What a mess. What a shambles. What a shame. The problem is this: one man has – through charm, astuteness and brilliant talent – become bigger than the sport.
And that man has stopped playing Mr Nice Guy.
worldwide army of fans that must number several million hang on his every word and support him blindly. Right or wrong.
As a result, two fine and worthy new world champions have been shoved out of the limelight and into the shadows.
I believe the following:
That Jorge Lorenzo won a well-deserved championship, and was the best MotoGP rider of the year.
That Danny Kent, the first British champion since Barry Sheene in 1977, did the same, by the skin of his teeth, and has earned the right to be acclaimed and respected, not pushed aside by someone else’s controversy.
Everyone else, or at least the most vocal majority, believe something different: that Valentino Rossi was unfairly robbed by a vengeful cheating Marquez.
The dirt rubs off on Honda, who have supported Marquez both vocally and in writing. Rather foolishly, it seems: they’d have done better to keep it zipped.
According to Rossi, the trouble started at the Australian GP when Marquez rode to baulk him, to stop him catching Lorenzo. Since Marquez then went on to defeat Lorenzo, costing him five points, this is scarcely plausible. Unless you are a Rossi fan wearing blinkers.
According to Marquez, it started at the next race, where Rossi’s Thursday press conference attack was deeply insulting. The Spanish, don’t forget, are a proud people. They are at least as good at vendettas as the Italians. This triggered his own blatant blocking at Sepang, in turn leading to the collision, his crash, Rossi’s back-of-the-grid penalty.
According to me, this is the likeliest explanation. Marquez shouldn’t have blocked him at Sepang but, let’s face it, Rossi had asked for it. Marquez has never been a pushover.
Two weeks, a social media storm and a 750,000 strong pro-Rossi petition later, it was impossible that the Valencia showdown would proceed without passions peaking, conspiracy theories abounding, and trouble in store.
Cravenly Dorna tried to put a lid on it, canning the pre-race conference as if this would make all the questions go away. Yamaha likewise cancelled their major Saturday night all-star gala dinner, for which guests had flown in from all over the world. It was to have been a highlight of their 60th anniversary celebrations.
The Permanent Bureau (FIM and Dorna) issued mealie-mouthed statements about “the nobility of our sport”.
Then the race.
As we know, Lorenzo led from start to finish. This is exactly how he has won every one of his seven this year. All normal.
Marquez dogged him closely, but never did try to pass. He planned for the last lap, he said. That was thwarted when team-mate Pedrosa passed him briefly on the last lap, giving Lorenzo a bit of breathing space.
Rossi meantime rode through from the back of the grid like the MotoGP master he has always been, but could never have hoped for better than fourth. Possibly not even if he had started from the first or second row.
So Jorge was champ.
And then it kicked off.
Rossi was unequivocal. Marquez had played the role, he said, of “bodyguard” to Lorenzo. Why did he not even try to overtake him once during the first 29 laps? How was Pedrosa able to close a gap of two seconds at the end?
Marquez had an answer. Lorenzo was basically faster: he was saving his attack for the 30th lap. Valencia is a nasty little one-line circuit, narrow, with few overtaking spots. He would exploit this: if he could get ahead he could stay there over the line. But try as he might (and he looked to me as though he was), he wasn’t close enough.
You have to ask yourself one question. Can you see the ultra-competitive Marquez deliberately throwing a race?
Whichever way you answer, it’s unprovable.
If it was a crime, then it was the perfect crime.
If not, then Rossi is well out of order, and is exploiting his vast popularity to the discredit not only of Marquez but of the series in general.
Because he is bigger than that series.
If things look bad now, just imagine the effect when he does eventually retire.
Words: Michael Scott Photos: Gold & Goose