If what happened on lap seven at Sepang was bad for MotoGP, the events which have followed have made it infinitely worse. Rossi's single act of frustration has unleashed a tidal wave of insanity which has battered MotoGP, washing away the good and leaving it battered and stained. And every time you think it has finished, yet more madness emerges to engulf the sport, dragging it further down into the depths. It is a hard time to be a fan of the most exhilarating sport on the planet.
The incident itself was ugly, but it can hardly have come as a surprise. When Valentino Rossi launched his surprise attack on Marc Márquez in the press conference, accusing the Spaniard of trying to prevent him from becoming champion, a reaction from Márquez was inevitable. These are the two biggest egos in the MotoGP paddock, and with some justification. Rossi is the legend who both raised the profile of the sport and has dominated the sport for longer than any other rider in history. Márquez is the prodigy who set about smashing the record books on his entry into MotoGP, and is the man set to usurp Rossi's place in the history books. Neither man is willing to step aside, both feel they are deserving of exceptional respect.
So two angry men took to the track on Sunday, and inevitably, once their paths crossed, bad things happened. Márquez, apparently furious at being attacked on Thursday, raced Rossi as if it was the last lap of the race and the title depended on it. Rossi, unable to beat Márquez outright, lost his cool and ran the Spaniard wide and caused him to crash. It seemed like the lowest point in MotoGP for a very long time, but much worse was to come.
Men behaving badly
First, there was the podium incident, when Jorge Lorenzo appeared to give Valentino Rossi the thumbs down as the Italian received his trophy. Was Lorenzo really showing his disdain for Rossi? We don't know, what we do know is that Lorenzo was loudly booed as he received his trophy, and at other points during the ceremony. Perhaps he was showing his anger at that. Then again, given his angry words in the press conference, denouncing the decision by Race Direction to allow Rossi's result to stand, maybe he was showing displeasure at Rossi's result.
Then there was the press conference itself, in which Lorenzo complained bitterly about Rossi not being disqualified. The Spaniard had been shown the moral high ground, and had walked resolutely in the other direction. It was an opportunity for Lorenzo to answer with quiet dignity, and perhaps gain some popularity from the incident. He failed, and instead, ended up being usurped by Dani Pedrosa, who exemplified how a champion should react.
The two riders involved reacted exactly as you might expect, Márquez claiming that Rossi had kicked his brake lever, and saying the Italian was "out of control", Rossi reiterating his claim that Márquez was trying to make him lose the championship, and had been slowing him up so that Lorenzo could get away. Rossi told reporters that Márquez' manager Emilio Alzamora had told him that Márquez blamed Rossi for putting him out of the 2015 championship.
Behind the scenes, it got pretty ugly. The head of Valentino Rossi's fan club was filmed going to the Repsol garage and hurling abuse. Rossi's helmet specialist also headed into the Repsol garage, and tried to get near Márquez. In the Repsol garage, reactions were explosive, with yet another disagreement between crew chief Santi Hernandez and Alzamora.
The role played by Alzamora is a questionable one. The Spaniard has taken over the mantle vacated by Alberto Puig, and is exerting excessive influence in the paddock. There have been complaints from photographers at being excluded from the team end of Parc Fermé, making it impossible to get genuine reaction shots from the riders any more. This, it is said, was because the people in Márquez' entourage exerted undue influence over Dorna. Alzamora and Márquez' management have had several more run ins with photographers, over the use of photos without either credit or payment.
I also have personal experience of being on the wrong end of Alzamora. In 2012, at the Moto2 press conference in Barcelona, after Márquez had run wide into La Caixa, then come back inside and knocked Pol Espargaro off in the process, I asked Márquez if he was still having vision problems. This was the year in which radical surgery had been required to fix Márquez' vision after his crash in Sepang. After the press conference was over, Alzamora came over and in a loud voice, accused me of being a bad journalist for asking the question. I may or may not be a bad journalist, but asking that question is what any journalist should do.
Throw it all away over nothing
Then there was Repsol, who issued what is arguably the most bizarre press release of all time after the race. Apart from once again claiming that Rossi had kicked Márquez, it contained the following lines:
"Repsol are deeply saddened that situations like that which occurred today in Sepang exist, especially as the company feel proud of sporting values: Companionship, competitive spirit and commitment from riders. Without these values, it would not make sense for Repsol to participate in the sport as a sponsor."
Leaving aside for a moment the fact that Repsol has sponsored Marc Márquez for most of his racing career, and that Márquez' vision of 'sporting values' is the reason the penalty points system came into existence, the threat to withdraw over this incident is stretching credibility. Repsol have sponsored the factory Honda team in Grand Prix racing for over twenty years, and have a contract which runs through 2017. Throwing away such a massive long-term investment would be hugely detrimental to the company. The association inside Spain and other Spanish speaking markets is so strong that the blow to their marketing would be huge. In suggesting that they might consider this, someone stepped over the mark. Pun intended.
