What next for Hopper?
"Coulda, woulda, shoulda counts for nothing in MotoGP."
The comments of John Hopkins in our qualifying show on Saturday, as he reflected on the free-practice accident that ruled him out of racing as a wildcard at Brno, could have applied to a number of riders by the time the chequered flag fell on Sunday afternoon.
A crash for Dani Pedrosa and a poor tyre choice by Jorge Lorenzo allowed Casey Stoner to make it back-to-back wins at Laguna Seca and Brno, opening up a 32-point lead at the top of the championship in the process.
Before those races, Stoner's advantage stood at 15 points, a lead that could easily have been cut to 10 or even six by the time we left the USA had it not been for the diminishing physical fitness of the ailing Lorenzo and Pedrosa in the latter stages of that race.
As at Laguna, Stoner's pace during practice at Brno suggested nothing more than a strong podium challenge. When a set-up experiment in warm-up backfired, leaving him fifth fastest and a second off the pace of Pedrosa, he had stormed out of the garage in a furious mood.
For the race, Repsol Honda switched back to Stoner's qualifying setting and - although there was no change in bike performance - the gritty Aussie decided, in his words, "to lay it on the line." When Pedrosa and Lorenzo attempted to break, as predicted, on the opening lap, Stoner responded with what would prove to be the fastest lap time of the race on lap two.
As Pedrosa crashed in front and Lorenzo floundered behind him, Stoner took maximum points for the sixth time this season. "I know you have to be consistent to win championships but you have to win races, too," he reflected.
The unfortunate loss of Hopkins to the starting grid was definitely the BBC's gain on Sunday. Having been out with the guys on track and lapping faster than most of them already that weekend, his analysis was second to none.
Some viewers who are relatively new to the sport may not be familiar with 'Hopper' or realise the significance of his presence at Brno, so let me briefly fill you in.
He made his MotoGP debut on the unforgiving 500cc two-stroke Yamaha back in 2002 at the tender age of 18, quickly gaining a reputation as a rider with huge potential and a wonderful personality but with a tendency to self-destruct away from the track.
After being picked up by the struggling factory Suzuki team in 2003, his fame and fortune began to escalate to the point where some brilliant form in 2007 earned him four podium finishes and a multi-million dollar move to Kawasaki.
However, a run of big crashes and serious injuries led to an increasing dependency on pain killers and alcohol, which in turn created major problems in his personal life. When Kawasaki withdrew from the series at the end of that season, he was left in the MotoGP wilderness.
A year in World Superbikes was fraught with more crashes and Hopkins competed in only six races before his season ended prematurely with a crash in Germany that left him with head trauma, as well as wrist, shoulder and hip injuries. He finally hit rock bottom at the final round of the season, when he travelled to Portimao, Portugal, to support the team but went on a three-day drinking binge that he later admitted was "the most unprofessional I've ever been in my life".
That fateful weekend two years ago proved to be the turning point in his career and his life. "I just decided I had to cut that completely," he revealed. "I wanted to go back and give it an honest shot without the partying or anything, just completely, solely, focused on the racing."
Building himself back up from scratch in the American Superbike series, Hopkins finally underwent career-saving surgery on a nagging wrist injury and, after proving his fitness with a run of podium finishes towards the end of the season, secured a ride for this season with the Samsung Crescent Suzuki British Superbike team, who have close ties with the Rizla Suzuki MotoGP effort thanks to team manager Paul Denning.
The American's form in the domestic series has been outstanding and he currently lies second in the championship and strongly in contention to win the title at his first attempt.
He gave a reminder of his class on the international stage with a competent return to MotoGP as replacement for the injured Alvaro Bautista at Jerez back in April, finishing 10th, as well as qualifying on pole as a wildcard at the British round of the World Superbike series this month.
Hopkins returned to MotoGP as a wildcard at Brno with a twin aim: to show the world that he still has the talent to compete at the highest level and to prove to Suzuki's Japanese bosses that they have a competitive package and a project worth extending into 2012 and beyond, as fears of an impending withdrawal increase.
Despite failing to make the start after a crash on Saturday morning left him with dislocated and broken fingers, Hopkins did enough in just two dry free practice sessions to complete both of those objectives. He lapped seventh fastest on Friday morning - ahead of team regular Bautista - and 10th in the afternoon, when he was just 1.4 seconds off the blistering pace set by Dani Pedrosa.
Not only was his performance impressive but his pace and input clearly provided the already improving Bautista with added impetus, the Spaniard dicing with Valentino Rossi for sixth place and lapping just three seconds shy of podium contention before crashing after 15 laps of his best race so far this season. Hopefully, the resounding message from both riders was heard in Japan because MotoGP can ill-afford to lose another factory as the series moves into the 1000cc era.
Hopkins has slowly made his way back into the MotoGP fold. Photo: Getty
Paul Denning tweeted on Monday that, as he waved Hopkins off to California for treatment on his latest injury, the rider was already "threatening to cut his cast off at check-in if BA didn't let him on the plane with it", which brought back memories of one funny anecdote from Hopper's MotoGP career.
After injuring himself at the Japanese GP back in 2004, Hopkins was struggling to lift his bag into the overhead locker on the plane that was due to take him back to London. A steward came over to offer assistance and he told her that he was in a lot of pain because he had broken his ribs earlier that day. "In that case, you can't fly - not without a doctor's note," she informed him.
As Hopkins began to panic at the prospect of being left behind in Tokyo, an unnamed television commentator stepped in, claiming to be his doctor and insisting the patient was fit to fly. A waiver document was swiftly produced for the self-proclaimed medical expert to sign, which he duly did, and Hopkins gratefully took his seat. It was an uncomfortable flight for the commentator though, who was woken up in the middle of the night to assist the stewards with a drunk passenger!
They do say that what goes around comes around and I hope that's the case for John Hopkins in a positive way now that he is faced with another fightback from injury. I'm sure I'm not his only fan praying that he finally gets the fortune his endeavour deserves: the British Superbike title and a full-time return to MotoGP with Suzuki in 2012.
I can't sign off from this blog without mentioning a first ever podium for Marco Simoncelli. The man they call Sideshow Bob finally took centre stage at Brno with his first podium at the 11th attempt in a 2011 season that has seen him gain notoriety and support in equal measure thanks to his wild riding and even wilder hairstyle.
"I think he'd get a little more speed if he cut the hair!" Hopkins grinned at the end of our show, but there's no doubt he has full respect for a man who could challenge for the title next year if he can add consistency to his game now he has broken his podium duck.
Speaking of bad barnets, I should mention our build-up to Sunday's race, which I hope you enjoyed. We had more pre-recorded features than we normally like but we felt it was worth compromising a few minutes of live coverage because of the quality of the pieces.
The only problem for me was dashing around the paddock to record everything on Thursday. After filming with Karel Abraham out on the track ran slightly late I had to grab a scooter and make a mad dash in strong winds to the Repsol Honda hospitality unit for my chat with Pedrosa - hence a larger than normal bouffant and a torrent of abuse on Twitter, with comparisons ranging from Joey Essex to the entire Spandau Ballet line-up via Phillip Schofield and Davy Crockett's hat!
The last one made me laugh out loud so please keep the banter coming, along with any other thoughts about the programme. It is amazing to think that we only have seven races left, so if you think there's anything we have missed out or could improve on before the end of the year then now's your chance!