What can seven days do? A lot it seems, God is said to have created the world in six days, but then, we need to talk about something a wee bit more interesting than that. It took 52 passes in total by 4 of the fastest racers the world has ever seen to make the Phillip Island round of 2015 MotoGP a historic race, a race that will go down as the race that defined an era. So, we all doubted that Sepang, the last of the flyaway races, could that something else to beat the Island. And 7 days later, we were all so very wrong, the 2015 MotoGP Sepang will be remembered more than 2015 Phillip Island whenever we will talk about the sport and its heroes, and sadly for all the wrong reasons. So, what just happened?
With championship at stake and hanging delicately, the Sepang round was always going to be cut throat for the main rivals, Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo, a 11 point difference being just enough to keep the title fight to go boiling into two epic last rounds of the seasons.
And boiled the Sepang round did, it proved itself even before the first crank of engines took place! A generally mundane Thursday pre race conference at Sepang turned into a rollercoaster which no one saw coming. When Valentino first quoted Marquez was intentionally helping Lorenzo to win the championship, every one took it as a light hearted joke, something Valentino is known for. But it was when the sport's biggest name stuck to his comments and to further prove his absolute seriousness on the issue presented printed sheet of lap times blaming Marquez to intentionally slow him down to help Lorenzo create a gap good enough to stay ahead of Rossi in the race, the world stopped and took notice and the MotoGP atmosphere took a turn that is going to stay longer than we would like.
Rossi had said "It is indeed true that Marquez did not play with both of us: he only played with me! It is important that he knows that I know! Now let's see what happens, but I am quite concerned because to have to fight with Lorenzo is one thing, but if you have to beat Marquez as well, everything becomes much more difficult, to be honest - the case is that he isn’t playing fair (something that a professional rider has to do in these situations). Especially because Marquez could be very competitive in the last two races.” He continued saying “For me it was a big disappointment, I was upset, it was from a few races ago that I knew, but I did not expect him to do something so obvious. I feel disappointment, regret and worry, because surely he will try to do it here and also in Valencia.”
Further when it was asked why would Marquez would do something like this, Rossi had said "Because he would prefer Lorenzo to win. He is angry at me for a personal matter. Although he never said it, he thinks that in Argentina I made him crash; and then at Assen he is still thinking about the last chicane, in his head he feels he should have won that race. Since then he has been angry and thinking like a child: I do not win, but you do not win either. At this point, the lesser evil is for him is for Lorenzo to win.” He then continued saying "He is competing with me: I want to win as many World Championships as I can. If I win another title, then he knows that he will have to win one more to overtake me. If instead Jorge wins, then they have more or less the same.”
Needless to say these were explosive comments from the man who has won 9 World Championships, a veteran who was about to become the man with most number of race starts in MotoGP come race day, a man who is the biggest contender for the title of the G.O.A.T., the Greatest of All Time. The internet went into a frenzy, so did the entire MotoGP paddock including each and every set of eyes and ears that worshipped the sport. For the first time in his career Valentino Rossi has so openly blamed anyone in the paddock, and it was destined to overshadow anything that could have happened at Sepang for the rest of the race weekend.
Widely discussed as another one of Rossi's mental games, the pre race conference blew up into a discussion throughout the world with sections having diagrammatically opposite point of views on the turn of events supporting and opposing Rossi's comments. For sure, it was evident Rossi's main rival Lorenzo instead of being disturbed by it looked amused to say the best, while Marquez categorically denied the charges against him by restating the fact that he had overheated his front tyre and had to slow down to cool it off during the PI race and stuck to it.
By the time of free practises ended, it was clear that Lorenzo was least bothered by the storm that Rossi has created and as the whole world set its eye upon the now famous Marquez-Rossi duel, it actually helped Lorenzo to stay away from limelight and concentrate upon getting good result. However, one person totally went under the radar throughout the practise sections and then in qualifying too, Dani Pedrosa. Pedrosa was fast through all sessions and ended up decimating the lap record to snatch a pole that was overshadowed by the Rossi-Marquez affair, something that defines Dani's career in MotoGP, whenever he had done something spectacular someone else had taken the limelight. If that was not clear in the qualifying, whatever happened in the race should seal it.
A Flawless Ride!