After the incident, the press at first divided into two camps: the Spaniards, who were baying for blood, and the rest of the media who were more neutral, though almost everyone laid the blame for the incident at Rossi's door. The question was not so much over who was to blame, as what a fitting punishment should have been, and whether Rossi should have been either black flagged during the race or given a ride through.
The Spanish press embraced Repsol's story, and enthusiastically quoted Márquez' version of events. Headlines citing a kick by Rossi filled Spanish newspapers, firing up the fans. A few journalists later acted with honor, and made public retractions after they had seen the footage. Among them Mela Chercoles, of Spain's biggest sports daily, AS. Few followed suit, however.
Flights of fancy
As the hours passed after the race, however, a third camp arose among the press. Sections of the Italian media rallied round Rossi, and the worst parts starting to invent allegations. A story in La Repubblica, a leading Italian newspaper, claimed that Lorenzo and Márquez had met in secret in Andorra, and had signed a pact to ensure that Lorenzo won the championship. It was entirely fabricated, but coming from such a high-profile source, Lorenzo felt compelled to issue an official press release, denying any pact and calling the claim "ridiculous". Lorenzo's press release would not be the first, nor the last to be issued.
It signaled a veritable deluge of open letters from high profile members of the sport. FIM president Vito Ippolito kicked off with an appeal to the riders to take responsibility for their actions and their words, and to accept the decisions of the sport's officials and governing bodies. Letters from Sete Gibernau and Angel Nieto followed, empty platitudes which did nothing to calm the storm.
The end at Yamaha?
More rumors emerged from Sepang, talk that Yamaha were trying to get rid of Jorge Lorenzo. Such rumors were not based in fact, but later, Yamaha team manager Maio Meregalli told the Corriere dello Sport that there had been tensions in the garage, and that Yamaha had approached Race Direction about the situation after the incidents between Márquez and Rossi on Saturday, asking them to have a word with the pair. Race Direction turned them down, a decision which proved to be as wrong as Rossi's decision on Thursday to publicly attack Márquez. It is a decision they intend to set right at Valencia.
Do Yamaha really intend to get rid of Jorge Lorenzo? Will Lorenzo leave Yamaha? Meregalli acknowledged that the situation had not gotten any easier, and that the relationship between the two was at its lowest point since Rossi returned to Yamaha. But it seems unlikely that Yamaha would want to get rid of Lorenzo when it is Rossi who is so much closer to retirement. Nor will they want to get rid of Rossi, given the incredible marketing power his name carries. Lorenzo has no intention of leaving Yamaha, according to the Spanish media.
Leaving next year would be nigh on impossible, for either of the Yamaha men. All of the factory seats are taken, with little reason for any factory to start tearing up existing contracts. Letting either of the two men who are still in the running for the 2015 MotoGP title leave is not in the interests of Yamaha either. If you have two of the fastest riders on earth, why let them leave?
If the actions of the riders have been poor, and the actions of the media have been reprehensible, it is the fans who have behaved the worst. There have been the usual rounds of insults between the fans of various riders, and abuse of the riders involved. Behavior which Rossi had so roundly condemned at the press conference on Thursday at Sepang, but neither his fans nor the fans of Márquez, Lorenzo, nor any other riders were of a mind to heed them. Rumors of violence at Valencia abound, the low point being the fans of Italian soccer club SC Napoli, unveiling banners which read "Valentino, racing with no rules at Valencia", and a second which read "tibia and fibula" the two bones in the leg.
Then, there were the petitions. To Race Direction, to scrap the penalty imposed on Valentino Rossi, so that he can start from where he qualifies, instead of the back of the grid. The call to boycott Dorna and cancel subscriptions to MotoGP.
Most bizarre of all, the constant harassing of riders to demand that they not get in Rossi's way as he makes his way forward from the back of the grid. A stance so disrespectful of the other riders it defies belief. Their argument was "we just want to see a fair fight between Rossi and Lorenzo." What they could not see was the assumption underlying the request: "we don't care about you other riders, we care only about what happens between Rossi and Lorenzo." It is a denial of the right of other riders to be on the grid.
Though Race Direction never had any intention of bowing to fan pressure, that does not mean that the penalty will stand. Race Direction must still submit to a higher authority, the Court of Arbitration for Sport, or CAS. Rossi, determined to do everything in his power to have the penalty annulled or at least suspended, appealed his penalty to the CAS, and asked for a stay. From his perspective, it is a very clever move: if the stay is granted, Rossi will not start from the back of the grid, and has a better chance of defending his lead against Lorenzo at Valencia. If he loses the appeal later on, it will not matter: unless Race Direction get involved, the CAS cannot issue a more severe penalty, they can only reinstate the three penalty points. Rossi would end up starting from the back of the grid when the case is heard, some time in the middle of next year.
