2015 Valencia MotoGP Thursday Round Up: Strange Days In MotoGP

Thursday at Valencia was one of the strangest days in MotoGP that I have known since I first started covering the sport professionally. Maybe it's just the fact that the usual schedule was disrupted. Every race weekend has a rhythm: on Thursday, it's a late start, then rider debriefs, then a press conference, then work; on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, it's an early start, watch practice, rider debriefs/press conferences and then work.

That rhythm was wildly out of sync at Valencia. Earlier start, Moto3 press conference, HRC press conference, a couple of rider debriefs. Then an unnatural lull, as the riders headed into the press conference room for their meeting with the Permanent Bureau, consisting of Dorna boss Carmelo Ezpeleta and FIM president Vito Ippolito addressed the MotoGP riders and their team managers. Ten minutes after the riders started streaming through the paddock on their way to the meeting, they were all heading back out again.

What happened in the meeting with the Permanent Bureau? The first rule of meeting with the Permanent Bureau is don't talk about meeting with the Permanent Bureau, apparently, as no one was willing to tell us about it, apart from some platitudes from Jorge Lorenzo about it being interesting to get different perspectives from people to get new ideas. Not that anyone truly believed that the riders came out with new ideas, but still.

What they must have talked about in the rider meeting was to move on from Sepang and focus on events at Valencia. Nobody, none of the riders involved, had any interest in going over the events of Sepang again, and so they did not really need to be told twice. There was a suspicion – and I stress, it was nothing more than that – that the Honda and Yamaha riders had all been told not to comment on events, and to put it behind them. That is probably smart advice, but it left the journalists (of which there were a colossal number at Valencia) feeling frustrated. There was much to ask: had anyone changed their minds, or their positions, after having time to look back at the footage again?


The answer would probably have been no, from the few hints that were dropped. When asked if he regretted anything, Valentino Rossi said that he only regretted going wide in Turn 13, and not following his normal line. Marc Márquez said he had not changed his view of the incident, standing by his words at Sepang. His only regret was not finishing the race, hardly words of conciliation. The only rider expressing any regret was Jorge Lorenzo, who apologized for the thumbs down gesture he had made on the podium at Sepang. Then again, after the booing he had been subjected to, it is hard to blame him for acting as he did.

Most of all, the day seemed like one PR disaster after another. Calling off the usual press conference was widely regarded as a mistake, at least among the media. Then again, perhaps the media are not an entirely disinterested party. The reasoning was that it would be better for the main protagonists to get it all out in the open, so they can start the weekend under no illusions, and with everyone having spoken their piece.

When you are in a hole, stop digging

Worse was to come, however. In their press release earlier this week, Honda had promised to supply journalists with data from Márquez' bike at Sepang, to prove that the cause of the crash had been a sudden spike in brake data. Naturally, they were immediately inundated with requests for the data. Taken aback at the demand, they pondered their best response, and decided to hold a press conference at Valencia to present the data.

The problem they faced is that the raw data don't mean much to the untrained eye. It takes training to understand what all the lines on the screen mean, and experience and a technical background to be able to interpret them correctly and put them in some kind of context. Of the couple of hundred permanent journalists in the paddock, only a handful would actually understand what they had in front of them. A presentation by a technical expert who could explain what was going on would be a better option.

It then occurred to HRC that to present the data on Thursday at Valencia may not give the best impression of Honda. They may end up looking as if they were trying to influence the outcome of Valentino Rossi's CAS appeal, which was scheduled to be held some time before Friday. It was too late, however: the invitations had already been sent out, and the press conference convened. In another bizarre twist, on Thursday morning we learned that the CAS would rule on Rossi's request for a stay of his penalty on Thursday, leading to mutterings that the HRC press conference should be held after the ruling came out. In a final irony, the outcome of Rossi's request for a stay was made public actually during the HRC press conference. Team principal Livio Suppo was resolute, however: HRC did not want to look as if it was getting involved. There will be another press conference, this time probably on Monday. Then, they promised, they would finally explain the data to the media.

So the press conference boiled down to an apology, probably heartfelt, for wasting journalists' time, and raising the hopes of the fans. The decision to cancel was arguably the right one, for the reasons given: by not providing the data, they were not helping to fuel the flames, making it easier for all parties concerned – especially (and ironically) the two Movistar Yamaha riders – to concentrate on the race on Sunday, and what they have to do to settle the championship.

