Andrea Iannone showed no signs of the back injury that forced him to miss four rounds as he battled for victory in Sunday's Malaysian MotoGP.
The factory Ducati star led for 9 of the opening 10 laps, until Valentino Rossi finally found a way to not only pass but stay ahead of his fellow Italian.
Iannone's race then came to an abrupt end when he fell from third place on lap 13 of 19, shortly after being overtaken by team-mate and eventual winner Andrea Dovizioso.
"I'm very happy because I ride for more than half the race at the front and I fight with Vale. So I came back in the best way I think and my performance did not show I had been away for four races.
"Vale is my friend. I'm very happy for this battle and also Vale I'm sure. But the last eight laps he was more fast than me, he had good traction in the last part of the corner before you pick-up the bike. And I don't. I had a lot of spin. I tried to quick-shift, I tried everything. I had the possibility to recover this disadvantage in the braking point, but unlike him I had to brake at the limit all the race!
"I arrived [at Turn 9] a little bit long and asked a little bit more of the front tyre during braking. So when I try to turn, I lose the front. But this problem is because I did not ride [in the wet] during FP2 and we didn't have chance to try a setting to improve grip on the rear. Dovi used a different setting, with a little more kilograms on the rear, and this helped for the grip."
Afterwards Iannone admitted he would have backed off and settled for third if he had been aware that Honda riders Marc Marquez and Cal Crutchlow were no longer a threat, having fallen moments before him.
"It was possible to arrive in third position, but I didn't know Marc and Cal had crashed before me. If I had arrived on the straight I would have seen 'Marc and Cal out' on my pit board, and for sure I would have reduced my speed because Jorge was seven-seconds behind me.
"In any case, it is very important for me to come back in this way. Ride very well all weekend in the wet and dry. My conditions is the best and I think it's very important to fight on the top always.
"During this year I improved my riding a lot," he reflected. "Yes, I crash a lot, but because I want to stay with the best bikes and riders. I think when the Ducati arrives at the same level as Honda and Yamaha it's easier to not crash.
"If you have a good spirit and you want to fight with the best guys, this is the risk. And I always want to risk for this. Because I'm not happy to arrive fifth. I'm happy when I arrive first, second or third."
And is Iannone, who held off Dovizioso for victory in Austria, happy to see his team-mate win?
"Yes, I'm very happy for Ducati and also for Dovi. For Dovi, finally arrive the victory also for him. I think he would prefer in the dry, but he won in the wet and the important thing is to win."
Iannone will start his final race for Ducati at Valencia on November 13, then make his Suzuki debut in testing two days later.
By Peter McLaren