Silverstone fans braced for battle of fading idol and brash Australian

After world title in '07, Casey Stoner has had a tough time. Now he's back and pushing Valentino Rossi into the margins

Six months ago both Casey Stoner, the brash young Australian who is hardly everyone's cup of tea, and Valentino Rossi, the veteran Italian multiple champion and hero of the track, were at a crossroads.

Stoner, after bursting on to the scene and winning the title in 2007 by a massive margin, was struggling due to illness, multiple crashes and a seeming loss of that unshakeable confidence. Rossi, meanwhile, broke his leg on the Yamaha during 2010 as his team-mate, the young Spaniard Jorge Lorenzo, took his world title.

The two riders, who have a history of spicy confrontation, decided on drastic action. The Australian felt the magic had faded with Ducati, with whom he had won the title in 2007, and after finishing fourth in 2010 decided to switch to Honda. In turn Rossi quit the Yamaha factory – which had helped Lorenzo to victory – to try to tame Ducati's whimsical handling and power delivery.

At Silverstone on Sunday at the British MotoGP there may well be further proof that it is Stoner who made the wiser choice – and the British fans won't be happy, such is their dislike of the Australian they regularly boo. He sits second in the standings while the much-loved idol that is Rossi trails in fifth.

"With the Honda I'm finding it a lot better on the exits," Stoner said of his V4 machine. "I'm not having to push the corner so hard to get the bike turning from the exit. It flows from one part to the next and it feels a lot easier to work around."

Stoner, now 25, has won three of the five MotoGP races this year, and holds second place in the points table behind the defending champion Lorenzo. The 32-year-old Rossi, meanwhile, is labouring to turn the 800cc Ducati into a race winner, and has scored only one podium placing in five races.

Ironically, the only time Stoner failed to make the podium this year was when Rossi misjudged an overtaking manoeuvre in Spain and brought both of them down. "I heard Valentino arriving and I wasn't worried about anyone passing me at that point in the race so I gave him plenty of room," Stoner said. "It was a racing incident and there's not much we can do." Gracious, but no doubt through gritted teeth.

When Stoner cleaned up in 2007 he seemed destined to rule for years and knock Rossi permanently off his perch. As the super-confident 21-year-old Stoner, who was twisting a throttle on country dirt tracks when he was only four years old, said of Rossi: "You have to give it right back to him the way he gives it to you." And that he did, taking the title in only his second MotoGP season (with six pole positions and 10 race wins) by 125 points, the equivalent of five race victories.

"Casey is the fastest man on earth," Ducati's team manager Livio Suppo eulogised at the time, of a rider with a natural talent that makes it look like his rivals are feathering the throttle.

After showing his talent in the 125cc and 250cc feeder classes, Stoner qualified on pole in only his second race after graduating to MotoGP, the Formula One of motorcycling, in 2006. He also had several off-pistes, though, leading disbelievers to dismiss him as a wild crasher. But the raw speed was clearly there and, as all in racing know, it is far easier to calm a turbulent genius into a championship winner than it is to coax edge-of-life speed from a steadier performer who never bends the motorcycle.

After his maiden world title, a rosy future seemed assured. But then the wheels came off and suddenly life stopped being a lap of honour. Critics claimed it was the bike that was winning the races rather than Stoner. (In fact, the Ducati is such a capricious beast that while the Australian won a total of 20 races on it, all the other riders who have straddled the V4, including Rossi, have managed only a single victory between them.

Stoner then married an 18-year-old fan, Adriana Tuchyna, which the cynics said would blunt his aggression on the track (in fact, it seemed to soothe Stoner's sometimes turbulent spirit.)

Then Stoner started crashing. Several times he went down in battles for the lead in the 2008 season and he was accused of crumbling under pressure from Rossi, who went on to win the title.

In 2009, Stoner succumbed to a mysterious problem with fatigue during MotoGPs, and eventually quit for several races in order to seek a cure. The critics pounced again, this time accusing him of faking and wilting. But Stoner had a genuine problem – he turned out to be lactose intolerant – and he bounced back to win in Australia and Malaysia later that year.

His good start to this season was marred at Le Mans last month, where he was fined for punching the French rider Randy de Puniet during a warm-up session when he slowed and the Australian had to brake suddenly.

But now that he has got used to life on a Honda, Stoner is back in contention and leaving Rossi behind. And the gap could increase on Sunday, boos or not.

News
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.
peopleFormer Newsnight presenter is being touted for a brand new role
News
Michael Buerk in the I'm A Celebrity jungle 2014
people
Voices
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012
voicesAnd nobody from Ukip said babies born to migrants should be classed as migrants, says Nigel Farage
Arts and Entertainment
Avatar grossed $2.8bn at the box office after its release in 2009
filmJames Cameron is excited
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
The Magna Carta
archaeologyContemporary account of historic signing discovered
Arts and Entertainment
Stik on the crane as he completed the mural
art
Arts and Entertainment
Phyllis Dorothy James on stage during a reading of her book 'Death Comes to Pemberley' last year
peopleJohn Walsh pays tribute to PD James, who died today
Sport
Benjamin Stambouli celebrates his goal for Tottenham last night
FOOTBALL
Life and Style
Dishing it out: the head chef in ‘Ratatouille’
food + drinkShould UK restaurants follow suit?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game