It will come as no surprise that Valentino Rossi's brutal entanglement with Jorge Lorenzo during the last couple of laps of the Japanese MotoGP Grand Prix at Motegi did not go down well in Spain. With Spain on the verge of only their second World Championship in premier class motorcycle racing, and after a whole year of extraordinary sporting achievement for Spain, race fans on the Iberian peninsula are getting more protective than usual of the MotoGP stars, and so Rossi's manhandling of Lorenzo was not very well received. With the passes being clearly legal - though arguments continue to rage over the wisdom of such moves - the media in Spain has turned its attention elsewhere.
Spanish TV broadcaster TVE is now claiming that Valentino Rossi made a jump start prior to the MotoGP race at Motegi, and that his failure to be penalized was a failure by Race Direction. The video on the TVE website (only accessible in Spain, readers outside of Spain with a MotoGP.com subscription can will have to watch the full race video on MotoGP.com at around the 21:26 minute mark) appears to show Rossi creeping forward a fraction of a second before the red lights went out, in breach of section 1.18 subsection 14) of the FIM Grand Prix regulations, which state the following:
Any rider who anticipates the start will be required to carry out the ride through described under article 1.19.
Anticipation of the start is defined by the motorcycle moving forward when the red lights are on.
Close examination of the video does appear to confirm that Rossi rolled forward a fraction at the start of the race, though any movement is minimal. Race Direction - who review the start of every race - either did not spot the movement, or did not judge it to be an infringement of the rules. Rossi was not penalized, and did not have to perform a ride through.
If Rossi moved - which he probably did, fractionally - the advantage he gained was at best marginal, and at worst non-existent, so why all the fuss? The answer is simple: If Rossi had been given a ride through - a decision Race Direction have to take within four laps of the start - the Italian would have lost between 20 and 30 seconds coming into the pits, riding along pit lane at the maximum speed limit of 60 km/h, and then back out onto the track. Upon completing the ride through, Rossi would have rejoined the race either at the back, or very close to it. The last-lap dust-up between himself and Lorenzo would never have happened, and Lorenzo would have been back on the podium, and 3 points closer to clinching his first MotoGP championship, the first one for Spain since Alex Criville in 1999.
The Spanish media's anger at the lack of a ride through runs deeper: The Spanish contingent in the MotoGP paddock has long felt that Valentino Rossi is given preferential treatment by Race Direction, under pressure from Dorna (ironically, a Spanish company). Rossi is the series' main meal ticket, and there have been a number of incidents where there has been the suspicion that Rossi has gone unpunished because to do so would have been hugely unpopular with the fans. Most of all, the Spanish media (and many Spanish fans) have never forgiven Rossi for the pass he pulled at Jerez in 2005, when he dived up the inside of Sete Gibernau in the final corner, just as Gibernau tried to close the door on him. The pair came together and Gibernau ran wide, leaving Rossi to win the race and setting the tone for the championship. Gibernau was never a threat for the championship again, and the Spanish media has never gotten over that. With Lorenzo so close to becoming champion, and showing the potential to win several more, the prospect of losing that is too much for the Spanish to bear.