MotoGP

Sunday MotoGP Summary at Argentina, Part 3: Marquez vs. Rossi, Marquez vs. The Rules

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On Friday, the Hondas were looking pretty strong at the Termas De Rio Hondo circuit in Argentina. Dani Pedrosa led FP1, with Cal Crutchlow just behind him. In FP2, Marc Márquez opened a big lead over Crutchlow, with the rest some distance behind.

On Saturday, Marc Márquez looked just about unbeatable, despite his slip up in qualifying. Six tenths quicker than Johann Zarco, and effortlessly quick in a wet FP3.

Over a second quicker than his teammate Pedrosa in FP4, an advantage that was almost embarrassing. The portents were clear on Saturday night: this was Marc Márquez’ race to lose.

And that is exactly what he did, before the lights had even gone out. A combination of ignorance of the rules and panic meant he blew his chance of winning the race as soon as he jumped off his bike to try to restart it on the grid.

From there, he piled error upon error to make the situation worse. By the end of Sunday, he had managed to throw away any chance of salvaging points from the Argentina round, and run up a 15-point deficit to Andrea Dovizioso.

He had also managed to create a public relations disaster, though to be fair, he had more than a little help doing that.

Ignorance Is No Excuse

But it all starts with ignorance of the rules. When he arrived back at the grid, the engine of his Honda RC213V stalled as he pulled up at his grid slot.

His immediate reaction was the right one: to raise his hand in the air. That lasted a little more than one second (approximately 1.26 seconds, averaging multiple timings), before he jumped off his bike and tried to push start it.

That set in motion a chain of events that would generate an unstoppable tidal wave of controversy.

Márquez’s first infraction was getting off his bike when it stalled. The FIM rulebook (PDF) is clear. Section 1.18.13 includes the following paragraph:

Any rider who stalls his engine on the grid or who has other difficulties must remain on the motorcycle and raise an arm. It is not permitted to attempt to delay the start by any other means.

First, Márquez did the right thing, by raising his arm. But he broke the rules when he jumped off the bike and tried to push start it. That, in itself, is probably what earned him the ride through penalty he would be punished with.

He compounded that error by then turning the bike around and riding his bike the wrong way down the grid back to his starting spot, a violation of section 1.21.11, which would have removed any ideas of leniency the FIM Stewards’ Panel may have had.

Confusion All Around

Márquez put his actions down to the confusion on the grid. “When I arrived on the grid, I had a problem with the engine and I stopped, but this normally never happens,” he told the media after the race.

“In that case I put my hand up, but nobody was there. Then I started to push my bike. Luckily the bike ran, and at that time I didn’t know what I needed to do. I know that if the bike is off I need to go off, but the bike was running.”

In reality, the problem was Márquez’s confusion about the rules. Márquez says “I know that if the bike is off I need to go off,” but this is only true on the grid before the start of the warm up lap.

As reproduced above, the rules state that when a rider stalls their engine on the grid before the start of the race, they must raise their hand and wait for assistance.

Why does a MotoGP rider not know the rules of the sport? We would be shocked if a soccer player did not know the offside rule, or a baseball player know what to do if they hit a fly ball.

Yet Márquez does not know the correct procedure on the grid. It is perhaps unfair to single out Marc Márquez for this; he is hardly alone in his ignorance of the rules, as riders (and teams) keep demonstrating when they get caught out by the rulebook.

But the ignorance of others is no excuse for your own lack of knowledge.

Of course the MotoGP rulebook is both large and unwieldy, weighing in at a hefty 336 pages (as of the Qatar race, that is).

But the point is not that a rider needs to learn the whole rulebook off by heart, they would be forgiven for not knowing the precise maximum percentage of ceramic composite materials in brake discs, per section 2.4.4.3.3.

But the section they should know by heart is relatively short and simple: there are twelve or so pages on the start procedure, only about a third of which is relevant to the rider; four pages on the different flags and lights used; and three and a half pages on behavior on and off track.

The rest of the rulebook is the responsibility of the teams, the manufacturers, and the series organizers.

Leaders Should Lead

Some of the blame has to be laid with the latter, or at least the staff who were managing the race start.

