So the first race has already been and gone, and the gauntlets thrown down, but the trouble with these early races is that they are never a 100 per cent true picture of where we are at the for the season ahead.

However.... we can be sure that Valentino Rossi is to be as strong as he was in Japan, as is Daijiro Katoh, but for the 125s - well who knows how that will pan out?

The 125s started us off well, but what was so impressive so far as I was concerned was that [Manuel] Poggiali was at Suzuka for the first time, as last year he doffed himself in South Africa and therefore missed the first three races. He is the boy... I like {Masao] Azuma too, as I feel he was 'robbed' after Brno '99 when he got doffed off the bike by a stray muntjack wandering across the track. Stuffed his championship really. Nobby Ueda just made an odd mistake but hometown pressure must have been there.

250s were a total and utter rout, although the race was only marginally faster than last year by a handful of seconds. Katoh
checked out and left the rest to argue about it amongst themselves. It was good to see Tetsuya Harada back, but more impressive was Roberto Locatelli in third and also Marco Melandri for even riding after he dislocated his collarbone but 20 hours beforehand. Indeed, on Saturday night, he said that he was not going to ride at all, but ventured out in the warm-up and found he was OK. Jeremy McWilliams at least had some miles on the bike after what little pre-season testing he has had, but the cause was hardly
helped when it went onto one cylinder. He'll be there.

So that left the main event to get on with after an F1-style 250 race.

Max [Biaggi] and Valentino are not at each other's throats, but it does take two to make an argument. Don't be fooled by Rossi's 'Who me?' sort of look either, as it is not all Max's wrong doing both on and off the track.

Rossi was pushed onto the grass onto the home straight, but then he was using that area of the track - and beyond - during the test there two weeks earlier, so it was his own doing and, if he keeps doing it on other tracks, one day he'll get it wrong and have a
biggie. Max however did shove his elbow out, although it wasn't as bad as people make out. No worse than Schumacher weaving which is something that happens more often than not.

In the end it doesn't really matter as the bloke who dished out the dirties didn't win the race and the bloke who had the dirty
did, and so is happy. Personally, if you are asking me what should be done about this, I think that Max should be put on a suspension whereby if he does it again and again, points are deducted from his score there and then. In increments of five too!
If he does it again, then he loses five, ten, 15, 20 and so on. Easy. Money is a waste of time in any top level motorsport arena as it is never the competitor who pays. Points hurt as they've sweated blood to get them in the first place - and you only miss things when they are gone rather than having never had them in the first place.

Tohru Ukawa was a stormer - hey, he could easily have been second, although it would have been nice to see him win his first 500race and then get the accolade of being the 500th Honda winner. Especially as Rossi said afterwards, ''I've only won three!.''
He was lucky he didn't get collected by Max too when he fell off.

Garry McCoy is a hero - always was and always will be. We have been friends since '96 and he is at home now in the top class where he can smoke 'em. Good tally to start off with. Nori Haga is a hooligan and I am not impressed. It may work over there, but not over here. He will kill himself if he's not careful. There are only so many times you can fall off a bike and get away with it.

Loris Capirossi, on pole with an electrifying lap the day before, wanted to go for the same tyre which he used for the record lap. Indeed the Michelin technicians said it would be okay for the race on race day morning, but then they suggested the slightly harder one and that's were it went Pete Tong. Same for Roberts. Suzuki (Japan) have had a wake up call now they have fallen on swords in front of the big bosses. Roberts was marginally quicker over the race distance than last year, but trouble is the others were 1.2secs a lap faster over 21 laps. Oh dear boys, its going to be a long summer.

Shinya Nakano is the boy - just watch him. Quiet and timid, but super - Max almost - smooth. Olivier Jacque may have won the title, but Nakano has all the aces. He has a wrist for a start!

Next race is South Africa on 22 April, so tune into British Eurosport LIVE for the action.


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