It is a subject we keep returning to, but Sunday's events at Phillip Island just serve to underline Nicky Hayden's truism on racing. "That's why we line up on Sunday," he said memorably ahead of the final race of the 2006 season, in which he clinched the championship, "you never know what's gonna happen."
There was never any real doubt that Casey Stoner would win the race at Phillip Island on Sunday. The Repsol Honda rider had dominated as usual, topping every session of practice and setting a pace that no one else could follow. Nor was there much doubt that Stoner was on his way to his second MotoGP championship; the Australian had a 40-point lead, and looked certain to pick up more points at Phillip Island, and clinch the title at Sepang. On Saturday, he told reporters that he wasn't thinking about the championship, rating his chances of lifting it on Sunday - on his birthday, at his home race - as very slim indeed.
That all changed in the warm up. Jorge Lorenzo had what looked like an innocent enough crash, which he got up and walked away from, holding his left hand as riders so often do. What was not directly apparent until the Spaniard pulled off his glove was that he was missing a part of his ring finger, ripped from the bone by the handlebars. An excruciating and possibly complicated injury, it was one which potentially could be fixed if he could have surgery as soon as possible. If he didn't have the surgery, there was a chance of losing the function of that finger, and that could have been a problem in the longer term.
Lorenzo chose the surgery - almost certainly strongly encouraged by the circuit doctors - and the championship was in the bag for Stoner. All he had to do was finish 6th, something he could have done by riding 2 seconds a lap slower than he did. If 2011 has taught us anything, it is that riding 2 seconds a lap slower than his usual pace is the only truly impossible task for Casey Stoner.
So Stoner went out and won the race in style, putting on a display of both dry weather mastery - drifting the rear of his RC212V through Turn 3 at 260 km/h, and sliding both ends of the bike over the hill at Lukey Heights - and shrewd race management, when first light drizzle and then heavy rain blew in to the circuit perched on the edge of the Southern Ocean. A couple of big scares saw him back off, enough to keep the bike upright but not so much that he would be gobbled up by his pursuers, going on to take a victory that was a template for his season on the Honda.
The list of things to celebrate is almost bizarrely long. Stoner won the race, on his birthday, clinching the title in the process. In doing so, he became simultaneously just the 5th man ever to take titles on two different makes of bike, joining Geoff Duke, Giacomo Agostini, Eddie Lawson and Valentino Rossi in a motorcycle racing's most elite club. He also moved ahead of Lawson for the number of premier class victories, and is closing in rapidly on Mike Hailwood. He took a clean sweep of the weekend, setting the fastest time in every session, and crowning it with his 5th straight victory at Phillip Island, matching the record of - there's that name again - Valentino Rossi. Taking his 2nd title meant that he also drew level in number of 800cc championships with Rossi, and as he has nearly 50% more 800cc victories than Rossi (32 to Rossi's 21), he has cemented his position as the dominant rider of the 800cc era.
Though Stoner's emotion was much freer and more spontaneous than it has been in a long time, clearly just delighted to be where he is and to be winning in the way that he is, he must also be deriving no small pleasure from having outflanked Rossi so comprehensively. The relationship between the two men is deeply troubled, and a genuine dislike and rivalry exists. When asked recently by Spanish journalist Mela Chercoles who he would like to be world champion this year, Casey Stoner or Jorge Lorenzo, Rossi had to take a long pause, before eventually plumping for Lorenzo. Rossi's dislike of Lorenzo is well-documented, but his dislike of Stoner is much, much greater. The two men are diametrically opposite in everything they do: Stoner is plain-speaking but very private; Rossi is exuberant, a public person, someone who loves being surrounded by people, and always has a witticism at hand to deflect any awkward moments. Rossi loves to race, but he also loves the fans, loves the attention it brings. Casey Stoner would rather turn up at an empty track on Friday, and head home on Sunday after winning the race. Stoner loves and appreciates his fans, but he would be just as happy if nobody came to see him, with the possible exception of his parents and his wife.
But both Stoner and Rossi have a great deal of class. When asked on Sunday night about Stoner's achievement, Rossi was fulsome in his praise, saying that Stoner had done a fantastic job and fully deserved the title. Stoner, in turn, had headed over to the medical center when he heard that Lorenzo was in serious trouble with his finger injury, to express his concern and sympathy for Lorenzo and enquire how he was, exchanging words and messages with the Yamaha staff. Even more to his credit, when the media turned up to ask him what he was doing there, he left without speaking to them, being there to speak to Lorenzo, not the press. His concern marks the relationship between the two men: their rivalry is fierce, and no quarter is either given or asked, but they have a deep mutual respect for each other. To say they are friends is a step too far, but they are certainly friendly rivals.
That rivalry expresses itself in something else, too. After the race, Stoner said that though he was delighted with the title, this was not the way he wanted to take it, preferring to beat Lorenzo to the championship fair and square, rather than have it handed to him by injury. Even then, there can be no dreaded "asterisk" (the mark beloved of those whose favorite rider loses) behind this championship: Nine wins, five podiums and a single DNF spell dominance, and though many have claimed that once again, Stoner has the best bike, he pointedly explained to reporters that "there are three other riders who are on the same bike."
Enough of the accolades, suffice it to say Casey Stoner deserved this title. In his first year on a new bike - albeit a very good one - he and his crew did the business, won when they could, settled for a podium when they couldn't (Stoner also said that the best thing about this year was that when they had a bad day at the office, they still managed to finish in 3rd) and simply brooked no resistance from anyone. He steamrollered his way to the championship, but that can only happen when you are at the top of your game.
The most worrying thing of all, though, was when Stoner was asked whether he would miss the 800s, as he had dominated them so thoroughly. "Definitely not!" he told reporters. "I always preferred the 1000s, and I feel a lot more comfortable on them." That does not bode well for his rivals in 2012.
There is more to talk about from Phillip Island: Marc Marquez' dash through the field, Valentino Rossi's crash, and a possible change to MotoGP's testing regulations, but all that will have to wait for another day. A champion deserves his day in the sun.