Some thought Rossi’s penalty – effectively a back-of-the-grid start – was too lenient for the cynical Red Bull Rookies move that he pulled to take out Marquez in Malaysia. Some thought it overly harsh.
All agreed on one thing. Rossi had it coming. After the strangest and most unexpected turn of events at the start of the weekend, you might even think he was asking for it.
The race and its aftermath will live long in racing infamy. I wonder how long, however, the knee-jerk reaction condemning Rossi will persist.
On the day, on first appearances, it seemed obvious. Rossi was consigned in one breath from saint to sinner; from GOAT to goat.
Already we’d been left wondering if he’d lost it, when he launched an out-of-the-blue personal attack on Marquez on Thursday. At Phillip Island, the Honda rider had been “playing with us”, he said (Andrea Iannone agreed); doing his best to prevent Rossi having any chance to catch runaway Lorenzo.
Marquez was supporting his rival, said Rossi, in pursuance of a personal grudge, triggered by Marquez’s Argentine crash and then by the Assen debacle, when a near crash worked in Rossi’s favour; and boosted because should Rossi not win a tenth title this year, this is one less a target for Marquez to aim for in the future.
But help Jorge? What an idea! Hadn’t Marquez beaten Lorenzo on the last lap at Phillip Island, robbing him of five points? Was Rossi coming undone, after all these steadfast years, under the pressure of the title battle?
But he insisted: producing annotated lap-by-lap analyses to prove his point.
Marquez, he said, was not just childish, but a phony, a vengeful enemy hiding behind a bland smile. At least his rivalry with Biaggi had been honest and open. “We were obnoxious, but I prefer.”
Had Marquez, protesting his innocence, really done that deliberately in Australia? Well, if he hadn’t, he was certainly going to from now on. No question.
Nor was there any question that he was deliberately messing with Rossi come the race. Their battle began after the initial sorting out had put Lorenzo second to eventual winner Pedrosa, with three laps done.
Lorenzo had taken second off Marquez easily. It looked as though the Honda man had misjudged his braking. On the other hand, maybe he just let him by.
On the fourth lap Rossi took third off Marquez, ready to chase the leaders.
He wouldn’t get the chance. He had insulted Marquez at his peril. Now he would pay the price.
On lap five they changed places, by my count, nine times. Marquez block-passed, dived inside, rode round the outside … whatever it took to get back in front of the Yamaha. And all the while Dani and Jorge were stretching away out of reach.
Rossi made no secret of his frustration. After another pass on lap six he turned and waved angrily. To no avail. Marquez pushed past again. And Rossi boiled over.
What the TV cameras showed was clear enough. He’d slowed radically and run wide into Turn 14, before the back straight. He even turned back and looked at Marquez, again to say: “What are you f*cking doing?” Then they touched, and it looked as though Rossi had kicked out with his knee to fetch him off.
Marquez eagerly espoused this view. Rossi had deliberately had him off, he said, not mincing his words: kicking his handlebar and front brake.
Rossi was equally adamant. His foot had been knocked off the footrest by Marquez, who was already crashing when the “kicking” took place. He had slowed radically, he admitted, but only to spoil Marquez’s line then hopefully escape down the straight. “I didn’t mean to make him fall”, he insisted.
In the aftermath, opinion was turned against Rossi with all the usual eagerness that prevails when somebody exalted is being knocked off their pedestal – all egged on when rival riders had their gleefully condemnatory say, without having really examined the evidence. The halo had slipped. The hero was an unsportsmanlike villain.
Trouble is, of the two stories, the more you analyse them, and the more you look at the footage, it is actually Rossi’s version that is more plausible. He did wrong, yes … but not that wrong.
I have a feeling that in the fullness of time, not only will he be forgiven, but Marquez’s reputation will suffer from more detailed scrutiny.
And now all we have to do is wait to see what happens next.
Words: Michael Scott Photos: Gold and Goose