Valentino Rossi may have taken his first Ducati podium last time out at Le Mans, but the MotoGP superstar is still fifth or sixth under normal circumstances.
That's the opinion of former 500cc title contender Randy Mamola, who pointed out that Rossi's third place in France - 14 seconds (0.5sec a lap) behind Honda race-winner Casey Stoner - was only possible because Marco Simoncelli and Dani Pedrosa clashed ahead of him.
"Rossi lucked into the position at Le Mans and Ducati are well aware of that. But in racing sometimes you get those gifts," 13-time 500cc race winner Mamola told Crash.net
. "In reality, he is about fifth or sixth, when you look at the machinery and the riders ahead of him."
Considering Rossi finished his first test on a Ducati, at Valencia last November, in just 15th place, the Italian is clearly making progress.
There is plenty of work still ahead, but Mamola is enjoying the spectacle of Rossi fighting it out as an underdog - and seeing his increasing influence on the Desmosedici - although he questions whether attention should turn to next year's 1000cc bike.
"Rossi left Honda [at the end of 2003] and turned the Yamaha into a winning bike, then came to Ducati at the end of last year and went 'how can you ride this thing?'" said the American, illustrating the size of the task Rossi and his team have taken on.
"Vale is now trying to make the Ducati more than just a one-rider machine. It's good to see him battling hard in the pack and step-by-step getting the bike closer to the top.
"But we are going to a completely different engine in 2012, so how much money and effort should you pour into the bike right now when you have less than a year to go?" asked Mamola.
Rossi and team-mate Nicky Hayden have each spent one day of testing on an early version of next year's Desmosedici. The #46 will soon have another 1000cc outing at Mugello (see separate story).