Before we get to the event that made sure the 2015 Sepang round will be talked about forever, we need to talk about the race winner, Dani Pedrosa and how the ride to the victory at Sepang was more significant than it will be talked about. Pedrosa has had a wretched first half of the year due to his arm pump issue and its subsequent operation. Now, fully fit, Pedrosa is back to his best and proves that he is still an alien, a phenomenal rider but sadly hugely underrated, if not on the paddock then definitely among the MotoGP fan base. With the flawless and a record breaking pole position which saw Dani lapping the 5.5km long Malaysian circuit at a staggering pace of 1’59.053 showed Dani is still on top of his game and a challenger every race weekend, while Marquez was behind him and was the only rider who could get within half a second of Pedrosa.
On race day, Pedrosa lost no opportunity and blasted ahead of the field to lead into the first corner, behind him were Marquez and Rossi following closely. Further back, Lorenzo had a not so usual start as he dropped back to sixth position from fourth, but then Lorenzo overtook both the factory Ducati GP15's of Dovizioso and Iannone in incredible double pass to take fourth. As Pedrosa led the field into the first lap Lorenzo had overtaken Rossi at the start of the second lap. Behind Pedrosa the race had already started heating up when Lorenzo went passed Marquez who went wide on turn and took second position.
From then onwards Pedrosa and Lorenzo had only one target and that as to create a gap between themselves and the storm that was brewing into a hurricane behind them, for now Marquez and Rossi had come face to face and were fighting for the last podium position. From there on Pedrosa managed a gap at the front beautifully, as Lorenzo opened up a lead of over 2.7s from Marquez in third by lap seven. And, what happened at lap seven is what history will remember this race for!
Pedrosa finished the race three and a half seconds ahead of Lorenzo as he took his second win of the season had managed his tyres and pace perfectly, extending his advantage on almost every lap. Pedrosa in such kind of form and with Michelin coming next year means that 2016 may pretty well be Pedrosa's year. He clearly is as good as any of the other 'aliens', and the temperament and composure he showed during the whole of Sepang race weekend proves that he is much better than his main rivals when it comes to sticking to the job in hand. Watch out and Never Ever count Pedrosa out, he is overdue!!
A Nasty Move!
The lap number seven at the 2015 Sepang MotoGP will be remembered for a lot of reasons, mainly wrong ones, for a long long time to come. Whenever, people, media and the fans from across the globe will sit down and talk about the sport and its heroes, whatever happened on that lap and the two champions that were involved in that incident, will be talked about and in detail. If you watched the race and also witnessed how twitter and the rest of the internet went into frenzy you would by now have also taken up one of the sides, Was Rossi a culprit, yes or no? And if you have not watched the race, then you just missed one of the greatest battles the world has seen on track, a battle where both riders left no stones unturned and gave everything the other did, back and with interest. It was a clash of the sport's biggest name, its superstar, an icon, a legend on one side and the sports future: a name that will be the face of the sport on the other side. It was a duel that defined an era, it was a duel that was probably the most intense battle the track has seen in the modern days of Premier Class racing and it was sadly a duel that will be remembered for what went wrong more than the absolute spectacle it was and could have been.
As Pedrosa and Lorenzo started creating a gap from the front, behind them an intense fight lit up between Marquez and Rossi for third position and it resulted into an intense battle which saw both riders Rossi and Marquez getting tangled into one of the most intriguing battles of recent times. Rossi and Marquez probably overtook each other at almost every corner that made it easier for the ones in front to disappear off into the distance. However, easy the battle between the two champion was definitely not as the passes kept on coming, and with each pass the intensity of riders kept growing. Within a matter of a couple of laps the intensity at which Rossi and Marquez were coming to each other had reached ferocious levels, as each pass became riskier than the other, with both rider hell bent to come on top of each other, the intense moves kept coming, almost everywhere on the track, it was a spectacle to watch.
However, as the sheer brilliance of racing rapidly started escalating into more than just racing but a matter of pride, the moves had become hostile with both Marquez and Rossi treading a fine line between fearless riding and utter insanity. Marquez had nothing to lose and a lot to prove against Rossi especially after the way the events unfolded since Thursday afternoon and Rossi had to make sure he stayed as close as possible to Lorenzo and ward of Marquez threat to earn as much points as he can in the process. Winning championships isn't a walk in the park and the level of racing between Rossi and Marquez had shown, it isn't a game for the faint hearted either.