The rules also state that officials must be placed on pit wall holding a board at each row, and once the riders on their row are correctly in position and ready to start, they should lower their board to indicate to the Race Starter that all is clear.

The official on Márquez’s row lowered their board when the Spaniard jumped off his bike and started to push it. Whether this was due to confusion at Márquez’s unexpected actions, or uncertainty over the rules, it served only to sow even more confusion.

Two more IRTA officials then jumped onto the grid to intervene – a nerve-wracking moment for sure, being surrounded by 270+ horsepower bikes weighing 157kg whose riders are just about reaching their peak level of nervousness for the weekend, their trigger fingers itchier than a month-old skin rash.

Tony Congram tried to corral Marc Márquez into getting off the grid. Danny Aldridge ran up the front straight checking to see what was happening.

Aldridge looked back at Congram, saw that he was directing Márquez, then signaled the starter, Graham Webber, that Márquez had his engine running by raising his arm with his thumb up.

Márquez took this as a signal that he was doing the right thing. “When the marshal arrived, I asked him. Because he is connected directly with Race Direction,” Márquez explained.

“I looked at him and I asked, pit lane or grid? In that time he didn’t know what’s going on. Then I saw another guy. This marshal just put his hands up of my bike and the other one made like this [thumbs up]. Just I understand that they start to go away and I understand that I need to go to my grid place.”

Márquez understood wrong. But IRTA didn’t have enough people on the grid to correct his mistake. The right thing to do would have been to call off the start, and make Márquez start from pit lane.

Why Race Direction did not take this course of action is unknown: senior Dorna staff prevented journalists from speaking to Race Director Mike Webb after the race, even forcing one journalist to delete an interview they had recorded with Webb.

The most logical explanation is that it would have made an already confusing situation look even worse on TV. So with everyone on the grid in their correct positions, the race got off to a start.

Shock and Awe

In the end, the decision to start the race and give Márquez a ride through for his errors on the grid rather than delay the start and have Márquez start from pit lane made no difference.

Either way, Marc Márquez would have ended up behind the vast majority of the grid, with a mixture of panic and burning ambition in his heart, and the pace to blow the doors off every other rider on the track. It was a mixture which was compelling and appalling in equal measure, the ridiculous and the sublime.

It’s not as if we haven’t seen how this movie ends before. In 2012, Márquez’s Moto2 bike slipped out of gear on the starting grid at Motegi. He left the line in around 28th place. By the end of the first lap, he had already fought his way up to ninth. He was leading the race by lap 10, and went on to win it.

Three races later, at Valencia, he was forced to start at the back of the grid, after knocking Simone Corsi off during practice. On a cold and damp track with a thin drying line, he sliced his way forward again, up to eleventh by the end of the first lap, and going on to win the race.

Márquez’s race in Argentina unfolded in much the same way, but this time with added aggression. It was a truly jaw-dropping piece of riding, the Repsol Honda rider displaying his utter mastery of conditions where grip is low and variable.

He threw his bike around the track with abandon, skating on the edge of disaster for lap after lap, yet never teetering over the edge. He was a second or more faster than most riders, three or four seconds a lap faster than some.

Take away his ride through penalty, and a couple of his slower laps where he got tangled up with others, and his domination is complete.

Compare his 20 fastest laps of the 24-lap race, and he is 6.353 seconds faster than the winner Cal Crutchlow, 7.455 second faster than second-place man Johann Zarco, 9.179 seconds faster than third-place man Alex Rins.

He was in an entirely different league to his main championship rivals as well: 13.959 seconds faster than Maverick Viñales, 23.219 seconds faster than Valentino Rossi, 25.311 seconds quicker than Andrea Dovizioso.

Unnecessary

Which is what made the aggression and impatience with which he approached most of his passes so puzzling. He was so much faster than everyone else he could have taken his time and passed them at his leisure, leaving space to do so safely, and still cracked the top six.

Instead, he went on a wild ride through his rivals, rather than past them. He slammed into the inside of Aleix Espargaro’s Aprilia on lap 13.

He nudged Bradley Smith and Tito Rabat aside. He dived up the inside of Valentino Rossi at Turn 13, the two colliding when Rossi suddenly found a Honda where he had been planning to put his bike.

