Joan Mir admitted on Thursday even he has been surprised by his success in this season's MotoGP, with a world title within his grasp ahead of Sunday's Valencia Grand Prix.
Mir will be crowned world champion with one race to spare if he can produce a top-three finish at the same track where he delivered a maiden premier category victory last weekend.
"I didn't expect this to happen," said Mir in a press conference on Thursday. "I was hoping to overcome some of the early difficulties and then to start to get some podiums. But all this success and this consistency, I did not expect it."
Mir's long-overdue MotoGP win in the European Grand Prix on Sunday gave Suzuki's Spanish rider a 37-point lead in the riders' standings, with Valencia and then the final race in Portugal to come.
"We certainly have a good advantage but it's not over," Mir added. "There is still a lot of work to do and many riders will improve given we are racing on the same track again."
Fabio Quartararo, who won this coronavirus-disrupted campaign's opening two races, had often looked the most likely inheritor of the title left vacant by Marc Marquez's season-ending injury.
But the Yamaha-SRT rider's championship hopes suffered a likely lethal blow when he hit the deck in the first lap of last weekend's race.
The Frenchman is tied with Mir's teammate Alex Rins on 125 points, this duo four clear of Maverick Vinales.
"The only way to keep the World Championship alive is to win," Quartararo said.
- Model of consistency -
Vinales admitted he is already focusing on next season. "Of course there are positive things for this weekend that we can improve but the championship has gone," he said. "Now I just have to think about next year."
The only other two riders in with a mathematical shot at the title are Franco Morbidelli and Andrea Dovizioso, tied on 117 points.
As this often chaotic and memorable season enters its end game Mir has emerged as a worthy champion.
The 23-year-old has been the model of consistency with three second places and three thirds and now one win from 12 races.
Five-time former world champion Jorge Lorenzo was among those in no doubt that Mir was championship class, even before last weekend.
"When people ask me would Joan Mir be a fair champion without winning a race I say absolutely yes, now they will not ask me that question," Lorenzo tweeted.
In 2019, Mir raced 17 events, failing to make the podium and finished in 12th place in the standings.
The previous season, he went winless in Moto2, meaning his last victorious season was his world championship campaign in Moto3 in 2017.
His Suzuki stable celebrated their first 1-2 finish since 1982 last Sunday, and with a seven-point lead over Ducati could clinch their first constructors' title in almost four decades.
Despite his looming career-defining moment, Mir is unlikely to let the enormity of it all unbalance him.
"I don't have pressure, this is my job, I'm privileged. People who can't pay their rent because of coronavirus, people who can't bring food home, that is real pressure," said the champion elect.
This week Honda confirmed that Marquez, who has not raced since fracturing his arm in the season-opener, will also sit out the final two races.
One rider who will not be competing against him in 2021 is Dovizioso, who announced he is taking a sabbatical but hopes to return in 2022.
Another member of the MotoGP grid who won't be riding any time soon is Andrea Iannone who on Tuesday was suspended for four years by the Court of Arbitration for Sport for an anti-doping violation.
Iannone, 31, tested positive for an anabolic steroid in a urine sample collected at an in-competition test at the Malaysian MotoGP in Sepang last November.
Seven-time top-class world champion Valentino Rossi will however take part in Valencia after Covid-19 tests established he did not have the virus, despite what his Yamaha team said was a "weakly positive" result in an initial test on Tuesday.