Sympathy is certainly not a word used frequently when Max Biaggi ever discusses the fortunes of his bitter rival Valentino Rossi, but it was on Max?s agenda after the events at Donington last weekend.

For the Camel Pramac Pons star it was a case of yellow d?j? vu when Rossi was relegated from first place to third by the race director, after passing Loris Capirossi under waved yellow flags on the second lap.

The ruling which came two hours after the race, handed Biaggi his first victory of the season. Instead of rubbing salt into Rossi?s already painful wound, however, Biaggi?s memory was jolted back five years when a similar ruling not only cost the Italian a grand prix victory, but also a real chance of a world championship victory against the best rider in the world.

''I can feel what Rossi is probably feeling at the moment, because it happened to me in 1998 at Catalunya,'' said Biaggi, after learning of his unexpected victory at Donington, ''For me, it was worse because the decision meant I lost the chance to fight for the world championship.''

Five years ago on a scorching hot Sunday afternoon in Barcelona the stage was set for a championship showdown. There were just three rounds of the campaign remaining and it could not have been closer at the top. Four times 250cc champion Biaggi had made a massive impact in his first year in the 500cc class and, after winning his very first 500cc GP in Japan, he arrived for the Catalunya Grand Prix with a slender five point lead over the legendary Mick Doohan, who was chasing his fifth consecutive 500cc title.

Local hero Alex Criville was also lurking just three points behind his Honda team-mate Doohan, so it was a pivotal race in the championship battle. Nobody could have guessed just what a bearing it would have on the outcome when the lights started the 25-lap battle round on the 4.727 kms Circuit De Catalunya.

As they raced down the long straight to the first corner, Suzuki rookie Katsuaki Fujiwara got into the first corner too fast and took down Frenchman Jean-Michel Bayle, who crashed into pole setter Criville. All three ended up in the gravel trap on the first bend of the first lap. Sounds familiar? Biaggi?s team-mate Tohru Ukawa did exactly the same at Donington and the sequence of events that followed had more than a hint of d?j? vu.

Biaggi arrived at the scene a lap later when the yellow flags were still being waved as the debris was still being cleared away. At over 300kph and in the slipstream of Alex Barros he out braked the Brazilian, both unaware and unsighted of the waved yellow flags. Just like Rossi out-braking Capirossi at Donington five years later.

For 15 laps, the race continued with the riders unaware that anything was amiss. Suddenly out of the blue, both Biaggi and Barros were ordered back to the pits for a ten-second stop-go penalty. It was the first time the penalty had been given for the offence and, by this time, Max was furious and did not return to the pits, ignored the black flag and crossed the line first, only to be disqualified and fined 5000 Swiss Francs. Both Max?s and Barros?s teams protested, but to no avail and the rest in history.

Doohan took over the lead in the championship and, when the Brazilian Grand Prix was cancelled, it left just the Australian and Argentine Grands Prix for Max to close the points gap. He failed by 52 points and Doohan went on to win his fifth consecutive world title.

Biaggi has never forgotten that day and the events at Donington certainly brought back painful memories although, this time around, it was to his advantage. The decision of the race director at Donington may not change the outcome of the 2003 MotoGP World Championship, but it has certainly made the title chase a lot more interesting.

Biaggi actually clawed back 14 precious points from Rossi, and now trails him by 37 at the half way stage of the season. Sete Gibernau is still second but only three points in front of Biaggi.

Perhaps even more importantly, the outcome has given Biaggi his first grand prix victory with the Camel Pramac Pons team. The confidence those 25 points spread around the rider and the team was never more evident this week when they tested for two days at Brno in the Czech Republic. Biaggi was in brilliant form both days and decimated his own pole setting lap from last year by almost one second.

There are still eight grands prix left this season with a maximum of 150 points up for grabs. By the time we reach Valencia in November, Biaggi?s memories of waved yellow flags will be a lot happier than they were five years ago.