The two weeks leading up to the deciding moment of the 2015 MotoGP title have been unsatisfactory. Unsatisfactory in the extreme. For only the third time in 24 years, the premier class title will be decided in Valencia. But title contenders and factory Yamaha teammates Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi have gotten wrapped around the axle in a dispute with Repsol Honda #1 Marc Marquez that has stolen the spotlight from the race and shifted it to, of all places, an obscure courtroom in Switzerland.
This is so 21st century. A high-stakes sporting event engenders controversy on the track, the organizing body fails to fully resolve it to the satisfaction of the principals, and the lawsuits start flying. Deflategate on two wheels. Rossi fans are outraged. Marquez fans are outraged. Lorenzo and his fans, firmly in command of the low moral ground, insist Rossi should have been black-flagged on Lap 7 in Sepang, effectively handing the 2015 championship to #99.
Actually, it’s probably a good thing this is happening in the 21st century rather than the 19th, when Italy might have declared war on Spain.
Not having a dog in this fight, as well as being on deadline, I just wish for the whole thing to be settled. Now. Let Rossi’s penalty points be removed. Make him start from the back of the grid. Whatever. Just please don’t kick the can down the road and leave it to be fully adjudicated until next year. We, the fans of MotoGP, need closure. Preferably before Friday. As I’ve said before in this space, right now would be fine.
Recent History at Valencia
In 2012, Jorge Lorenzo had clinched his second premier class title at Phillip Island two weeks earlier and had nothing at stake in this one. The weather was, like a decent rosé: semi-dry. It had rained before the race, and was spitting at the start, but would end up dry, the worst possible conditions for the riders. A select few, including Lorenzo and Yamaha test rider Katsuyuki “Catman” Nakasuga, took to the grid on slicks. Four others, having made their sighting lap on wets, would change over to slicks and start from pit lane. The remainders enjoyed one of the flag-to-flag affairs that almost always scrambles the results.
By the end of the day, Lorenzo had experienced a highside courtesy of pokey James Ellison, Dani Pedrosa had run away from the field, and The Catman, in the upset of the decade, occupied the second step of the podium between Pedrosa and Casey Stoner, who had run the last race of his first career. (Rumors floating around have him reuniting with Ducati for 2017, which I’ll believe when I see it.)
The 2013 finale was won by Lorenzo in a hollow victory, having failed to keep Marquez out of the top five, resulting in the remarkable rookie’s first premier class title. Lorenzo’s problem that day wasn’t Marquez but Pedrosa, who kept pressure on the Mallorcan all day to prevent him from coming back to the field in an effort to hinder Marquez. Rossi, at the end of his first year back with Yamaha, was unable to lend his teammate a hand while finishing fourth. The Order of Aliens at season’s end was Marquez, Lorenzo, Pedrosa and Rossi, an accurate reflection of their body of work over 18 rounds. Had Marquez not tagged Pedrosa’s traction control cable in Aragon, things might have worked out differently.
Last year’s race was, again, wettish, though the title had been decided weeks earlier. Lorenzo crashed in the rain with six laps left as Marquez was joined on the podium by Rossi and Pedrosa. The day’s procession culminated in the coronation of Marquez for the second time in two years, and the MotoGP world appeared to be his oyster. Little did we know then the trials 2015 held in store for him.
Of the four Aliens, Pedrosa can claim the best record here, with three wins and three podia in nine starts. Rossi has two wins and six podia to show for 15 starts since 2000, but the most recent of these came in 2004 when Marc Marquez was 11 years old. Lorenzo, in six premier class starts, has two wins and a third place finish in 2009 to go along with several violent DNFs. Marquez can boast of a win and a third in two MotoGP tries, barely breaking a sweat either time. Based upon history, one would expect the two Repsol Honda pilots to end the day on the podium, joined by a factory Yamaha rider to be named later.
A Riddle, Wrapped in a Mystery, Inside an Enigma
For the factory Yamaha team, preparing for the Gran Premio Motul de la Comunitat Valenciana must feel like preparing for a wrestling cage match against, like, six different guys. One thing is certain: should Lorenzo outpoint Rossi by seven or more points, the title is his. Six points or less, the Italian walks away with his record-tying tenth world championship.
Should Rossi’s penalty points stick, his mission becomes clear. Starting from the back of the grid will force him to throw caution to the wind, put his head down, lay on the horn, and make every possible effort to emerge close to the front, assess where things stand vis à vis Lorenzo, and go from there. If the penalty points are thrown out or “deferred” in some fashion (gag me), his predicament will then resemble that of Lorenzo, as expressed so eloquently back in the early 70’s:
Acute Schizophrenia Blues
This is not a “win or bin” situation for either rider. Assuming Pedrosa and Marquez qualify well and become part of the front group, Lorenzo, and perhaps Rossi, must then engage in an exercise economists refer to as “game theory.” Neither can afford to crash, yet Lorenzo must figure out a way to keep Rossi behind him and a few other bikes between himself and Rossi. What Rossi does will affect Lorenzo’s strategy, and vice versa. One mustn’t go slow, but going too fast is risky, too. And it’s all complicated by the fact that the Ricardo Tormo circuit suits the Repsol Honda riders far better than it does the Yamaha duo. All of which ignores the agendas of a number of non-Aliens on the track as well.
Two points here: Dani Pedrosa is on a very hot streak and is likely to have a material effect on the outcome. And this weekend, perhaps more than any in recent history, the pit boards are likely to tell the story.
Most of the articles I’ve read about this weekend’s race steeply discount Rossi’s chances if he is, indeed, forced to start from the back row. That Marquez was able to win a Moto2 tilt from the exact same spot several years ago is, at this moment, almost poetic. The putative Greatest of All Time may have to approach, at age 36, a feat his likely successor accomplished while still in his teens. And while it’s arguably harder to slice through the entire MotoGP grid than a Moto2 grid, it is not beyond reason to suggest that Rossi, if anyone, can pull it off.
The weather forecast for the weekend is, at this writing, idyllic. Every ticket has been sold. The riders and their teams have aired their dirty linen. The CAS is sifting through facts and allegations. The camaraderie between Rossi and Lorenzo that developed between 2013 and now is history. Lin Jarvis and Livio Suppo are as nervous as Mike Tyson in a spelling bee. The table is set, and the guests are on their way. Warm up your DVR, because this is one you may want to watch again.
We’ll have race results and analysis right here as early on Sunday as events allow.