Márquez then made it worse by running Rossi out wide, blocking his way, and leaving the Italian nowhere to go but the wet grass, and then down on his side.

What did Márquez gain by such a display of impetuosity and impatience? The first thing he gained was a 30-second time penalty, which dropped him from fifth place crossing the line to eighteenth place (and zero championship points) in the final results.

It cemented his reputation as a reckless rider. It also undid all of the work he has done in the past year and during the preseason, where he was utterly focused, and showed the patience and dedication, and above all the maturity which promised to make him champion.

Now, he finds himself 15 points down on Andrea Dovizioso, and facing a season of answering hostile questions from the media, and booing and whistling from the fans, and perhaps far worse from what we might call the Continuity Popolo Giallo.

This will be a huge distraction for the whole of the year, and in this era of MotoGP, distractions are the one thing a rider simply cannot afford.

Just ask Andrea Dovizioso, who went from second tier rider to automatic title contender by banishing distractions from his life and concentrating on the big picture.

It is going to be hard for Márquez to banish distractions when he is answering questions about his relationship with Valentino Rossi every race weekend.

PR Disaster

He didn’t do himself any favors in the PR department either. In his media debrief after the race – streamed live on the MotoGP.com website by Dorna, who know a lucrative thing when they see one – Márquez acknowledged his own shortcomings, but also tried to spread the blame around a fair amount.

“Of course today I did a few mistakes,” he said. “A few of them I recognize, a few of the mistakes were from Race Direction. A few of the mistakes were mine. I recognize them and I will try to improve for the future. I think I did everything well. Just I’m very, very happy for the race because the pace was very good.”

“Maybe the biggest mistake I did this race was with Aleix,” Márquez explained. He had barged into the back of Aleix Espargaro on Lap 8, forcing the Aprilia rider wide. The problem had been that he had been so much quicker than Espargaro that it had been hard to judge their closing speed, Márquez said.

“I arrived four seconds faster. I didn’t realize. When you arrive four seconds faster than the other guy, it’s quite difficult. I didn’t realize. I tried my 100% to avoid the contact and then I say sorry. Okay, I received a penalty. I understand. I just go back one position, but even two because I didn’t know. To be safe, two positions. Then I started to push again.”

But Márquez denied any real wrongdoing in his collision with Valentino Rossi, saying it had been a racing incident. He had tried to make a clean pass, but had lost the front on a damp patch, colliding with Rossi and forcing him wide.

“I think I didn’t make anything crazy,” he said. “You need to understand how the track conditions were. Of course in that line was dry, but I hit a wet patch, locked the front, released the brakes.”

“Okay, I had the contact. I tried to turn, and then when I saw him crash I just tried to say sorry.” As far as Márquez was concerned, the conditions were as much to blame as he was.

“If you check Zarco with Dani, Petrucci and Aleix, today was quite difficult. But it doesn’t matter. I did my 100% and of course it was a tricky Sunday.”

Best Served Cold

Valentino Rossi saw it differently, of course. The incident with Márquez brought the simmering resentment that Rossi has felt since the events of Sepang 2015 back to a rolling boil.

Rossi seized the opportunity to heap unrelenting criticism on the Spaniard. “This is a very bad situation,” Rossi fumed. “He destroyed our sport, because he doesn’t have any respect for his rivals. Never.”

This incident had been just one of many of Márquez’s transgressions all weekend, Rossi said. “If you take for example what happened this weekend, one by one, these things can happen.”

“Can happen to everybody. You can make a mistake in braking. You can touch the other guy. It happens. This is racing. But from Friday morning he did like this with Viñales, Dovizioso. He did like this with me on Saturday morning. And today in the race he went straight into four riders.”

The harshest accusation Rossi made was that Márquez was targeting other riders on purpose. “He does this purposely and it’s not a mistake, because he aims between the leg and the bike, because he knows that he won’t crash, but you will crash.”

“He hope that you crash. So, if you start to play like this, it’s like you raise the level to a very dangerous point. If all the riders race like this, without any respect for the rivals, this is a very dangerous sport and finish in a bad way.”

