The feud between Valentino Rossi and Marc Marquez shows no signs of abating. It emerged today that Marquez has severed a number of links which tied him to the Italian, including ending prematurely a contract for merchandise with Rossi's VR46 Racing Apparel company, and ending his lease of accommodation in the GP Rooms portable hotel run by the Nieto family.
The news, broken by Speedweek and confirmed to MotoMatters.com by sources with knowledge of the situation, is a reversal of reports from Valencia last year. Then, Spanish websites were reporting that Valentino Rossi had decided to terminate the contract, at the end of the second year of its three year term. Those reports were denied, but now it appears that it is Marquez who has decided he does not want Rossi's VR46 business selling his merchandise. Marquez' management and VR46 are currently in negotiations to terminate the contract, with the VR46 company wanting financial compensation for Marquez' decision to terminate the contract prematurely. Marquez will want the situation to be resolved quickly, and certainly before the first European round in Jerez, where he can expect to sell a large amount of merchandise to Spanish fans.
The reasons for Marquez wanting to end his association with the VR46 Racing Apparel are easy to guess. The aftermath of the Sepang situation has shaken Marquez' faith in the agreement, and the Spaniard does not now believe he can trust his dealings with Rossi. Though the VR46 Racing Apparel is an entirely separate company, which Rossi has little to do with directly, it is run by senior members of Valentino Rossi's official fan club. Marquez may fear that some of the emotions generated during the 2015 championship will spill over into the merchandising business and negatively affect it.
Marquez' management has engaged the services of the GP Racing Apparel company, run by the Gruppo Pritelli. The Italian company, based in Cattolica, near the Misano circuit, also handles merchandise for several other major MotoGP stars, including Jorge Lorenzo, Nicky Hayden, Andrea Dovizioso, Alex Rins, Andrea Iannone, and, in a mild irony, Rossi's late friend Marco Simoncelli.
It is not just the merchandising business which is affected by the antipathy between Rossi and Marquez. As reported by the Spanish website Motocuatro.com, Marquez has also decided that he will no longer rent a room in the GP Rooms mobile hotels run by the Nieto family. The GP Rooms mobile hotels offer minimal space (little more than a bed and a closet) with the convenience of being located in the MotoGP paddock. Previously, that was all Marquez needed, as the Spaniard spent all of his time at the track with his team, either in the garage, or in the race truck. In this respect, Marquez is very different to nearly all other riders, who tend to spend most of their time in their motorhomes. Marquez has always needed to feel part of a team, and so spends all of his time with his mechanics and crew chief.
However, relations with the Nieto family have become extremely strained since Sepang. Pablo Nieto is team manager of the VR46 Sky Moto3 team, putting him firmly in the wrong camp, as far as Marquez is concerned. Thirteen-time world champion Angel Nieto had been very ambiguous in his judgment of the incident during the Sepang race in his capacity as TV expert with Telecinco, which had not gone down well with Marquez. But worst of all, Fonsi Nieto - personal friend of Valentino Rossi, with whom he spends time on the island of Ibiza during the summer, where Fonsi is a renowned DJ - had taken sides very clearly with Rossi after Sepang, offering an interpretation of events which backed Rossi's version completely on Spanish TV. With both Marquez brothers using the GP Rooms mobile hotel, costing approximately €25,000 per rider for a season, Marc Marquez felt he did not want to spend his money with the Nieto family any longer.
Instead, the two Marquez brothers will share a motorhome at MotoGP events for the 2016 season. They are currently in the process of sourcing and having a motorhome prepared for the upcoming season. Though neither rider will spend much time in the motorhome, the advantage of having one is having a space where the riders can hold meetings with sponsors and others in private.
Why has Marquez been so vigorously severing business ties to everyone associated with Valentino Rossi? Clearly there is an issue of trust, especially with the VR46 Racing Apparel company, which is so closely associated with Rossi's official fan club. But there is also a matter of pride. Marquez was deeply hurt by the accusations made by Rossi during the Thursday press conference before Sepang, and the Italian has made the situation worse by keeping up a stream of accusations and insinuations ever since. He renewed his attacks at the Movistar Yamaha team launch in Barcelona, rubbing salt further into the wounds. As Marquez' reaction at Sepang demonstrated, the Spaniard does not respond well to what he regards as provocations, and his pride, and his ego, will not allow him to stay in business with people he believes are not on his side.
The continuing enmity does not bode well for peace being made between Rossi and Marquez any time soon. The two will run into each other at Sepang, for the first time since Valencia, and most likely, the pair will both be staying in the same hotel, sharing the breakfast room in the morning, the restaurant in the evening, as well as the gym. They may run across each other on track, an encounter which will be watched closely, and with much interest. Two more tests will follow, before they finally go head to head in earnest at the first race in Qatar. The atmosphere between the two will not be convivial, their former jocular demeanor gone. There are more likely to be fireworks than peace breaking out. Though Dorna will no doubt exploit the situation for maximum publicity value, it will remain a highly explosive situation. The media in both Italy and Spain are invested in trying to ignite the powder keg whenever possible, having both clearly taken sides in the dispute. 2016 has all the makings of a classic season, but it looks like it will also get very ugly from time to time. It will need careful management, but to be frank, nobody involved looks to be capable of providing that.