Kenny Roberts, Nicky Hayden, Casey Stoner, Jorge Lorenzo, Marc Marquez. Those are the only riders other than Valentino Rossi to have won the 500cc/MotoGP title since the Italian joined the premier-class in 2000.
A new name will be added to that list this season, perhaps as soon as Sunday, when Joan Mir has the chance to wrap-up this year’s MotoGP title at the penultimate round.
Mir, 23, is competing in just his second year of MotoGP and fifth as a world championship rider. A title triumph would also be the first for Suzuki since Roberts beat Rossi in 2000.
“Nobody bet on Mir at the beginning of the season, but already in the last races of last season he did a big improvement and also in the winter tests he was strong,” said Rossi.
“For me he’s very mature, it’s like he has more experience considering he is a very young rider, it’s just the second year in MotoGP and also he did just one season in Moto2. So he’s an unbelievable talent.
“Nobody expected that he can win the championship this year, but I think that if he will win he deserves it 100% because he was the more constant, which I very important this year.
“He has won just one race but we have to remember in Austria the race was stopped for the big crash [by Maverick Vinales] but if not he would have won there also.
“So I think that if he will win it’s a surprise for everybody, but he deserves it 100%.”
Mir, who can afford to lose 11 points to his nearest rivals and still win the title on Sunday, began the Valencia weekend with twelfth place – despite a fall – in Friday practice.
Rossi was 18th quickest, but only 0.749s from fastest man Jack Miller (Pramac Ducati).
“I’m not so far because everybody is very close, but my position is quite bad so tomorrow we will try something different to improve the rear grip especially on the corner entry. And we hope to be more competitive because in FP3 it will be crucial to stay in the top 10,” Rossi said.
On a day when no Yamaha rider was inside the top seven, Rossi added: “I spoke just with Maverick and more-or-less we have the same problems because the bike moves too much on the rear and we don’t have enough grip on the rear.
“I haven’t spoken with Quartararo, but I spoke a little bit with Franco who is very very fast [for race pace]. I think that he’s the guy with the better pace and he has the old bike, but the performance between the two bikes is not very different.”
Morbidelli, the top Yamaha rider in eighth, confirmed: “It was a positive day for us: I was quite fast this morning and this afternoon. We tested different set-ups of the bike and we felt comfortable and fast with both.
“To get into the top-ten without doing any time attack laps is a really good thing. I think we have started this weekend with a good mojo and I hope that we will continue like this. Our aim tomorrow will be to start on the front two rows.”