Casey Stoner not writing Rossi off yet

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Casey Stoner said it would be foolish to write off Valentino Rossi as a potential title contender after just one race of the 2011 MotoGP world championship.

The Australian made a dream start to his factory Honda career in Qatar last weekend as he won for the fourth time in five years at the Losail International Circuit.

Rossi meanwhile was having a much tougher first outing on the new Ducati GP11 machine and the Italian could only finish in seventh position - over 16-seconds adrift.

Spaniard Jorge Lorenzo won the 2010 title with an incredible run of 16 podium finishes in 18 races and his worst result was two fourth places at the Motorland Aragon and Twin Ring Motegi.

But Stoner said there is no way Rossi could be dismissed as a title threat at such an early stage and he said: "I think people can still win championship with one, maybe even two bad results. Even with two DNF's there's still a chance for you to come back with a lot of good results. So after one race you cannot say that somebody is out of the championship."

And Stoner said a serious assessment of Rossi's potential on board the Ducati could only be made once the nine-times world champion was fully fit again having been badly hampered by his on-going right shoulder issue in the first race.

Rossi found it difficult to brake and change direction in Qatar once his right shoulder lost strength and Stoner said: "For me, there's a lot of questions to be answered and we won't know until Valentino is happy with his shoulder. He's obviously struggling with this point and until he feels comfortable with his shoulder, we won't know if he can push the bike more or not. I think they are having more difficulties than they expected, but I don't believe Valentino will be running at this pace forever. I think when his shoulder comes better, he will improve the pace."

Stoner won 23 races for Ducati and his departure to HRC paved the way for Rossi to quit Yamaha and join the Bologna factory in a two-year deal.

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Matthew Birt

By Matthew Birt