It was a charge Márquez rejected out of hand. “Of course I’m completely disappointed about this. In my career I never, never, never go straight to one rider thinking that he will crash. I always try to avoid.”

“Of course sometimes you overtake it’s closer, sometimes it’s more clear. Today what happened with Valentino was a mistake, a consequence of the track conditions because I lock the front. But what he said about my career, he’s wrong.”

Twisting the Knife

Rossi was unrelenting in his criticism, demanding that Race Direction step in. “It’s a dangerous situation. I hope that what I said to Mike Webb, they have a big responsibility. They have to do something, to make sure that Marquez don’t behave like this any more.”

“This year, at the first corner in Qatar he touched the leg of Zarco and go to Dovizioso. He had it with Viñales. Today with me. So he enters into the corner 20 kilometers faster, no way to make the corner, just because he comes at me on purpose between the bike and the leg, because he wants to try to make that I crash.”

“This is him. In the last fifty races is like this, but I think this year he make also worse. He always tries to make you scared, and he always tries to put you out of the track. It’s a dangerous situation.”

He was afraid to be on the track at the same as Márquez. “I’m scared on the track when I am with Márquez. I am scared today when I see his name on the board because I know that he was coming to me. I know already.” If everyone rode like this, Rossi said, it would be like “Destruction Derby”.

What made things worse was that he didn’t feel that Race Direction was taking Márquez’s dangerous riding seriously, Rossi said.

“I want to speak with Race Direction, sincerely because I don’t feel protected from the Race Direction. When you don’t feel protected, you have to look after your own, because nothing happen. Next race if nothing happen, he will do exactly the same.”

Márquez had ruined racing for him, Rossi complained. “Also I don’t have fun when he is with me. I don’t have fun to fight with him, because I know that he raise the level. He don’t play clean. He don’t play aggressive. He play dirty.”

The Other Side

Were Rossi’s complaints justified? There is no doubt that Márquez rode recklessly in Argentina, and absolutely no doubt that he caused Rossi to run off the track. But to accuse Márquez of doing it deliberately goes far too far.

There is no doubt that Márquez is prepared to take more risks than other riders: the fact that he fell off 27 times during 18 race weekends in 2017 is ample proof of that. What Márquez doesn’t appear to realize is that the risks he is taking can also impact the other riders on track with him.

Precisely because Rossi had every reason to complain about Márquez, he seized the opportunity with relish. The criticisms were extravagant, stretched as far as possible without breaking.

His vision of the incident between Márquez and Aleix Espargaro was very different from Espargaro’s. “This is dangerous,” Rossi said. “If he go into Aleix Espargaro at 200 kilometers per hour, if touch the handlebar, you crash, you go in the wall. So why we have to race like this?”

Espargaro was annoyed at the collision with Márquez, but was far more angry about a collision with Danilo Petrucci earlier in the race.

“He hit me very, very hard. But Petrucci did exactly the same to me, in Turn 2. The same or even harder. So the IRTA people need to pay attention because it’s not fair that Marc has been penalized but not Petrucci, who hit me harder.”

He complained vociferously about Petrucci not being penalized on Twitter, then jumped on the Alma Pramac team when they issued a press release defending Petrucci’s conduct.

He then retweeted a series of pictures from another Twitter user showing all of the incidents in which Petrucci has been involved.

Andrea Dovizioso, after first telling the media that it was not his place to get involved, got involved. He also managed to do it with some humor.

“I don’t want to speak about what the six-time world champion has to change like the nine-time world champion,” Dovizioso said wryly. “But for sure today Marc did something wrong. He had a margin to manage every situation and he did a lot of mistakes. Today his strategy didn’t work.”

Pomp and Circumstance

There was a good deal of theater surrounding both Rossi’s accusations and Márquez’s defense.

Yamaha and Honda both got involved, Lin Jarvis demanding Race Direction consider ways to prevent Márquez from doing the same thing again, Alberto Puig playing down the whole incident and blaming it on water on the track.

Both Yamaha and Honda spoke to Race Direction about the incident, giving their own version of events.

There was theater outside the Yamaha garage after the race as well. Marc Márquez went along to the Yamaha garage to apologize to Valentino Rossi, accompanied by his personal manager Emilio Alzamora and the Repsol Honda team manager Alberto Puig.

