This has been a season to remember for Moto GP. I feel I need to put that out there early on because it has been largely overshadowed by recent events. Yamaha’s 2015 YZR-M1 is unquestionably one of the greatest Moto GP bikes ever made and on it sits two of the most talented riders the sport has ever seen. The relentless Lorenzo and, for me, the GOAT, Valentino Rossi.
Coming into the final round:
Lorenzo had 6 wins to Rossi’s 4 but Rossi had 15 podiums to Lorenzo’s 11.
When it came to ultimate pace though things weren’t so even.
Lorenzo had 4 poles to Rossi’s 1 and 5 fastest laps (4 lap records) to Rossi’s 3 (1 lap record).
Lorenzo had the ultimate pace, but consistency had Rossi leading the Championship.
Heading into Valencia Rossi needed a lot of things to fall into place for him to win the title. It would take more than consistency to hold on to number 10. Following his penalty post Sepang, he would start from the back of the grid. If Lorenzo won the race then Rossi had the impossible task of finishing 2nd. It only seemed to get worse for Rossi. He crashed in qualifying while Lorenzo set the fastest lap ever around the circuit. 1:30.011 would put him half a second ahead of the Honda pair of Marquez and Pedrosa. 26th on the grid turned into 25th for Rossi as the impressive Cal Crutchlow would be forced to start from pit lane.
The start was amazing. 10 places in one sector as Rossi carved his way through the field. At the front though things looked ominous. Lorenzo and Marquez hit lap record pace at the front with both riders under the old time of 1:31.515. Lorenzo set a new lap record on lap 3. 1:31.367. Rossi clawed his way past successive riders. Some harder to pass then others. Where Smith would be a tough battle, Petrux almost vanished to allow Rossi through. If you wanted to point a finger at a rider influencing things then Petrux was certainly wearing his Rossi T Shirt under those overalls.
With 18 laps to go. Rossi passed Dovi for 4th.
— BT Sport MotoGP (@btsportmotogp) November 8, 2015
//platform.twitter.com/widgets.jsThat, as far as Rossi was concerned was that. He’d been mesmerising as he fought through the field to 4th. The crowd rose to their feet. Forget that this was a Spanish crowd. Forget that there were three Spaniards up front. The crowd roared into life every time Rossi made a pass. He was now 11 seconds behind Pedrosa in 3rd but, having worked the tyres hard to get there, he was lapping 4 tenths down the Spaniard. If the leading pair had initially set a blistering pace, Pedrosa found his as the race closed in. Despite Lorenzo and Marquez matching each other in high 1:31s laps for over 20 laps when they dropped off Pedrosa didn’t. As Marquez shadowed Lorenzo, Pedrosa began to hunt the pair down. He gained a second on them between lap 27 & 28 and suddenly it looked like Pedrosa and not Marquez would challenge for the lead, but as Pedrosa passed Marquez the latter sprung into life.
If Marquez had been biding his time then he had taken too long, but what was most surprising was how he reacted to Lorenzo. Here is a rider that seemed unable/unwilling to pass Lorenzo yet suddenly found motivation to pass a rider that had been previously half a second a lap faster than both of them. The other more aggressive Marquez sprung into life. As Pedrosa ran wide Marquez ducked back underneath him. It only cost the pair a couple of tenths, but having shown what he was capable of against his fellow Honda rider Marquez didn’t commit to putting a similar move on Lorenzo. Ultimately at the end the Honda’s seemed to have more pace than the fading Yamaha but Marquez seemed more determined to finish top Honda. Maybe he planned on replicating Indianapolis and passing Lorenzo on the last lap, maybe the arrival of Pedrosa threw a spanner in the works, but what was clear from lap 24 onwards was that the Honda’s, especially in the hands of Pedrosa, had more pace than Lorenzo.
In the end it seemed that Marquez was more committed to finishing ahead of his teammate than he was to them both getting ahead of Lorenzo. To the point that at one stage it looked like the two Honda’s could collect each other, handing Rossi the title. One might have thought that if there was one way to appease the Honda chiefs then having both bikes finish 1-2 would be the way to do it, in the end if Marquez couldn’t be the one to finish ahead of Lorenzo then nobody was going to do it. Marquez’s aim then? To shadow Lorenzo to the end and pass him on the last corner? Taking the win, but getting revenge on Rossi who had been so scathing of him? Either way it felt off. Two sides of Marquez. One who would fight like hell to keep Rossi and Pedrosa behind him. One who would shadow Lorenzo and hope to sneak in a win at the death.