And, then arrived the moment I have been waiting to talk about, the now infamous Lap 7 of the 2015 Sepang MotoGP race. On that lap, the undergoing intense fight for the last podium position saw Rossi again passing Marquez, this time at turn 10, to which Marquez immediately responded through the turns 11&12, to which Rossi responded in turn 13 and after that the big moment arrived. Rossi had the inside line while going into the ride hander while it was evident that Marquez was trying to overtake Rossi from the outside. Rossi slowed down and kept his line leaving no place for Marquez to overtake thus slowing him down too, however, in that exact moment in the middle of the turn 14, the two riders contacted and this resulted into Marquez crashing into the turn 14. The crash forced the reigning world champion to retire and it was evident that Marquez was fuming inside his helmet. Everyone who saw the turn of the events were sure that it was a rather nasty move by Rossi to have slowed down in the middle of the corner , a place where he should actually been accelerating. Whatever the result of the incident was, it definitely will go down in history as one of the most sensational drama filled incidents in the history of MotoGP, and will forever be remembered as the twitterati have been calling it as - #SepangClash.
So who was at fault? to understand it better we need to listen to the rider comments after the race and let's start from the 'victim' (solely on the basis that he actually crashed) Marc Marquez. After the Race Marc Marquez has said to MotoGP.com when he was asked to explain the incident, "Yeah of course you know for me it is easy to explain what happened because on the TV you can see clear. You can see in the video from many points, the helicopter, from in front. I was inside and of course we were overtaking for some laps but I felt I was able to be faster and to catch the front guys. But yeah, on that corner, corner 14, Valentino passed me. I heard the bike then I pick it up, but then I saw that he was completely straight and looking at me and stopping a lot. I was just waiting because there was nothing to do in that point and then I saw that with his leg he pushed my arm and my front brake and then I lock the front wheel and I crash."
Marquez further continued, "Luckily I am good, in good physical condition, this is the most important but you know, during my career I have many moments you know, I mean many battles and everything, but never have I felt this. That another rider give me a big push and push me out with the leg. But in the end, my result in the race was zero points. This was of course not my target, my target was to finish these two races on the podium, but it is like this.” Marquez had been suffering due to a lack of grip in his tires throughout the weekend and could seen moving around a lot during the race too. An evidently easy pass of Lorenzo on Marquez can also be put to Marquez going wide due to lack of grip from the front of his RC213V.
Regarding the same incident Rossi had given his side of the story, when asked about the claim by Marquez that Rossi had kicked him which caused Marquez to crash. Rossi said, "No Marquez knows that is not true, because it is very clear from the image, especially from the helicopter that I don’t want to make him crash. I just want to make him lose time and go out of the line and slow down because also this time, a lot worse than in Australia, he make his dirty game no? When I go wide, wide, wide, I slow down, we almost stop and I look at him to say, “F**K, what the f**k are you doing?” He continued saying, "After we touch and he touched with his handlebar on the right on my leg, and I lose the foot from the foot peg, but if you look at the image from the helicopter it is clear that when I lose the foot from the footrest Marquez had already crashed. So I don’t want to kick him. Also if you give a kick to a MotoGP™ bike, it don’t crash. It is not that you kick the bike; it is very heavy, like this, and he crash. But unfortunately we touched; he wanted to turn because I go very wide and I fell his handlebar on my leg her, on my thigh and I lose the leg on the foot peg. It is like this.”
Now coming back to the question, Who was at fault? it should be noted that during the live race, and from the camera angle at the viewers disposal it was evident that the touch between Rossi and Marquez had caused the Marquez crash. If watched in slow motion, the same camera angle shows that Marquez had contacted with Rossi twice in quick succession and it was just after the second contact that Marquez crashed. The helicopter shot of the same incident proves that Rossi's foot had indeed slipped from the footpeg when Marquez and Rossi made the contact, the second time. But, it also appeared as if Rossi had 'pushed' Marquez and that had its own role in the Marquez crash.