Diamonds in the dirt

Despite the fact the press conference had been called to tell us nothing, we still learned some useful details. Livio Suppo stood by Márquez' explanation of his race at Phillip Island, and had some facts to back it up. All of the Hondas had problems with the asymmetric front tire at Phillip Island, he explained, especially with overheating the right side of the tire, which was the softest compound. That was evident from where Márquez had slowed up – all of the right-hand corners at the track – on the laps when he lost ground again.

Suppo pointed Márquez' pace in FP4 in Australia. In his first run there, Márquez did a 1'30, followed by two laps of 1'29, and then a lap of 1'33, slower to let the front tire cool again. Two more laps of 1'29 followed, and then a final lap of 1'30. Bridgestone confirmed that it was entirely plausible for Márquez to have been allowing his tire to cool. It was a strategy which had been used fairly widely, and the asymmetric front tire made it particularly applicable at Phillip Island. The Japanese tire company did not specifically confirm that this was what Márquez was doing in Australia, but they did say that this was entirely plausible, and the most logical and reasonable explanation for his lap times.

Kind of blue

If HRC did not cover themselves in glory at Valencia, Yamaha have managed to turn what should have been triumph into an utter disaster. The Movistar Yamaha team have already wrapped up the constructors' title and the team crown, and one of their two riders will be world champion after the race is finished on Sunday. They had scheduled a Yamaha All Star Event for Saturday night, where they intended to celebrate all of their champions from around the world. Because of the deep divide within the factory Yamaha team, they have had to call it off. You can't help feel that whoever wins the title on Sunday, Yamaha will have to celebrate it with conspicuous care, rather than unconfined joy.

At least they can be sure that both riders will be staying with them for 2016. Both Rossi and Lorenzo made their commitment to Yamaha plain, saying there was no question of them riding for anyone else next year, as they both have a contract for 2016. Jorge Lorenzo said that he hoped to spend the rest of his career and beyond with Yamaha, making his commitment plain. He is widely expected to join Ducati for 2017, and has often been seen consorting with Gigi Dall'Igna and Paolo Ciabatti in the past few weeks.

As for Rossi, the Italian made it clear he had lost none of his passion for racing, but would make up his mind about continuing to race in the course of the 2016 season. "During next year a lot of things will change and after that I will decide if I will continue or not," Rossi said.

Rossi seemed surprisingly upbeat after learning that his request to have his penalty suspended at Valencia had been turned down. It would make life difficult, Rossi said, explaining "It was already difficult but starting from last makes the race a lot harder." It would not prevent him from trying, however, the Italian confirming his commitment to chase the best result possible at Valencia. He had not considered the best strategy, either in the race or during qualifying, he said. Starting from last place on the grid made coming up with a successful race strategy difficult. Best just to concentrate on the weekend, work on set up, and try to work as normally as possible. That even included running a normal qualifying program, instead of looking at trying to use Q2 as an extra session of free practice. Every race weekend has a rhythm, and doing things differently can prove more disruptive than beneficial.

Talking strategy

The CAS ruling has raised a lot of questions, and given rise to a number of suggestions for the best strategy for Rossi to follow. First of all, it means that Rossi will serve his penalty at Valencia, and start from the back of the grid. The appeal will continue, but it will not be heard until some time in 2016, and probably later rather than sooner. The CAS has the ability to either reduce or annul his penalty, but not increase it. Should Rossi's punishment be overturned, then he could find himself back on one penalty point in total. The penalty at Valencia cannot be overturned, however. He will still have served the time, rather like a defendant who has been refused bail.

What is Rossi's best strategy to overcome his penalty? There has been much talk among fans of taking an extra engine, in the hope that a fresh engine would have more horsepower than the two he is currently using, numbers four and five. There are two objections to this suggestion. The first is that as engine design is frozen for the year, any engine he uses will have exactly the same design and horsepower as any of the fresh engines he has had during 2015. The second is that taking a fresh engine would mean that he would have to start from pit lane, five seconds after the green lights are shown there, which is after the last bike on the grid has passed. In the best case scenario, Rossi would start a long way behind the leaders. In the worst case, he would have to wait for a stalled bike to get going, losing even more ground. Starting on his existing engine from the back of the grid is still his best option, though Yamaha's engineers may take a risk with the maximum revs the engine can make, to eke just a little more horsepower out of the unit. That could backfire badly if the engine blows up during the race, however.