He was met and dismissed by Uccio Salucci, Rossi’s assistant and the manager of the Sky VR46 racing program, waved off and told Rossi had no interest in shaking his hand. It was notable that it was Uccio, rather than Yamaha team boss Lin Jarvis, who intervened, and sent Márquez away.

Rossi was scathing about Márquez’s attempt to apologize. “It’s a joke. First of all he don’t have the balls to come in my office alone, but he come like always with his manager, with Honda, in front of all the cameras because what is important for him is this.”

“He don’t care about you. I don’t want to speak with him. I don’t want to see him close to me. I know it’s not true what he say to me.” In Italian, he called it a PR stunt.

When someone pointed out that Rossi himself had once done that walk of shame, at Jerez in 2011 after taking out Casey Stoner – going to the Repsol Honda garage with three Ducati managers, not two – Rossi acknowledged that it had happened. “But it only happened once,” he said. “It didn’t happen again.”

What is clear from this is that the rift that was opened in 2015 will never be healed. The appearance of cordiality between Márquez and Rossi was just that, appearance, Rossi said.

“I don’t have any relationship with Marquez after 2015, so don’t change nothing. I say just ‘ciao’ because it’s more easy. I lose less time. If he don’t have respect for me, I don’t have respect for him.” This incident just brought it back to the surface.

Driving Home an Advantage

It almost certainly suits Valentino Rossi to keep it there. The Italian has always used his power, influence, and wit off the track as well as on it.

If Rossi still has ideas about a tenth title – and he definitely believes he can still compete for a championship – then piling the pressure on the favorite for the title suits his ends down to the ground.

For the rest of the 2018 season, Marc Márquez is going to be met by booing at every circuit he goes to – probably even at his home race in Barcelona.

He is going to spend the next couple of races (Austin, because it is the first race after Argentina, and Jerez, because it is the first race in Spain and the Spanish and Italian media will be out in force) answering questions about what happened in Argentina.

And the subject will come up again and again throughout the year, every time Márquez puts a foot wrong. This is going to be a massive distraction for Márquez, and Andrea Dovizioso proved in 2017 exactly how valuable being able to exclude distractions can be for a racer.

We Need to Talk about Márquez

The real problem, of course, is that Márquez keeps on putting a foot wrong. His extreme style means that from time to time, his passes are on the edge of what is acceptable.

His reliance on braking – in part a result of the fact that this was the only real strength of the Honda RC213V, until this year – meant that he would sometimes get a little too close for comfort, and occasionally even make comfort.

On the night of the race, former WorldSBK champion and MotoGP racer Ben Spies wondered aloud whether Márquez had a problem judging his braking.

“He passes like you do when you flat track mini bikes with friends,” Spies wrote on Twitter. “He’s always had a problem braking behind people as well which I don’t understand.”

The American went on to explain further what he meant. “He never accounts for his braking style plus the draft that naturally sucks you in. Surprised he’s still making those mistakes.” Márquez’s actions in Argentina were exceptional, though. “Today he was just being impatient,” Spies wrote.

As usual, Spies has a point. Marc Márquez has cleaned up his act a lot over the past few years, but at Termas De Rio Hondo, he simply lost his head. He was in so much of a rush to make his way forward that he raced without any care or attention to the other riders.

To say, as Valentino Rossi does, that Márquez deliberately targets riders ahead and tries to knock them off – essentially accusing him of attempted assault – goes too far. But Márquez was utterly reckless at Argentina.

Worst of all, he was reckless for no reason: he had the pace to comfortably be in the top six or seven, even if he was overly cautious with every pass he made.

At worst, he would have lost a point to Andrea Dovizioso, though that was unlikely given how badly Dovizioso was struggling. “Today we started with no rhythm, no speed, so it was very difficult for me,” Márquez said. All it required was some self discipline and control. But of that, there was none.

Repeat Offender

How to prevent a repeat of this? The 30-second penalty Márquez was given for dangerous riding, putting him out of the points, is unlikely to change his attitude. Márquez admitted as much in an interview in Brazil, two days after the race in Argentina.