Opinions are like arseholes though. Everyone has one. And when it came to “The Grand Finale” (The Anti Climax) we all have one too.
Rossi wasn’t long about putting forward his take on what he saw as an injustice. “Today everyone has seen their plan, this makes me sad and it’s a very bad thing for our sport. I do not understand why a Honda rider allows Yamaha to win. I hope this behaviour in time turns against him. Lorenzo is a very good rider, it would be nice to battle on equal terms, but I think even he wouldn’t be very happy to have won like this. I don’t know if Marquez protected Lorenzo because they are both Spanish, but it’s sad he chose to be his bodyguard.
Lorenzo has never done what Marquez did. But for his behaviour after Malaysia, he deserves to be treated like Marquez. “I’m sad, a great opportunity has vanished and I did not deserve this.”
Marquez, however had a very different take on it. “If I tried to be the bodyguard of Lorenzo, I will be five or six seconds behind. I wouldn’t take the risk to follow him. I’d stay five or 10 seconds behind and it would be easy. My target was to give my 100% and to fight for the victory.”
If Marquez wanted to be more serious in how he defended his racing then he might have countered that if he wanted Lorenzo to win, he wouldn’t have passed him on the last corner of the last lap in Indianapolis, but then how do you explain the varying tact against Lorenzo vs Rossi & Pedrosa? Having seen how ferocious Marquez can be when he wants to immediately get back in front of a rider, his attitude as he shadowed Lorenzo certainly had this kind of feel to it:
— James Gibson Photo (@JGphotography5) November 8, 2015
Watching how he reacts to the three other aliens, you get the feeling that Marquez believes he is quicker than Rossi and Pedrosa. He attacks them the same way he did junior riders. An obstacle to be dealt with in his haste to get to the next, harder, challenge, Lorenzo. I don’t think it’s a case that Rossi was deliberately sabotaged. I do think he made a mistake in setting a match to the already fiery Marquez. The Honda man has his sights set on who he wants to take down for the foreseeable future, long after Rossi retires. Marquez doesn’t want Lorenzo to be top Spaniard and in his mind if he can’t beat him nobody can. Seems in both this respect and in Valencia he has taken his eye off Pedrosa in the process. On Sunday it quite possibly cost Honda a 1-2, and Valentino Rossi his 10th Moto GP title.
There was a moment that I wanted to finish on, if things had ended there.
Rossi on his way back to the pits.
Rossi – The People’s Champion.
He rode a Hero’s ride at Valencia.
A ride worthy of a champion.
— BT Sport MotoGP (@btsportmotogp) November 8, 2015
I can’t justifiably leave it there though, for if I’m going to be critical of Marquez then I need to be critical of Rossi. If on track Rossi made us believe in magic, for a while at least, off track he compounded what had been a terrible finish to the 2015 season.
There’s one thing worse than wearing a hoodie to the FIM Gala Awards, (Maverick Vinales, we’re looking at you!) that’s not showing up at all. Whatever Rossi’s feeling towards losing out in the manner in which he did. Whatever the bitterness that now seems engrained against Marquez. Rossi took things too far by shunning the awards, for in doing so he shunned both Dorna and the FIM. In doing so he damaged the credibility of what should be remembered as a fantastic season. If Marquez showed a lack of respect in how he rode against Rossi then Rossi showed a lack of respect in how he behaved after the Valencia GP. Suck it up. Put on a suit. Go to the awards.
There is a bitter taste left after the 2015 season. We should be celebrating what was a fantastic season. The two best riders battled it out on the best bike. Ultimately the fastest rider won and the wily old fox fell agonisingly short. Two things mean that that is largely forgotten.
1) Marquez’s clear behavioural differences in how he rides vs Lorenzo and how he rides vs Rossi/Pedrosa. I don’t buy that he couldn’t put a move on Lorenzo for the entire length of the Valencia GP because when it came down to it he could put a move on a rider that was half a second quicker than him as soon as that rider was Pedrosa.
2) Rossi’s actions have badly tainted what was a fantastic season, in the process also tainting the series. Yes he took the defeat badly, but not having the grace to attend the award ceremony damages the integrity of all involved.
2016 sees a new hope. Michelin tests are underway as they take over the role of tyre supplier from Bridgestone. As I type this Marquez’s Honda was lapping 2 tenths shy of Lorenzo’s new lap record.
The last team to win on Michelins? Honda, with Nicky Hayden. When Rossi carried a points lead into the final round at Valencia in 2006. For Valentino Rossi history has already repeated itself too much.
Until the next time,