Will riders get out of the way to let Rossi through? "My team spends millions of Euros a year to go racing. So I’ll be racing," replied Cal Crutchlow. Similar replies were given by most riders, whatever their sympathies in the affair. It was not even particularly easy to stand aside to let someone else through, as several riders pointed out. The bikes don't have mirrors, and you can't just let someone past because you think it might be Valentino Rossi. Make a mistake, and you could be giving up a position to the man you were fighting for points with.

Blue on blue?

The situation is particularly tricky for the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha riders. They face a rather difficult dilemma: do they help Yamaha by letting Valentino Rossi through? Or do they help Yamaha by holding Rossi off and allowing Lorenzo to take the championship? That decision would be easier if either rider were on a Honda, the Tech 3 riders explained, but both Rossi and Lorenzo are on Yamahas, so they could not make an easy decision.

Bradley Smith laid out the dilemma most clearly. If Lorenzo were to end up in front of him, and if he felt he were faster than Lorenzo, would the Englishman try to pass him? "Absolutely! I'm there racing for myself and for my results." But the situation was a lot more complex than just that. "These are obviously scenarios I have thought about. So basically if by lap six, lap eight, lap ten, Valentino is coming through, and you see a blue bike with a yellow stripe, you don't close the door," Smith explained. "Why? Because you don't know what speed he's got and he's obviously on the move. Because he's passed however many guys were behind you, and he's going in one direction. Then if you follow, and you can follow, great, and that's it."

But it was not just a matter of letting Rossi through, it would depend entirely when and where such a situation might occur. "The thing is, if I'm in third position, Jorge's second and I'm third, and Valentino's fighting with me on the last corner, I'm not letting him by," Smith explained. "That spot's mine, 100%, he'll have to earn it from me. But also knowing that I'm not going to get in the way of a race if it's on lap ten. This is only if it comes down to the last lap that I'll take what is mine." He would fight much harder for third than he would for fifth, of course. "It depends what bonus money is involved!" the Englishman joked.

On Friday, all of the talking stops, as the bikes take to the track at last. Then, we will finally have something to take our minds off the speculation and theorizing which has dominated the last ten days. There is nothing like actual data to occupy idle minds. Friday should be a good deal less strange than Thursday ever was.

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Thanks for a great write up David. Looking forward as ever to the weekend!

After an insane Thursday indeed, very dissapointed in HRC though. Seems everybody is moving on (albeit with a little push from Dorna/FIM) except them. What are they hoping to prove with their infamous data? "The cause of the crash is a spike in [that data]." Why, yes, Sherlock, there was quite a big contact going on.

And on Monday? AFTER the championship decider? Who honestly gives a rat's ass? Move on as well, please...

I think the only explanation that makes sense is that Marquez has held steady to his position that he wasn't singling out Rossi for interference--publicly and privately--and that HRC believes him.

You're right, there's no apparent practical gain to be had by releasing the data. Not really at all, but certainly not after the championship has been decided. That being the case, the only reason we're left with is that the decision isn't strategic, it's emotional. I think the organization is offended on Marc's behalf and they wish to defend his honor.

Data is great but what does the spike actually prove?

That there was contact with the brake lever at some point. Was it caused by a finger, a foot, an invisible elephant or by contact with the Yamaha as Marquez turned in? Maybe it was caused when the bike actually hit the ground??

Data doesn't prove anything except there was a spike - no flash of light, no smoking pistol.

Maybe Marquez deliberately took a dive to spike Rossi's final race of 2015 and the data proves it!

He meant that the Malaysia penalty can be overturned but not until next year. At that point Rossi can't go back in time and start where he qualifies this weekend.

Bradley Smith described the strategy that racers use to determine how they fight with another rider. If the rider is moving forward then go with him if you can. Then he described the scenario at the end of the race where he had earned his position and would fight tooth and nail for it. I cannot see how that condenses to "racing is racing".

and that is precisely why Marquez tactics from lap four onwards in Sepang do not sit well.

