Sitting at my desk back in February I eagerly followed the progress of the MotoGP test that was taking place out in Malaysia after the enforced winter testing ban. Liveries were revealed and new crash helmet designs shown to the world, but one picture caught my eye. It was spectacular and showed that one guy in particular was totally hand-in-glove with his 2011 motorbike; that guy was Casey Stoner. He was hanging off the bike through a right-hander, the rear Bridgestone spinning like hell behind him with the front firmly planted. During a lap both wheels were certainly not always in contact with the ground.
Stoner pushed hard for Honda from the early tests, and hasn't let up since
Honda had had enough of having its nose rubbed in it by Ducati and Yamaha from 2007-2010 and hired Stoner for 2011 and the year after. Honda Racing Corporation management had seen the Australian as the final pice in its jigsaw after giving everything to Dani Pedrosa, who won races well, but had not strung together a complete season due to numerous injuries. Honda needed another rider to just get the job done and that rider was Stoner. Remember, HRC didn't really care who won the title, it just wanted that rider to be Honda-mounted in 2011.
Stoner won the first race and, at the time of writing, recorded a further eight victories with two still to go. His speed and times came from an anger towards those who said he only won the title in 2007 because the Ducati was the best bike. He's proved that he can win on two different types of bike, becoming only the fifth rider to do it after Geoff Duke, Giacomo Agostini, Eddie Lawson and Valentino Rossi. The smile in parc ferme after he'd won the title on home soil at Phillip Island said it all. He won the race and the title in front of his home fans â€“ and all on his 26th birthday. There may not be a better day in his racing life after last weekend.
There are those who criticise his moaning even though he's won races by a country mile. I can see their point, but they are usually those who've never met him. He is hugely hard on himself as he strives for the two things that are very, very rare in motorsport - the perfect lap and the perfect race. Stoner wants every lap to be that lap and revs his mouth off once back in the garage if there's anything wrong with the bike, the tyres or if some other guy has got in his way.
As Keith Huewen said when he came up to the commentary box at Silverstone: "I'd pay to come here and just watch this guy go around on his own."
Stoner flew around Silverstone, leaping over the kerbs with both wheels off the black stuff through Club while nearly at full lean. It defied belief. Anyone who has ridden a bike quickly on a track will have some idea what these guys go through every 10 days at 200mph. Like all good sportsman, Stoner didn't make it look easy, just less difficult than the others.
Stoner's rivals had better beware â€“ now he's got title number two under his belt, we could be looking at another Mick Doohan!
Marquez started last in Australia, but took Claudio Corti for third late on
Marc Marquez: Stoner's long-term rival?
Speaking of future domination, young Marc Marquez stands out. The leader of the Moto2 championship ahead of the Phillip Island weekend had his comeuppance on the Friday after not slowing down at the end of the morning practice session and crashing into Ratthapark Wilairot.
The Thai rider ended up in hospital while Marquez got punted to the back of the grid come Sunday. Some said he was lucky to get away with just that, but it demonstrated that there's a degree of level-headed decisions coming out of race control after some ridiculous penalties that have been dished out in recent seasons.
Hopefully this will bode well for the future, specifically with a new race director for 2012 in the shape of former 500cc engineer and MotoGP technical director Mike Webb.
Come raceday Marquez was electrifying. The 18-year-old Spaniard went from 38th to third and must surely be a guy who Stoner is going to have to keep an eye on, especially if Spanish oil giant Repsol pushes Pedrosa aside and slots Marquez into the works HRC squad for 2013.
That gives us something to ponder, doesn't it: Stoner v Marquez on the same bike in MotoGP. Can't wait.