From Rossi's perspective, it was exactly the right move if he is to hang on to a chance of a tenth title. From the viewpoint of the championship, it casts a shadow over the outcome of the season, raising questions about the validity of the result. Then again, Rossi had already cast a shadow over the series by his actions in Sepang: had he not reacted to Márquez' provocation, and caused the Spaniard to crash, there would have been no penalty, and we would have seen the straight up fight between the two Movistar Yamaha men at Valencia that everyone has longed to see.
The jackals descend
The final besmirching of the series came when an Italian satirical – I use that word in its very loosest sense – TV show called Le Iene (the hyenas) sent two reporters to hand out a bogus prize to Marc Márquez at his home in Cervera. The show is famous for its attempts to humiliate and mock celebrities, and Márquez was an obvious target. When they turned up at Márquez' home, an altercation ensued in which the cameras of the two reporters were smashed and the memory cards removed by Márquez' entourage.
The Spanish press made a meal of the incident, with yet another press release being issued claiming that the Italian TV presenters had invaded Márquez' property and insulted and attacked them. On their TV show on Monday night, the Italian reporters offered a different set of events, playing a recording of the incident made with a hidden sound recorder. In that set of events, they never entered the property, but stood only on the street outside. They opened champagne and pretended to hold a podium ceremony, spraying it on the street. Márquez' family is supposed to have insulted them, and all Italians, and then grabbed the cameras. The Italian TV show has said that if Márquez wants to contradict their version of events, all he needs to do is to give back the memory cards and show the video recorded on it.
Controlling the information flow
Just when you think it can't get any worse, we have Dorna canceling the pre-event press conference scheduled for Thursday. Normally, the championship leader, the winner of the previous race, plus other important riders are invited to give their views of the upcoming round, and with Rossi, Lorenzo and Márquez all set to be present, it would have been the first opportunity for the media to ask the riders for their view of events so far. It was not something Dorna was prepared to countenance, organizing instead a meeting of all of the riders and teams together with the MotoGP Permanent Bureau, consisting of Dorna boss Carmelo Ezpeleta and FIM boss Vito Ippolito.
If canceling the press conference is an attempt to keep the riders from talking, it will fail. The first thing that will happen once the riders get out of the meeting is that they will be cornered by journalists and grilled as to what went on inside it. Then, they will be grilled as to what happened at Sepang and afterwards. The first rule of managing a PR disaster is to be as open as possible, and try to control the situation through transparency. The opposite of what Dorna are trying to do.
Learning to love racing again
It has not been fun week to be a MotoGP writer. What should have been the crown on the best season of MotoGP for many years has turned sour, leaving a bad taste in the mouth. Every time you think the whole palaver is dying down, events take yet another turn, usually unexpected, and almost invariably for the worst. Nobody emerges from this with any honor: not the riders, not the teams, not the media. Not even me, by venting my frustration in a couple of thousand words on the subject, and exposing my own hypocrisy. Better out than in, as my wife likes to remind me.
How do we move forward from this? Leave the melodrama to one side, perhaps, but that is difficult. Forget about the championship, and who will win. Treat the race as the spectacle it is supposed to be, cheering every rider, regardless of their history (and none are blameless and pure, all are tainted in one way or another), and hope for a thrilling contest. Admire the skill and bravery of Rossi, Lorenzo and Márquez, but also of Dani Pedrosa, Aleix Espargaro, Andrea Iannone, Maverick Viñales, Cal Crutchlow, Bradley Smith, Pol Espargaro, Jack Miller, Nicky Hayden, Hector Barbera, Danilo Petrucci, Andrea Dovizioso, Loris Baz, Toni Elias, Eugene Laverty, Stefan Bradl, Alvaro Bautista, Yonny Hernandez, Scott Redding, Mike Di Meglio, and Ant West. And of all thirty Moto2 riders, and all thirty two Moto3 riders.
It may seem like a strange proposal from a man who makes his living from the sport, but perhaps we should stop taking the whole thing so seriously. After all, it's only motorcycle racing. It's not as if it will make much difference to the destiny of the human race.
Gathering the background information for long articles such as these is an expensive and time-consuming operation. If you enjoyed this article, please consider supporting MotoMatters.com. You can help by either taking out a subscription, buying the beautiful MotoMatters.com 2015 racing calendar, by making a donation, or by contributing via our GoFundMe page.