming just the second rider after the American Eddie Lawson in 1988 to achieve back-to-back titles with different teams.
The Italian now holds a 30-point lead over Gibernau, whose weekend steadily worsened the longer it went on. Having had provisional pole snatched from him on Friday, when Japan's Makoto Tamada moved into first place just seconds from the end of practice, Gibernau could manage only fourth on the grid. Yesterday's result only compounded his anguish.
Rossi began on pole and was always up among the front-runners during the 21-lap race, showing impeccable composure to see off the challenge of the Brazilian Alex Barros before finishing three seconds clear of fellow Italian Max Biaggi. Barros, Biaggi's fellow Honda rider, was a further three seconds off Rossi's pace in third place.
Rossi went into the race just 14 points ahead of Gibernau after his crash in Qatar where he had to start from the back of the grid - a penalty imposed after Honda complained that his team had doctored the track to clean up his starting position.
Rossi had the last laugh yesterday, however, dismounting after his victory, taking a broom that was offered to him and sweeping the ground in front of his bike. "It's my style, we want to joke," he said.
It would seem that Rossi now only needs to stay on his bike during the remaining two races at Australia's Phillip Island next weekend and Valencia in Spain. Even if Gibernau was to achieve an unlikely double victory, Rossi would win the title by coming home in fifth and sixth.
"That was a brilliant race," Rossi said. "Today the bike worked very well, even if the race was difficult. I made a good start, but Barros made a better one. I followed him and tried to attack. After Barros, Biaggi arrived, and we had a very good rhythm for all 21 laps."
Although all signs point to Rossi clinching the title, he remains respectful of Gibernau and will not celebrate another world championship until it becomes mathematically certain. "With 30 points it is a good advantage but we need to keep concentration at 100 per cent because the championship lead was 39 points before Qatar, then much less after it."
"The battle is only over when it's over, and it's certainly not over yet," he added.
Of the British riders, Neil Hodgson, Jeremy McWilliams and James Haydon all began with high hopes of getting among the points-scorers, but only Hodgson achieved the goal. He finished 15th to take one point for Aprilia.
Whereas Rossi looks an increasingly likely champion, the 250cc title is heading the way of Spain's Daniel Pedrosa. He prevailed again in yesterday's race, and the winner of last season's 125cc championship now possesses a 48-point lead over Argentinian Sebastian Porto.
Andrea Dovizioso beat his fellow Italian Rossi to a 2004 world title by finishing second in yesterday's 125cc race. He lost by 0.029sec to Australian Casey Stoner, but a runners-up finish earned 20 points and moved Dovizioso to 248 points, 73 clear of Roberto Locatelli.Reuse content