Valentino Rossi said he could not risk a daring pass on Casey Stoner as they fought for the Australian Grand Prix lead because he was focused on stretching his championship advantage after Jorge Lorenzo's first corner crash.
With Lorenzo retiring after hitting Nicky Hayden at the start and Rossi taking a close second behind Stoner, the gap between the Yamaha teammates in the championship is now up to 38 points with two races to go. That means Rossi will clinch his seventh MotoGP championship and ninth world title overall in Malaysia next weekend if he finishes fourth or above, or if Lorenzo fails to out-score him by 14 points on the day.
"These 20 points are so important for my championship," said Rossi. "Now we have a 38 point advantage with two races to go and we will try to make it better next week at Sepang."
He said he had pushed hard in his battle with Stoner, but could not take as many risks as usual because he knew the race was a golden opportunity to crush Lorenzo's title hopes.
"It was very difficult, especially because Casey made a huge rhythm in front," said Rossi. "But my settings were good so I tried to follow him at 100 per cent while also remembering not to make any mistakes for the championship after the crash by Lorenzo.
"It was a great battle and great enjoyment on the bike because we had a lot of slides and big, big pace to the end. I tried. There was one part of the race where maybe it was possible to try to attack, but I gave the maximum three or four laps from the end to get behind him again, but in the end it was too risky. Anyway, Casey did a great race."