Does it mean it was Rossi's fault entirely? Well, it was not. Marquez has been known to be a way too aggressive almost throughout his career and has been involved in a way to many close fights like these in past, while on the other side Rossi is no outsider to such aggression on track either, with his resume too filled up with enough physical warfare on track. During Thursday conference Rossi had blamed Marquez for being unsporting since he was challenging Rossi more than he was challenging Lorenzo, however, Marquez did overtook Lorenzo in the final lap at Phillip Island to snatch the victory from Jorge, leaving Rossi's claim much lesser value.
However, there is no denying the fact that Marquez could have been more safer when it came to riding around the two main championship contenders since he is already out of contention from the 2105 championship. But, these are racers, and they all fight for the win and it would be foolishness to expect anything less from Marc Marquez. During the race, Marquez did venture into a very delicate line and there were enough possibilities of an imminent crash that loomed when Marquez was in a intense fight for third with Rossi, but then, this is Marc Marquez in a nut shell, he has seen himself in this situation more than once and it is a part of his nature to keep fighting for the win, and his aggression is well known. Saying that, he could have taken it all a bit more lightly as he was fighting with someone with a real chance of winning the championship, infact Rossi is still leading the championship, and this is where I reckon Marquez was at fault.
Though it was evident that Marquez had slowed down during the initial part of the Rossi-Marquez fight that lasted almost throughout the first part of the race, but from the data it is also clear that Rossi was no faster after the Lap 7 incident either. So, no one can actually say that Marquez had intentionally slowed Rossi down.
On the other hand, expecting Rossi to have let Marquez go is also out of question. Not only Rossi would have had lost 3 more points that he had already lost (due to coming third) to Lorenzo (who came second) and his championship lead would have come down to a mere 4 points going into Valencia. However, Rossi did slowed down on a racing line and it clearly had a big effect on Marquez crashing and thus Rossi was indeed at fault there. And, do not forget the Rossi accusations on Thursday, blaming Marquez for the same. Rossi could have stayed away from all that, that made Marquez way more furious on track and looking at the result of whatever happened, Rossi might just have shot himself on foot! It might have had a lot of implications when Race Direction sat reviewing the entire incident too.
Speaking of which, Race Direction awarded Rossi three penalty points for causing Marquez to crash and it combined with one penalty point that Rossi already had meant that Rossi will start the last round of 2015 MotoGP championship at Valencia from the back of the grid. This means that Rossi will have to ride the best race of his life to make sure he wins the Championship.
Also, Mark Webb had said the following regarding the incident and the subsequent penalty on Rossi, "The decision is that Race Direction has imposed three penalty points on Valentino Rossi for irresponsible riding, that is, deliberately causing contact. Deliberately running wide in a corner in order to try and force another rider off line. The result was a crash and so it’s irresponsible riding causing a crash and for that we have imposed three penalty points on Rossi."
However, it was widely felt that Marquez too deserved to be penalized, but slowing down during race intentionally (considering IF Marquez did planned to slow Rossi down, that is) is not considered a crime, as against during qualifying, in which case it is punishable.
All these intense in and after race events have given this championship another twist and had just upped the tension a few more notches.
A Tense Championship!!
With 11 point difference coming into the race, it was obvious that the result of the Sepang round will have major bearing on the outcome of the 2015 MotoGP championship and it proved to be just the same. With Lorenzo taking second and Rossi coming in third, it means that Rossi's lead in the championship has shrunk to a miniscule seven points. Add to the fact that Rossi will be starting the last round of the season at Valencia from the end of the grid, Rossi's title chances are extremely small if not downright impossible. Then there is also a minor fact that Valencia is a strong Lorenzo track and Valentino has never really liked the circuit, and as you can see in the below pic (courtesy frontendchatter.com), Rossi can still win.
The Sepang race also showed the importance of keeping composure when the world is in turmoil around you and frankly only one rider among the top one's, Dani Pedrosa maintained his calm and did what was needed at a time. With Rossi-Marquez involved in an on-track fight and then involving in a much blown up blame game after it, and Lorenzo too showing his agitation (no I personally don't understand why ask questions on Race Directions decision, 2005 is long gone anyways. He should be glad that all this has almost gifted him the championship), it was evident that the only thing that actually won in Sepang was Dani Pedrosa, rest all was a shame and a loss for the sport we so dearly love.
Valencia Round might just be the most important race in the modern age of Premier Class Motorcycle Racing and I hope this time around we end up watching a spectacle of riding talent only.
May the best man win!!