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.
Dani Pedrosa rode a great race to win the Malaysian Grand Prix.
Jorge Lorenzo finished 2nd and reduced Valentino’s lead in the championship to just 7 points.
The talking point of the race and of the season happened with 14 laps remaining. Having been locked in battle with Marc Marquez, Valentino Rossi appeared to lose his cool at Turn 14. He looked over twice at the Honda rider before the two came together, which caused Marquez to crash. I’ll let David Emmett pick the bones out of that.
It was the race we had been waiting for. We knew it had to be coming, but each time we thought, “this will be the race!” the magic dissolved into thin air after a few laps, and the race settled into a rhythm.
Not this time. From start to finish, four of the best motorcycle racers in the world – three of the best the world has ever seen, and one candidate to be elevated to that elect club – fought a close quarters battle for victory, spiced up with a dash of very serious consequences for the championship.
No more runaway victories, no more cat and mouse, no more stalking until the final lap. It was all-out war, from the moment the lights went out all the way to the checkered flag.
There was a rather keen irony that this race should be such a thriller. At Brno, at Misano, at Motegi, so often, the barnstorming race we had expected based on practice and qualifying failed to materialize once the flag dropped.
At Phillip Island, the question on everyone’s minds after Saturday night was more like how large Marc Márquez’s margin of victory would be, and whether the battle for second would last longer than a few laps. How very wrong we were, and how very happy would we be to have been proven so.
Jorge Lorenzo’s worst fears were confirmed from the start. On Saturday, he had been furious about Andrea Iannone’s using him as a target during qualifying, and stealing second place on the grid.
Iannone got the drag to the line and took off like a scalded cat. Lorenzo followed, and before the first lap was halfway done, we got a taste of what was to come. Lorenzo cut underneath Iannone at the Hayshed in a brilliantly audacious move at an unusual place to pass.
It would not be the last brave move. It would not even be the best. We were in for a treat.
With the title chase so incredibly tight, it is inevitable that every MotoGP race from now until Valencia will result in journalists and writers – and I include myself in that group – spend most of their time writing about the clash between Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo.
The outcome of that confrontation matters, as it will decide the 2015 MotoGP championship.
This is tough on the rest of the MotoGP field and the riders in other classes. They, too, are riding their hearts out, aiming for – and in Moto2 and Moto3 attaining – glory, yet they are ignored as the rest of the world gazes in wonder at a few names at the front of MotoGP.
They do not deserve such treatment, but life in general, and motorcycle racing in particular are neither fair nor just.
There were plenty of tales to tell at Motegi, however. The biggest, perhaps, is the tale of tires. To some extent, this has already been covered in already, as tire wear ended up determining the outcome of the race.
Saturday at Motegi had offered the mouthwatering prospect of the battle we have been waiting for all year. Valentino Rossi had cracked his qualifying jinx and lined up on the grid next to Jorge Lorenzo.
The pair were close in qualifying times and in race pace, and with 14 points separating them in the championship, there was a lot at stake. Finally, we might get to see Rossi and Lorenzo go head to head in the struggle for supremacy, and to seize the momentum in the MotoGP title race.
As has so often been the case, the hopes of the fans withered on the vine on race day. The rain wrecked any chance of a straight and open battle between the two protagonists in the title chase, throwing the day’s schedule into disarray, and turning what could have been an all-out war into a cagey battle of tactics.
We may not have been given what we hoped for, but there was still plenty for the fans to get their teeth into. Jorge Lorenzo looked to have the race sewn up by the halfway mark, but a slowly drying track blew the race wide open.
There were very few direct battles, at least not up front, but an increasingly dry line radically changed the dynamic of the race. There was tension, there were surprises, myths, and shibboleths were shattered.
The championship took on a new impetus, and the strain of the fight going down to the line started to take its toll. This is going to be a tough year for the men who would be champion.
Just when it looked like the three Grand Prix championships were getting closed to being wrapped up, along came Aragon. The three races at the last European round before the Pacific flyaways left the title chase still open in all three classes.
The outcome in both Moto2 and Moto3 still looks pretty much inevitable, but a win by Jorge Lorenzo in MotoGP meant that the battle for supremacy between the Spaniard and Valentino Rossi is anything but over.
The Moto2 and Moto3 crowns may end up being handed out at Motegi, Phillip Island or Sepang, but the championship fight for MotoGP will most likely go all the way to the last race in Valencia.
That may be hard on the fans of the two riders involved, but for MotoGP as a series, it is great. The pressure and the tension goes up with every race, and makes watching an ever greater joy.
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Marc Marquez wheelies past his crew after winning the Grand Prix of San Marino.
A fantastic ride by Bradley Smith. When everyone else changed to their wet setup bike he stayed out on slicks. The gamble paid off as he finished 2nd.
Scott Redding picked himself up off the floor to claim 3rd place and his debut MotoGP podium.