Ask any well-informed race fan who has a shot at the MotoGP title this year, and just about every single one of them will give you three names: Valentino Rossi, Casey Stoner and Dani Pedrosa. In an ideal world, we would have been able to judge their relative strengths during testing, but all three have had injury problems of one kind or another, making comparison difficult. Casey Stoner had surgery to fix a broken scaphoid at the end of last year, and although he has been his usual blisteringly fast self, he has not yet run a race simulation with his newly fixed wrist. Valentino Rossi went to Qatar and Sepang with stitches in his foot, after falling over on a glass table, but his injuries have barely slowed him down.
The most unfortunate of the bunch so far has been Dani Pedrosa. After surgery over the winter to fix a problem with his knee, a horrific highside at Qatar saw him break a bone in his wrist and open a huge gash in his newly-operated knee. Pedrosa's wrist will fix quickly, but the knee problem caused the Spaniard to miss the crucial IRTA test at Jerez, and could even endanger the start of his season. Pedrosa's problem is that the skin graft required to close the gash in his knee means that his knee has had to be immobilized, the smallest movement threatening to reopen the wound, which would be both painful and potentially dangerous, with the threat of infection. The knee is continuing to heal, but recovery from such an injury is slow and difficult.
So far, the messages as to whether Pedrosa will be back for Qatar are mixed. Angel Nieto, Spanish TV commentator and former small capacity champion, spoke to Alberto Puig at Jerez, and Puig - Pedrosa's personal manager - assured Nieto that Pedrosa was "almost certain" to be fit for Qatar. But Julian Ryder, legendary MotoGP commentator and occasional scribe for the outstanding Superbikeplanet.com, spoke to someone else involved in Spanish TV, and he contended that Pedrosa had only minimal motion in his leg, and could barely put any weight on it.
Pedrosa is widely believed to be on notice from both Repsol and Honda, and that his future at the factory team depends on him claiming the title this season. Even if Pedrosa does ride at Qatar in just under two weeks' time, he is unlikely to be at full fitness, a situation which is likely to last until Jerez at the earliest. There is no doubt that Dani Pedrosa is one of the most talented motorcycle racers on the planet. But being one of the luckiest might help swing a few things his way too.