The penultimate round of the 2015 MotoGP Championship might not have had a dramatic last lap in the fashion of the previous event in Australia, but it was an equally big deal. Unfortunately, the 17th Grand Prix of the season on October 25th at in Kuala Lumpur will not be remembered as a feel-good story, unlike Philip Island down under last weekend.
Polesitter Dani Pedrosa was in near-perfect form on the second works Repsol Honda RC213V, leading from the start to take his third career MotoGP win at Sepang international in hot, humid and overcast conditions.
Yamaha’s Jorge Lorenzo, doing his best to make up points in the battle for the 2015 MotoGP title against his Yamaha team-mate Valentino Rossi, was second, just over three seconds back. Rossi netted a distant third, and is now under real pressure from Lorenzo with the final round slated for Valencia, Spain in two weeks’ time.
Huge controversy erupted on lap seven of 22, after Rossi and Honda team leader Marc Marquez had traded third spot often, in increasingly aggressive and risky fashion. After an incredible number of overtaking maneuvers, including a bump or two, sideways moments and some Rossi gestures, the two interacted in turn 14 with Marquez crashing out of contention.
Video reviews did not make the circumstances of the incident clear, although Rossi certainly ran way wide in the tightening right hander and looked over at Marquez on his outside, away from the line, as the two were inches apart. Rossi seemed to bobble and then Marquez tucked the front end, seemingly on the brakes, and fell.
Earlier in the weekend, Rossi had lashed out at Marquez through the media, claiming that the reigning and two-time World Champ was trying to help fellow Spaniard Lorenzo in the title battle. Formerly friendly, Rossi and Marquez have been on the outs since incidents while battling for first in Argentina and Holland earlier in the season. Malaysia was apparently strike three.
A beyond-angry Marquez refused to comment, although his team was outspoken in their criticism, waiting for race control to review the incident, post-race, and make an official ruling.
The stewards decided to penalize Rossi at the upcoming final event, where he will be required to start from the back of the grid regardless of his qualifying performance. Rossi was allowed to keep his third place on the day, but this F1 style judgement will put Rossi in a tough spot in terms of the title battle.
With 25 points available in Valencia, Rossi heads the standings with 312 points, Lorenzo second with a total of 305. Lorenzo seems to have the best chance given recent performances and the Rossi grid penalty. Marquez keeps third overall, but is not in contention for the title after two straight World crowns.
Rossi did not directly comment on the Marquez crash, saying post-race that “I lost a lot of time with Marc, then in turn 14 I tried to go a bit wide to get a better line and make him slow, because he was riding to cause me problems. Unfortunately, I don’t know, he come up to me and crash at that moment.”
Some Rossi supporters claimed that Marquez tried to head but Rossi’s left knee as they leaned into the turn, side by side.
Amazingly, Lorenzo opted not to take the high road concerning events involving his teammate, even though he was in front of the action and didn’t know about the accident until after the race.
“It was huge, I don’t know what to say,” commented new championship favorite Lorenzo. “It is clear that he (Rossi) took Marquez off and the regulation is fair.
“This time they need to give him a big penalty,” continued the two-time MotoGP champ. “For example with Danny Kent in (support class) qualifying, they demote him many positions on the grid. So for this action the penalty should be much harsher.”
Behind the controversy, Bradley Smith (Monster Yamaha) had a strong run, earning his best dry track result while out-duelling Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda) for fourth and best satellite team result. Crutchlow was fifth, but might be in trouble with the stewards after an early race incident that caused Ducati’s Andrea Dovizioso to fall.
Top Ducati was the Pramac entry of Danilo Petrucci, earning sixth after pulling away from the battling works Ecstar Suzukis of Aleix Espargaro (seventh) and Maverick Vinales (eighth). Pol Espargaro netted ninth on the second Tech 3 Yamaha, while Gresini Aprilia finally had a solid result, Stefan Bradl placing a close tenth, right behind the GSX-RRs.
Top privateer was the Forward Yamaha of Toni Elias in 14th, while American Nicky Hayden, in his penultimate career GP, wound up just out of the points in 16th aboard the Aspar Honda RC213V-RS.
– By Colin Fraser