Valentino Rossi may have lost this year's MotoGP title at the final round, but it was still perhaps the best ever season of his 20-year career.
That's the view of Herve Poncharal, boss of Yamaha's satellite Tech 3 team, who feels both Rossi and Movistar Yamaha team-mate Jorge Lorenzo deserved the crown.
Chasing a tenth world title at the age of 36, Rossi began the year with victory in Qatar and wouldn't lose the points lead until last month's Valencia title showdown.
“First of all Yamaha did an incredible job. They have dominated the championship in a way that hasn't happened for many years,” Poncharal told Crash.net
. “Everybody thought it was going to be difficult for Yamaha. Qatar was one thing, when Marc Marquez had his problem on the first lap, but then race after race a Yamaha was at the front.”
Yamaha won six of the opening seven events and went on to claim eleven of the 18 victories, plus a clean sweep of the riders', teams' and constructors' titles. Lorenzo took the most wins (7), leading every lap on each occasion, while Rossi celebrated the most podiums (15) and scored points in every race.
“Jorge for me was clearly the fastest guy. But the fastest guy doesn't always win and he almost lost the championship, because to be a world champion you need to handle everything,” Poncharal explained. “That means be very fast over one lap, be fast throughout the race - which he has been showing - but also deal with pressure and external factors like the weather.
“Maybe this was his 'weak point', but clearly in terms of speed and if you look at how many laps he led, how many pole positions, how many fastest laps and the way he was riding when he won those four races in a row... He'd just go. I remember the victory in the Czech Republic also, wow. So for me he deserves this title.
“But having said that, I think Vale did something amazing, honestly. He's 36 and a half. To follow Marquez, Lorenzo - even Pedrosa and Iannone sometimes - being 10 or 15 years older than them is incredible.
“I'm almost 60. I know how I was when I was 20. Then how I was when I was 30-35. And I know the difference! To do what he is doing at his age. To have the possibility to fight to the last race for the title - where does he find the motivation to work, to take the risk, to push, to be so motivated? I don't know.
“This is for me maybe the best ever season for Vale, even if he didn't win.
“Almost everybody thought after his [leg breaking] accident at Mugello in 2010, then the tough Ducati times and seeing new guys like Jorge and Marquez coming in, 'Vale is maybe the greatest, but his time has passed'.
“What he's done this year is amazing. So I say Jorge deserved the title, but for me they are almost equal.
“The two of them deserved the title. But taking into account history and circumstances, it was an incredible performance from Vale and I think he's got to be proud of what he's done this year.”
Rossi, whose most recent MotoGP title was in 2009, finished the season just five points behind Lorenzo.
There was to be no handshake between the team-mates after the race. Rossi - demoted to last on the grid after being penalised for causing the incident with Marquez at Sepang - claimed the Honda rider helped Lorenzo in the closing rounds.