Newly crowned 2004 world champion Valentino Rossi has highlighted Yamaha's introduction of a 'big bang' engine, plus his three-race win streak from Mugello to Assen, as the most significant moments in his title winning season – and credited Sete Gibernau as perhaps his greatest on track rival.
After clinching his fourth consecutive 500cc/MotoGP world title at Phillip Island on Sunday, Rossi met the waiting media to reflect upon winning Yamaha's first premier-class crown since 1992, at his very first attempt, and with a machine that took just one podium finish in 2003.
During that press call, Rossi was asked what had been the most important improvements made to his YZR-M1 since his Yamaha debut, in a pre-season test, at Sepang:
"In January, the first half of the first day was quite hard – because I realised it was more difficult with Yamaha compared with Honda," admitted Rossi. "But afterwards the feeling arrived. It's like Jeremy (Burgess) sometimes says “the bike is like a tool” if you have one question there is always one answer – if you have a problem with the front you modify the front, it is... mathematics.
"I think the best improvement was when we used the 'big bang' engine, at the second test at Sepang; it was already very good to ride – but very, very slow! When I arrived at the second test of the 'big bang' engine we improved a lot and we were able to go fast along the straight and get good drivability," he added.
Rossi, who had targeted a top-three title finish before the season began, was also quizzed as to when he felt winning the 2004 championship became a reality:
"For me the key point of the championship was the three races that we were able to win in a row at Mugello, Barcelona and Assen because Sete was in very good shape, made fantastic times in qualifying, but we were able to beat him. This is the time when we started to think seriously about the championship," he said.
Having clinched the title with a heart-stopping sequence of lead changes with Gibernau on the final lap of the Australian Grand Prix, Rossi was asked why – when he would have won the championship with second place – he'd battled so hard for victory:
"At the beginning (of the race) I thought only about following Sete because he was riding very well, in some parts he was faster than me, and I say 'is enough," admitted Rossi. "But after half the race I see on the (pit) board that the distance to Capirossi and Barros is getting bigger and bigger and also Sete was starting to slide his tyre.