Why race so hard as if it is the last lap and the title is up for grabs? You are just going to burn your tyres, burn your energy adn let the riders in front escape. As Bradley said, you try and hang with the faster guy, if he is not faster sure pass him back. For me that proves Marquez was deliberately trying to affect the outcome of that race, ergo that championship. Even Mother Theresa would have a hard time coping with that.

In Sepang Rossi and Lorenzo were both faster, both caught Marquez and Rossi was doing his best to hang onto JLs coat tails until MM got in between the two. Rossi needed to keep on JLs back wheel, to hunt and pressure him - maybe his strategy was to hang on and try to attack later in the race on worn tyres, who knows.

So Rossi wasn't faster after the lap seven incident but the gap to JL was insurmountable by that point because when VR lost that tow due to MM dubious tactics his strategy was in the bin as JL was long gone - all was left to do was to ride for a safe third place.

The only thing left is the proof that Rossi is no superhuman racing god. He is human, he cracked and made a huge, massive, gargantuan error in judgement and character, and despite the speed and talent, 2 championships, his managers, the PR people of HRC and Repsol, and all the smiles and jokes to the press; Marc Marquez is still the hot headed loon that we saw so often in Moto2.

(Oh and that DP is class and JLo is a PR disaster of his own making)

Part of me wants to see DP win from MM and JL in Valencia with MM racing JL just as hard every lap just as he did to VR in Sepang, and VR storming through to take 6th place and the title.

Roll on 2016 and we can put this we can put this whole sorry season behind us!

I won't let recent affairs spoil this whole season, regardless whom will be crowned champ. I loved it!

Yes it has been a fantastic season. But now post Sepang, because the conduct of all those involved directly and peripherally; regardless of who wins on Sunday, it will be a tainted championship just like Capirossi's win over Harada in 98.

Contrast to Valencia '06 and Nicky's win, however fortunate in some peoples eyes, was still a Win.

I saw Ant West had posted on FB that people had been pressuring him to just get out of the way. And realistically, he isn't going to hold VR off for long, but I agree with him and Smith - he has every right to race for position.

I have never known racing to be any different. The guy with the most points at the end of last race is the winner.
If I am in the lead and have only managed top10's all year and find myself in a position to win or podium then im damn sure going for it- Iannone at PI? you are paid to get results.

I also think people overestimate how many 'friends' Rossi has on the MotoGP grid. Contrary to a lot of MotoGP fans, racers don't ride with yellow-tinted glasses.

In both cases, Sepang and Phillip Island, it reads as though Honda are justifying/explaining Marquez's inability to run fast consistent lap times. Fine, then what was the point of a corner by corner dog fight on lap four at Sepang? I believe that it is exactly this unwillingness to admit that Marquez had a part to play in the whole debacle that is escalating tensions. I hope the press can push this point with Honda when they have the opportunity.

As we hurtle down the other leg of the Trousers of Time, Sir Terry Pratchett's wonderful invention that allows us to see what happened when a critical decision that was taken, was taken differently...

Sepang, the Wednesday before the race...

Meregalli privately approaches Race Direction: 'Boys, we have a situation here. Rossi is steaming mad because he believes Marquez dicked him around at P.I. Maybe he's right, maybe he's wrong, who am I - an Oracle? But if he says what he's thinking of saying, Marquez will go thermonuclear. Alzamorra has been stirring the crap with Marquez anyway; we could have serious blood out there'.

Race Direction: 'OK, we hear you, we'll get it sorted'.

RD calls Marquez and Rossi in, sits them down, and tells them to STFU while RD says how it's going to be.

'Mr. Rossi, we understand you have serious issues with how Mr. Marquez raced at P.I. Mr. Marquez, we understand you have serious issues with Mr Rossi over earlier incidents this year.

We DON'T CARE what has happened before today, but we are telling you BOTH - put it away. After the season is over, you can both get the Pope to broadcast whatever in his Christmas message for all we care, but stuff IS NOT going to happen on our watch.

Mr Rossi, you will NOT make any public charges against Mr. Marquez this weekend and not until the Championship is over. Otherwise, you will be suspended for having bought the sport into disrepute.

