Andrea Dovizioso is amongst the relatively few people who genuinely believes that this season's title is a possibility for a Repsol Honda rider whose initials are not CS. Unspectacular on track and a fairly nondescript character off it, Dovi's demeanour means that he has quietly slipped into the top three in the overall standings and is on an enviable run of form.
Thirty-three points separate the Italian from the Australian, and whilst this figure is not enough for Dovizioso to count as an immediate threat, neither is it too high for Repsol Honda team orders to come into play. An F1-style 'look after your fuel' pre-race instruction was either not issued or ignored in Sunday's contest as the 25-year-old took five points from Stoner with a last-lap move and added even more value to Jorge Lorenzo's victory.
Second place obviously meant a lot to the home rider, who has set out his stall as the 'anti-Simoncelli' this season. It's not quite the tale of 'The Hair (sic) and the Tortoise', as an utterly slow rider doesn't get regular podium finishes in MotoGP, but Dovizioso has a lot less bravado and maverick spirit about him.
He has now finished inside the top four at six straight race meetings, with a best trio of results in his MotoGP career. He is capable of battling with the best - think of the times in which he has had Valentino Rossi's number, starting with his debut at Qatar in 2008, or the fight with Stoner this past weekend.
The problem, however, is that Dovi is not converting strong performances into race wins. He has just one to his name, Donington 2009, under freak circumstances. It is a criticism that could also be levelled at him in the 250cc class, in which he was a permanent rival for Jorge Lorenzo without ever really managing to get the better of him. The Honda used during his final two intermediate class campaigns has been made out to be a dog of a machine, but was not as far behind the Aprilia RSV used by Lorenzo as folklore would have you believe.
Dovizioso used to be one of Honda's golden boys, but relations are slightly soured now after he dug his heels in at the end of 2010. When HRC wanted him out of the factory team, a group of Italian lawyers reminded the Japanese about the small matter of a contract with performance-based renewal as a key clause - and Repsol Honda had to expand to a three-rider outfit as a result. Even if he were to finish the season ahead of Dani Pedrosa, it is hard to see him riding the 2012 season onboard an orange and black bike.
The man from Forli's reasons to be optimistic, then? Repsol Honda's most recent premier class champion, Nicky Hayden, won only two races in his 2006 championship season. Those were strange circumstances, but no stranger than Marco Simoncelli taking out two of the title contenders in the early part of a campaign and Valentino Rossi failing to get to grips with a Ducati.
The downside? Stoner still has a comfortable advantage, Lorenzo and Yamaha appear to have found something that has boosted their performance over the last two races and Dovizioso has never consistently led races.
It's highly unlikely that he will be overtaking Stoner or Lorenzo on the MotoGP table any time soon, but if this belief helps him to keep up his run of form, then he may just establish himself further in the premier class hierarchy - and in the fans' affections.
Mugello post-race discussion - leave your comments below...
Was Italy the return of the title fight? Can Lorenzo keep Stoner honest until the new Yamaha horsepower developments for the engine arrive at Brno? Has 2011 turned into an extended test for Rossi? Will the CRT team candidates have upped their pace at the Mugello test? And is Dani Pedrosa back to full fitness?
- Repsol Honda
- Jorge Lorenzo
- Andrea Dovizioso
- Valentino Rossi