“I am going to keep on being the same as I am now. I have always raced with intensity, but the race in Argentina was an accumulation of circumstances,” Márquez said. He would continue to seek out the limit, but within the rules.

To my mind, Márquez’s behavior in Argentina should have earned him a one-race ban.

Not only for the range and variety of his errors – on the starting grid alone, he broke at least three rules, then repeatedly made a mockery of article 1.21.2 (the infamous “Riders must ride in a responsible manner” article under which most behavior is punished) – but also to force Márquez to properly consider his actions.

Jorge Lorenzo has long maintained that the only way to get Márquez to change his ways is if he is banned for a race. Lorenzo harks back to his own experience: the Spaniard was handed a one-race ban in 2005 after repeated collisions with Alex De Angelis.

Being forced to watch the race while sitting at home and made him really understand what was at stake, Lorenzo said. He believes that Márquez needs that same lesson. I tend to agree that it is the correct remedy at this point.

You would hope that a race ban would also help Márquez realize that he doesn’t really need to be so aggressive. When he wasn’t barging into people, the Spaniard’s riding was breathtaking, managing a bike in difficult conditions with unparalleled skill and control.

Márquez’s ability in precisely these conditions, a drying track with damp patches, or whenever the grip is unpredictable, is light years ahead of anyone else. That is why he wins flag-to-flag races with such ease, and makes finding grip where others are struggling look so effortless.

History repeating

In a way, Márquez’s ride in Argentina reminds me of Valentino Rossi’s greatest race in MotoGP.

In 2003, in his last year on the Honda RC211V, Rossi was leading the race in Phillip Island, when he was given a 10-second time penalty for overtaking under a yellow flag being waved to protect the stricken Troy Bayliss, who had fallen at Honda corner.

Rossi was given the time penalty on lap 11, with 16 laps left to go. On lap 9, he had slipped under the existing lap record, improving it from 1’32.233 to 1’32.161.

Once he saw the board with the penalty, he pulled out all the stops, riding the remaining 13 laps all under the lap record, and consistently six to eight tenths of a second faster than any other rider on track. He destroyed the lap record, taking it down to 1’31.421, and taking a lead of 3.4 seconds out to over 15 seconds.

Even after the 10-second penalty had been applied, Rossi ended up winning the race by more than 5 seconds. This was Rossi’s day to show just how much better he was than the rest of the field.

Fortunately for Rossi, perhaps, he was leading the race when he was handed the penalty, and so had no overtaking to do.

Lucky Escape

The penalty given to Márquez helped Andrea Dovizioso and Maverick Viñales salvage what was otherwise a relatively dismal weekend. Viñales had the best of it, finishing in fifth, 15 seconds behind Cal Crutchlow, but unchallenged by anyone else bar the (penalized) Márquez.

Andrea Dovizioso finished sixth, 22.5 seconds behind the winner, but the 10 points he earned put him in a comfortable second place in the championship, just 3 points behind the current leader Crutchlow.

Dovizioso has an advantage of 14 points over Viñales, and 15 points over Márquez, and can be much more confident going into Austin than he would otherwise have any right to be.

“At the end going home with sixth position, with some luck for sure, is very positive for us and for the championship. Three riders fighting for the championship scored zero and that is good,” Dovizioso said.

“The negative point in the other point is that we confirmed our difficult situation in this kind of track. When you have to make the speed in the middle of the corner, we are struggling. For sure, we didn’t have the chance to work during the weekend.”

“Working properly would have helped us to be a little bit closer. But we weren’t fast so we can’t be happy about that.” If winning a championship is about coming away from your worst weekends with as many points as possible, Dovizioso did very well indeed in Argentina.

His teammate fared a great deal worse. So badly was Lorenzo struggling in Argentina that he broke out the aerodynamic package for his Ducati GP18, the one that was causing so many problems with the front end at the Qatar test, and which all three Ducati GP18 riders had been avoiding.

It didn’t help him much: Lorenzo crossed the line in fifteenth place, 42 seconds behind the winner, and 20 seconds behind his teammate.

Achilles Heel

It was a dismal performance, one which reflected his growing frustration with his situation at Ducati. A move to Suzuki now looks like a racing certainty, in pursuit of a bike which will bring him corner speed and agility again.