Mr. Marquez - you will NOT engage in any action that could be interpreted as racing unfairly - and we WILL be watching every moment - or you will be instantly black-flagged and may be subject to additional points penalty, depending on the nature of the offence.

Is that perfectly clear? ANY transgression by either of you, and your race is over. BE WARNED'.

Rossi and Marquez leave, spitting razorblades at each other in silence.

In the race, Rossi rides with cold fury to beat Marquez; Marquez rides with hot fury to leave Rossi so far behind it is embarrassing. Pedrosa rides with a clear head and brilliance; Lorenzo and Marquez end up in a furious tussle with Marquez out to disprove any 'compact' with Lorenzo. Marquez, having used his tyres harder and without a cool-head strategy, ends up losing out to Lorenzo by a whisker. Rossi, riding with pretty much clear air, ends up fourth by a slim margin.

The world sees another stunning race for the podium, though the rest of the field is an elephant's gestation period behind. Later, rumours of the tensions seep out, but they merely titillate for Valencia, rather than cause a schism not seen since Martin Luther borrowed a hammer and some tacks.

We enter Valencia with Lorenzo and Rossi separated by four points and clean conditions for the entire weekend to progress - a fitting final race between the two WC contenders. The cinnamon on the creme broulee for motoGp fans is the frisson of the rumoured simmering tensions between Marquez and Rossi. However, the showdown between Rossi and Lorenzo, is regarded as just that: the final duel.

Epic finale to an epic season with more back-stories than the Arabian Nights and definitely one on par with the moto racing enthusiasts' memories of 'golden eras of competition' with the Roberts-Rainey-Schwantz-Lawson-Spencer-Gardner times.

Alas, since the situation actually went down the other leg, Valencia will (probably) be a tawdry spectacle to be haggled over by the 'net factions until the damn world explodes.

I have read the transcript of what Dorna apparently had to say (Ezpeleta said it on behalf of Dorna) about racing and the whole thing was sanitized and full of platitudes and homilies such as you are ambassadors of the sport, and how Dorna goes the extra mile along with the FIM to be democratic and give everyone a chance to say something in the formulation of rules by involving the MSMA, the IRTA etc and how it is the duty of the riders to keep up the highest sporting standards and as Elaine in Seinfeld would say yada, yada and more yada. The only significant thing in that document that was made public was the point that was made about there being changes for 2016 to prevent racing from becoming unsporting. I wonder when those changes would be made public and what they would be about.

It was obvious that Lorenzo was told to apologize by whoever for his thumbs down gesture on the podium in Sepang and Rossi saying that he admits that it was a mistake to run wide. Ultimately a PR exercise that no one really believes in. Reading your piece which gave so many details of what happened at Valencia on a disrupted Thursday says a lot more than the other things which I listed. That is what makes Motomatters special and thank you David for keeping up this tradition that you have started yourself with no pressure from any one. Kudos.

I too felt like they'd been reeled in like a Marlin. Lorenzo apologising for the thumbs down. Rossi admitting he should not have run wide. Motomatters has indeed become a safe haven in this storm.

2016 looks exciting, Rossi not going anywhere. Marc looking for more battles. Lorenzo after a WC & of course Dani who will still be with Honda next year. If Pedrosa makes a start at Qatar(podium) and maintains this I think he is more than a decent chance for the title. Always finishes the season well just needs to start well.

My reading of Lorenzo's apology is that it was very carefully worded and whilst he might have apologised to the fans; at no point did he say "I am sorry also to Valentino". I would suspect that he was instructed to apologise by Yamaha and that is as far as he was prepared to go.

I don't think there will be a lot of love in the Yamaha garage next year...

Imagine if CAS reduced the penalty by 1 point, Rossi would then be only 1 point away from a second back of the grid penalty, which is quite crazy. I doubt this will happen thou.

Seems ironic that Rossi's best chance to secure the title, is to cleanly make his way thru the field and hope that some combo of Dani, Marc, Andrea, are able to keep up with or be ahead of Jorge.

Wonder which colour fireworks they have set up.

Whoever at HRC thought it would be a good idea to hold a press conference to release the data, prior to Rossi's CAS hearing, needs the riot-act read to them.

