We are creatures of habit in the paddock. After having had our biorhythms put out of whack by a wild and weird Thursday, having bikes on the track on Friday brought us all back into line, and restored a sense of normality to MotoGP.
This was a race weekend once again, and the arguments and backbiting have been put aside for a moment.
Though the return of racing motorcycles going fast around a circuit brought some joy back to the paddock, the day was also tinged with sadness. Two events punctuated the day, celebrating two mighty monuments of the paddock, who depart for pastures new.
At lunchtime, Nicky Hayden was inducted as a MotoGP Legend, with a ceremony and a brief press conference. In the evening, Bridgestone held an official soiree to take their leave of the paddock, as they ended their role of official tire supplier.
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?
Here is the one thing which everybody has wrong about Valencia: the 2015 MotoGP championship isn’t over by a very long chalk.
Whether Lorenzo qualifies on pole or the front row, whether Valentino Rossi starts from his qualifying position or the back of the grid, the championship won’t be done until the last rider gets the checkered flag. Everything is still to play for.
Why is the championship still wide open? Because Valencia is a fickle mistress, with a record of throwing up more than one surprise. Both Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo have won here, and both men have lost championships here.
Both men have dominated, and both men have crashed out. Races at Valencia are rarely straightforward, throwing up startling results more often than not. Throw in a spot of unpredictable weather, and anything can truly happen.
The cause of those surprises? Running a race at the beginning of November in Valencia means the weather is always a gamble.
Even when it is dry and sunny, as it is expected to be this weekend, the cold mornings and strong winds can cause tires to cool, turning Valencia’s right-hand corners – few and far between – into treacherous affairs. If it rains or is damp, the wind means a dry line forms quickly, turning tire choice into a gamble.
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.
The controversy surrounding the “Sepang Clash” continues onward this week, now with HRC Executive Vice President Shuhei Nakamoto weighing in on the events that happened in Phillip Island and Sepang.
The Q&A released by HRC comes after a series of important events: Repsol issued a strongly worded press release that casts doubt on their future in MotoGP, FIM President Vito Ippolito issued an open letter on the subject that urged parties to act in the best interest of MotoGP racing, Valentino Rossi appealed his penalty with the Court of Arbitration for Sport, and Marc Marquez was allegedly assaulted by Italian TV prank show.
Needless to say, there is no shortage of drama in the MotoGP world at the moment, and there’s no sign of it abating until the conclusion of the final round, in Valencia.
Find after the jump the full transcript of HRC’s Q&A with Shuhei Nakamoto, it is an interesting insight into how Honda views what happened in Australia and Malaysia. We will let you form your own opinions on its contents.
The Sepang Clash, as Dorna would like for us to refer to it, continues to send shockwaves down the sport; as videos emerge of altercations between entourages at the track, photos and messages of hate circulate around social media, and the latest entry with Repsol releasing a strongly worded press release that calls into question the future of the Spanish company’s involvement in MotoGP.
David has already written exhaustively about the events at the track, and we have little interest here at Asphalt & Rubber in fueling the fire that was started in Sepang. Needless to say, no one is winning in all of this, and the sport is clearly getting a black eye because of all these actions.
While hopefully cooler heads prevail, it’s clear that things are still hot and heavy in the MotoGP Championship. Addressing some of the more unsavory acts that have come as a result of the on-track action at the Malaysian GP, FIM President Vito Ippolito has penned an open letter to the various stakeholders in the world championship.
While he doesn’t speak to anyone by name, it is very clear who are the different parties that Ippolito is reprimanding. You can read his letter after the jump.
Seven days ago, we were talking about how the 2015 MotoGP season will go down in history as one of the greatest of all time, with the Australian Grand Prix as its glittering highlight. A week later, we saw its low point.
There were some truly remarkable and admirable performances in all three classes. Dani Pedrosa confirmed his return to form with a formidable victory, his second of the season. The arm pump surgery has been a huge success, and if Honda can resist the temptation to build an unrideably powerful engine, Pedrosa will be back in title contention again next year.
Johann Zarco proved once again he is the class of the Moto2 field, stalking Tom Luthi all race and riding to the very limit of physical endurance to snatch victory from what seemed like a foregone conclusion.
And Miguel Oliveira demonstrated that he is capable of dominating the second half of the Moto3 season the way that Danny Kent dominated the first half, denying the Englishman the title and taking the championship to Valencia.
The trouble is, those stunning performances were overshadowed by one of the ugliest weekends of racing we have seen in a very long time. The tragedy may not have been physical this time, but it was tragic nonetheless.
Three great champions let their masks slip at Sepang, revealing the egotism, spitefulness and petty rivalries that underly their success. And the fans added insult to injury, booing at a result they did not like.
So we shall skip past the victory by Dani Pedrosa, failing to shower him with the praise which he deserves. We shall overlook the stunning ride by Jorge Lorenzo, passing riders at will and subduing everyone but Dani Pedrosa.
Instead, we must focus on the battle for third, the clash between Valentino Rossi and Marc Márquez. On the breathtaking battle that went sour, after Rossi finally lost his cool at Márquez’s provocation and unwillingness to surrender, and precipitated Márquez’s crash.