He will have to take a massive pay cut to race there, but at this point, that doesn’t matter much. Put crudely, he will have enough in the bank after two very well paid years at Ducati to be able to go and chase wins again. Money can buy you a lot of things, but it can’t buy you race wins and world championships.

Even if he does go to Suzuki, Lorenzo will still face one major obstacle to winning a title again. That obstacle was unmasked once again in Argentina: Jorge Lorenzo struggles in mixed conditions with variable grip.

When it’s dry, Lorenzo is capable of beating all comers, even on a Ducati. When it’s wet, Lorenzo is competitive. But when it’s neither one thing or another, Lorenzo’s uncanny ability evaporates, and he wobbles round like a backmarker, not a five-time world champion.

That lack of confidence is something he will have to find a way to address.

Lessons Learned

It has been an instructive race weekend in Argentina. The chaos and confusion has exposed the weaknesses of the MotoGP series, opening up cracks which were previously invisible. So what lessons can we take away from the race in Termas De Rio Hondo?

First and foremost, that situations will arise that the rulebook has no immediate answer to, or which expose the absurdity of the rules. What happened on the grid after the sighting lap, with the polesitter staying on slicks on the grid while all 23 others left to change bikes, was an edge case which forces us to examine definitions.

After all, technically, the “back of the grid” is the place behind the last rider on the grid. When there is only 1 rider on the position he qualified in, then second place becomes the back of the grid.

Secondly, that the rulebook is in need of clarification. The addition of quick restart procedures has simplified the work for the teams, but made things a little more complicated for riders.

It has also split up information in the rulebook, making it not immediately obvious what the correct response is in a particular situation. After Márquez got off his bike before the start, the correct thing to do was to move him into pit lane and make him start from there.

That is in the rules, but it is not in close proximity to the rule on getting off your bike and delaying the start like Márquez did. The rulebook has expanded to the point where it needs to be cleaned up again.

Thirdly, that Marc Márquez is the best rider in the world in mixed conditions, and can pass others at will. Fourthly, that his choice of where to pass when panicked is not always great, and that he commits errors of judgment. A race ban may help him think this through.

Fifthly, that Race Direction’s (technically, the FIM Stewards’) policy of punishing riders at, and preferably during, the event itself can backfire. So much was happening during the Argentina race that a suitable punishment for Marc Márquez may not have been meted out.

Imposing a race ban is a very serious step, and should be given careful consideration. That cannot be resolved in the space of a few minutes during the heat of a race.

The FIM rulebook section 3.2.2 allows for a “plurality of penalties”, or for multiple penalties to be assessed against a rider.

The rules do not make clear if a rider can be punished for the same offense twice, or punished at a later date than during the weekend of the event. In some cases, it may be worth considering doing just that.

Sixthly, that the vendetta between Valentino Rossi and Marc Márquez – a vendetta that is held most firmly by one party, rather than the other – is alive and well, and not going away any time soon.

Márquez vs. Rossi is taking on overtones of Rainey vs. Schwantz. The two men do not care for one another, and if Valentino Rossi has his way, they never will.

Finally, that MotoGP is still an awesome spectacle, and getting better every year. In Argentina, we had close racing among four leaders, with multiple passes for the lead. There were three satellite bikes among the four leaders, and the one factory bike was a Suzuki rather than a Yamaha or Honda.

We have now had bikes from four different manufacturers and six different riders on the podium in two races. There is still a long way to go in the championship, but Argentina demonstrated that almost anything can happen in MotoGP.

There is no better time to be a fan. Be thankful for that, despite the chaos.

This was the final part of my Argentina race round up. Part 1, on the chaos on the grid and the race at the front which saw Cal Crutchlow win can be found here. Part 2, on Alex Rins, Johann Zarco, and upcoming talent, can be found here.

Photo: MotoGP

This article was originally published on MotoMatters, and is republished here on Asphalt & Rubber with permission by the author.

David Emmett

One of MotoGP's most respected journalists, David Emmett is the proprietor of the esteemed MotoMatters. We are very grateful to republish David's work here on A&R...though dread the day we ever again get in a car with him.

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