Specifically, emotions and tensions will be running high enough on Sunday, and Marquez is already at risk from some nut-job Rossi fan losing the plot, should Lorenzo take the title, without HRC adding fuel to that fire.

@David, I could have the timeline mixed up.... didn't watch the podium ceremony back... but...

The only rider expressing any regret was Jorge Lorenzo, who apologized for the thumbs down gesture he had made on the podium at Sepang. Then again, after the booing he had been subjected to, it is hard to blame him for acting as he did.

wasn't Lorenzo doing the "thumbs down" thingy when VR46 got the cup for third, and didn't he get booed when he received his cup for second spot? Hence he was booed after the thumbs down, rather than before?

Thought it spoke volumes he regretted for doing it... before fans, ... not towards Vale. Neither did Vale have any regret towards Marc but for going wide :)

Lack of any apologies by Marquez made me wonder whether people around him are giving the right suggestions to him and his hot temper? Or rather are they blowing on the fire?

Well, Lorenzo may have been told to apologize for his podium behaviour at Sepang, but at least he did it. Someone who I certainly did not hear saying having any regrets is Marquez, which also says something. The guy is living in his own reality, something he already showed in Argentina and in Assen. I still love his sheer ability to ride a motorcycle on and over the limit, but less impressed with his mentality as a sportsman and human being. It's all very well to be ruthless in achieving your goal, pretty much all world champions are, but this is no longer just about winning races and championships. At least back when Rossi was doing his dirty overtakes on Gibernau (which I certainly did not like at that time either), it was to beat him in the race and championship. Not just to ruin his race out of anger while being out of it yourself.
Ayway, looking forward to an epic race on Sunday!

This season is Fascination distilled, not only for the sport, but how journalism and new/social media interact and shape our thoughts as individuals and as members of a group of spectators. Fearing fear itself, the "powers that be" collude to hide the Empress of MotoGP showing off her new clothes until she finally figures out that she is naked on stage in front of strangers and that everyone knows who she is behind her mask.

The journalists are out of control, the "fans" are out of control, Valentino Rossi is out of control, Marc Marquez is out of control and Lorenzo too. Repsol, HRC, and Yamaha are out of control. That Repsol issued such a statement is shocking. Nothing is under control. But it does make for good spectacle, just not what "they" think they want.

Vale's accusations against Marc (true or not) will never be "proven," nor will HRC's race data about the cause of the data from Marc's front brake lever (I think he's a 1-finger guy?) will ever prove anything. If Vale could claim a kick specifically at Marc's brake lever and cause him to crash, then IMHO he and that instant will make him the GOAT because it's impossible to do it in one try so either means he's very gifted, or that he practiced the move.

Regardless of intent, it was stupid of MM to stay so close to VR when VR was rode him wide in the turn. At that point, why risk contact when VR rode so strangely when there was room on the outside? Why not wait to take and inside line later? Why risk a crash for one or both?

The Sepang turn will have it's own legacy.

Regardless of the results at Valencia, the pre-race cutting of the Achilles Tendon for journalists might actually stand.

There is no piece of journalism or historical interpretation that is perfect, and it's a black art of science and craft.

That the Permanent Bureau meeting only lasted a few minutes and that everyone is mum about it is fascinating. I'm pretty sure that everyone took an oath and even an oath to not talk about taking an oath. Good luck using a piece of ice to open up the current clams.

Information voids create speculation and it will be interesting how the "sport" chooses to go forward with this.

that DORNA had everyone and their comments about Sepang on complete lockdown once they got to Valencia. It was damn obvious in most of the press conferences. Everyone that is, except for Livio Suppo who took full opportunity to take shots at Valentino & others. So, the riders get clamped down but the teams (Honda) did not. This is the second time this week that Honda/Repsol have spoken/written things and made themselves look bad. I, for one, will be damn glad when this is all done and decided.

I also found it ironic that both Lorenzo & Rossi spoke of regrets for their actions, Marquez wasn't about to admit that he might have been at least a bit guilty of over aggressive riding for the first third of race. Monday is going to be madhouse of defecation being distributed everywhere. The consequences of this whole debacle haven't even begun to settle yet.