It has taken me a week to collect my thoughts and process the passing of Marco Simoncelli, the San Carlo Gresini Honda rider that lost his life during the MotoGP race in Malaysia. I’m not one of those journalists that can belt out some poignant thoughts on an event immediately after it happens, nor did I personally know Simoncelli well enough to offer a comprehensive anecdote on the man’s short but distinguished life. Having only met and talked to Marco briefly a few times, I cannot shed some deeper insight regarding who he was as a man, stripped away of all the pomp, prestige, and PR spin of the premier class.
I’ve heard the MotoGP paddock described as a family or village, so as one of its most recent members, this tragedy both cuts me deeply, but yet also seems like a distant and surreal event. Perhaps it will affect me more as I travel to Valencia this week, or perhaps I will continue to feel as if I am on the outside looking in at cataclysm of grief that has befallen friends, acquaintances, and strangers. Time will tell in that regard, and I’ll leave it to those masters of the pen who are better suited to the task to account for the young Italian’s life and racing career.
Instead my closing thoughts about Marco Simoncelli are a mixed commentary of life, tragedy, and where we go from here.
Racing Every Corner as If It Was the Final Turn
A modest, playful, and grounded personality, perhaps the only contentious thing about Marco Simoncelli was how he rode when he was on the track. We don’t have to look far back into the 2011 MotoGP Championship to find harsh criticism of how Marco raced. He was called dangerous and he was called reckless, and those elucidations of opprobrium are not completely unfounded.
Marco rode every corner as if it was the final turn of the race, and he raced every position as if it was for the top step on the podium. And as a result of this, Marco’s brash and bold riding style garnered him harsh words from Spaniards Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa, along with others in the MotoGP field.
While unpopular with the riders, Simoncelli’s two-wheeled Italian bravado earned him the admiration of MotoGP fans around the world. And though his competitors would say his racing style was foolish, fans praised Marco for riding with heart instead of head. No matter where you come down on that argument, the one thing you cannot say is the Marco left anything unsaid on the track, and that’s the way he raced to the very end. Watching the final turns of Marco’s life, we gave witness to SuperSic twisting every last bit out of his factory Honda RC212V as he battled with Álvaro Bautista.
As his bike struggled with the humid Malaysian track conditions, briefly stepping out several times, it didn’t matter to Simoncelli that he was only one or two laps into a lengthy race, nor did it matter that he was battling for only fourth place. To the young Italian rider each position was a leg in a long war campaign, and each corner was a battle from which there was no retreat.
That train of thought extends to his final moments as his Honda finally lost the front tire, and Marco propped the bike up on his knee, trying to recover the slide. We know how the rest of the story unfolds, but what is worth repeating is how Marco, true to form, refused to give up right until the very end. Reflecting on all this, I can only encapsulate my thoughts with the word “bravery.”
A Line of Completely Selfish Reasoning
If I had to chart my progress through the five stages of grief, I’d land somewhere in the anger stage. There is a vacuum of space left behind in MotoGP now, and as a fan of premier-class motorcycle racing, I admit that I have completely selfish and angry frame of mind when I think about GP racing without Marco Simoncelli. What keeps me up at night are the “what ifs” about what could have been in MotoGP racing. There was something special with Marco, something pure but still unrefined that we will now never get to see blossom.
When I try to describe it non-motorcyclists, I like to think of Marco Simoncelli as a diamond unearthed from some deep cavernous mine. Raw and uncut, the glimmer of talent shone through Simoncelli’s rough edges, and there isn’t a doubt in my mind that we had just begun to scratch the talent that could be polished-out from that gift. Marco was good, there is no denying that. But given another season or two to cut the facets of his artistry, and he truly could have been one of the greats.
We are lesser people for not getting to experience that transformation and that product, just as the sport is now the lesser for not having one of its rising stars. Securing a factory bike for the 2012 season, HRC could clearly see the talent that was gaining steam in Marco’s riding, and like the fresh crop of riders now dominating MotoGP, Simoncelli surely would have been part of the sport’s next generation.
We’ll never know how good Marco would have been on the 1,000cc machines. We’ll never see the battles he would have with Casey, Jorge, Dani, et al. But, if they were anything like his final rides at Phillip Island and Sepang, they would have been truly captivating, and they would have returned some glory to the ailing series. We would have been excited about watching MotoGP again.
Away from the track Marco Simoncelli was already becoming a brand in his own right. His huge head of hair, his tall stature, his verbal sparring with other riders, and his approachable demeanor with fans cast him as a favorite personality in MotoGP. In a series inundated with the white-washing of charisma and a noticeable barrier between the riders and the public (I will include the press in my liberal use of the word “public”), SuperSic was a refreshing step in the right direction.
I stand frustrated by Marco’s passing, and I long for the day when all the riders can publicly be as vibrant and distinct as Simoncelli was to MotoGP fans (and I do believe many of MotoGP’s riders have vibrant personalities worth promoting). However with the media environment that currently exists in MotoGP, only riders like Marco are capable of shining so brightly that their light comes through the distance, and overcomes the system that is in place.
The sport will truly be at a loss from this perspective, and if Marco proved to be every good of a racer as his potential showed him to be, then perhaps the premier class of motorcycle racing would not be dominated by a single media icon, and a real marketplace of personalities would emerge. As I look at the field now, I know there will be young talented riders that will pick up the torch and carry the racing pace into the next generation, but I’m not sure who will manifest from the gray and captivate our hearts with their effervescence.
We Are Not Guaranteed Tomorrow
If anger is the second step in the grief process, then let us attempt to move onto the final one: acceptance. A week later now, I’m starting to find solace in my lingering thoughts about Marco Simoncelli, focusing on the idea that in death we celebrate life. A life like Marco’s is certainly worth celebrating, but honoring his passing should serve more than just to acknowledging a life in the public spotlight that was cut unexpectedly short.
Marco surely knew the dangers inherent in motorcycle racing, but he also surely did not wake up that Sunday morning believing it would be his last waking day. Much has already been said about the risks that riders accept when they line up on the starting grid, and I would echo the sentiment that it is the risk of death that adds to the thrill of each victory.
That may sound perverse, as we don’t like to admit that we are frail creatures, and generally try to avoid thinking about our own mortality. While we all may still struggle with our ultimate end, the motorcycling community can at least understand to a greater extent what it means to truly live in our finite existence. While it saddens me that Marco has departed us far too soon in life, it warms my heart to think that he died doing what he loved. If motorcycling is one of the greatest celebrations of taking life head-on, Marco Simoncelli is the benchmark on living each moment to its fullest.
If there is any truth in life, it is that we are not guaranteed tomorrow. Accordingly, prudence would teach us that we should live each moment in life as if it is our last in time. Marco showed us how to live that mantra right up until his end. If there is something from Marco that any of us can take down the road a bit further, it’s that we should live the corners in our life’s course as if they were the last ones before the finish line. If that’s something we can internalize and carry forward with us, then maybe it won’t feel like Marco’s death was so arbitrary and meaningless. Ciao Maro, SuperSic Forever.
Photos: © 2011 Scott Jones Photography – All Rights Reserved