The 2015 Grand Prix World Championship hangs in the balance, with Valentino Rossi leading his Movistar Yamaha teammate Jorge Lorenzo by just seven points in the standings, 312 to 305.
All the drama centres on the recent Malaysian race, which was highly anticipated after a fantastic round the week before in Australia. Dani Pedrosa won for Repsol Honda, continuing the recent resurgence of the 30-year-old Spanish ace, while Lorenzo closed up the points gap on Rossi with a strong second.
Rossi netted third, not a bad result, but at issue was his early dice with the second works Honda of reigning and two-time MotoGP world champ Marc Marquez. Rossi’s position as the most popular racer on two wheels is only challenged by upstart Marquez.
While Marquez, Lorenzo, Pedrosa and Rossi raced for the lead in the first few laps, Rossi and Marquez eventually started to battle in a manner not typical of premier level competitors. Rossi had complained prior to the race that Marquez was supporting Lorenzo, the champ willing to compromise his chances to disrupt Rossi’s race.
Eventually, after various strange moments, Rossi ran Marquez wide, slowed him down and then Marquez crashed. It is hard to say much more than this with any clarity – just watch all the video and get as confused as the rest of us.
We can say with certainty that this lap seven incident launched a multi-platform media maelstrom.
Race Control decided that both riders were to blame for these “poor judgment” moments, but Rossi received a penalty that will likely force him to start from the back of the field at the final round this weekend in Valencia, Spain, regardless of his qualifying effort. Valencia is not one of Rossi’s favorite tracks, so even though he leads in points, the series advantage would seem to be firmly with Lorenzo.
Rossi has appealed his Sepang penalty all the way to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, a European body that could have the power to overturn the FIM’s decision. The CAS will make a decision by November 6 on Rossi’s request for a “stay” so this story might not be over yet (update: the CAS rejected Rossi's appeal on Thursday, Nov. 5).
The massive crowd guaranteed for Valencia is likely to be in support of Spanish stars Marquez and Lorenzo, so a ruling during the weekend’s activities could prove highly entertaining – unless you are in charge of security for racers and fans on site.
On the Wednesday of last week, Spanish national fuel supplier Repsol, a long time sponsor of Honda (and at one time Rossi) lashed out at “the absolutely unacceptable conduct of Rossi.”
By Friday, the FIM waded in with a release that seemed to provide criticism of Repsol, while saying that “the Rossi-Marquez incident has poisoned the atmosphere of Grand Prix racing.”
A cynic would suggest that these third parties should be quiet, and simply reap the rewards that come when so much attention is focused on a championship decider. NASCAR has gone to great lengths to stage a shoot-out format that aims to reach fever pitch just in time for the last round at Homestead later this month. MotoGP’s problems look like a dream come true if your goals is fans in the stands and world-wide media focus.
Of course, Lorenzo and Rossi are teammates, but it is hard to imagine them getting along at all next year at Yamaha. And the major mess between Rossi and Marquez, with the upstart’s feelings definitely hurt, is yet another example of what happens to those who make it to the centre of Rossi’s laser-focused radar. Just ask Stoner, Biaggi, Gibernau, et al.
Could the actual race at Valencia turn out to be a big disappointment? More than likely, since the last two rounds have set our expectations so high. Even so, MotoGP fans will be glued to their screens on Sunday morning, to see if Rossi can perform yet another miracle. Let’s hope he gets the chance to try.