Rossi Saga Continues | Events
The final race weekend began with tensions still boiling over between the championship protagonists and their factories and hordes of vituperatively partisan fans.
But a vow of silence kept as much as possible under wraps.
The usual Thursday pre-event press conference was cancelled, purportedly because it would clash with a special rider briefing from the GP Permanent Bureau; but more likely because Dorna doesn’t believe in the dictum: “All publicity is good publicity”.
The Bureau briefing happened earlier, with all MotoGP riders summoned for a sanctimonious talking to from FIM president Vito Ippolito and Dorna chief Carmelo Ezpeleta.
In line with Ippolito’s previous open letter, the tenor was that riders should respect not only one another but also MotoGP itself; and preserve everybody’s sporting credentials and “noble values”.
With fears of football-style fighting, fuelled by a superstorm on social media, extra police were on duty at the gates and around the compact circuit.
“First and foremost,” said Ippolito in a post-briefing statement, “sport must prevail. This Sunday is the last race of the year, and it is the sport that needs to win.
“Over the past days, there have been unfortunately been some controversies that have surpassed the limits of a healthy passion, and on occasions, logic itself,” he continued.
The riders had millions of followers around the world. “What you do and say could have consequences that are not in keeping with the noble values of our sport.”
A decision possibly influenced by said “nobility” – but more likely on instructions from much higher up in the company – came from Honda, who unexpectedly backed out of the controversy after previously stoking the fire.
The question concerned whether Rossi had somehow applied Marquez’s front brake with his leg. Yes, said Honda.
After the race in Sepang, in the heat of the moment, a press release spoke of unsporting behaviour and deliberate kick from Rossi.
Some ten days later this was reinforced in an official statement had HRC executive vice-president Shuhei Nakamoto saying unequivocally: “The data from Marc’s bike shows that even though he was picking up the bike trying to avoid contact with Valentino, his front brake lever suddenly received an impact that locked the front tyre, which is the reason for his crash. We believe that this pressure was a result of Rossi’s kick.”
Nakamoto offered to make the data available to the FIM and Dorna; then the press was invited to see it at Valencia on Thursday.
But when we got there, Honda had changed their mind. It was no longer available to see; and team spokesman Livio Suppo admitted that the Sepang release “may have been a mistake”.
With news that discussions had taken place in Japan between Honda and Yamaha top management, it was clear that they had been told to put a lid on it.
Along the same publicity-shy lines of thinking, Yamaha cancelled a Saturday night “All-Star” gala dinner. This was to have been a highlight of their 60th anniversary celebrations; with champions from all motorcycle sport disciplines flown in for the party.
Instead, in the midst of the furore after the Sepang debacle, it was cancelled with just three days to go.
A statement from Yamaha Racing chief Lin Jarvis stated: “The reason for the our decision is because Yamaha wishes to concentrate all of our efforts to provide our full support to both Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo as they challenge each other … to determine who will finally be crowned 2015 champion.”
The riders had also been instructed not to talk about the incident – only about the forthcoming weekend: a dictum that Lorenzo was happy enough to comply with. He made this clear from the start, and turned away any persistent questions as “disrespectful”.
Rossi was bound by the same instruction, but did let slip that what happened was “unfortunate, but I didn’t have any other choice, but I regret to go wide and not do a normal lap.”
The Permanent Bureau statement carried an ominous phrase, suggesting that heads may roll as a result of the media storm (both social and otherwise) following the post-race decision to hit Rossi with three points, and a consequent back-row start for the final showdown.
A large body of opinion holds that much of the furore could have been avoided had Rossi’s disastrous move on Marquez been punished immediately, probably with a rider-through penalty, although some think he deserved to be disqualified.
This was what happened at Le Mans in 2011, when a reckless move by Marco Simoncelli caused Dani Pedrosa to crash out. He was promptly called in for a ride-through. Instant justice; end of story.
Others pointed out that, earlier this year. Moto3 rider Karel Hanika was awarded five penalty points for deliberately causing Juanfran Guevara to crash at Jerez. Admittedly Guevara was injured, but the basic facts were not so different.
Race director Mike Webb explained that the decision at Sepang had been delayed until after the race to allow more time to examine the footage and to hear both riders’ explanations, since it was so important for the championship.
According to the Permanent Bureau statement: “We would like to emphasise that for next year some changes will be made to prevent this from happening again.
Vague, but carrying overtones of perhaps more than a change in race management structure – and possibly a change of personnel, with somebody having to play the scapegoat.
Race direction is made up of director Mike Webb, plus Dorna representative Xavier Alonso, FIM safety officer Franco Uncini and riders’ representative Loris Capirossi.
If heads will roll, that of Webb could be in the firing line.
A potentially more worthwhile change would be to remove commercial influence from the body, and leave sporting decisions to the federation, as is the case in Formula 1. However, the FIM sacrificed all but a figurehead role in the original contact with Dorna.
Another threatening race-day pronouncement from Dorna had more than a hint of the jackboot. It was an instruction to photographers not to go on track post-race to photograph any winning rider’s celebrations … or whatever else might happen.
Larded with capital letters, it read: “For the sake of everyone’s safety and to maintain a good image of the sport, it is of VITAL importance that you STAY in the service road and DO NOT go out to the track, grass, or any other area where the celebrating rider is going.
“If we see you on the Race Control cameras or on the International Feed program, YOU WILL BE PENALIZED by not receiving accreditation in the future and your pass will be removed immediately.”
Rossi’s hopes for his penalty to be suspended pending Court of Arbitration for Sport judgement came crashing down before hostilities resumed at Valencia. While the court will consider the case in due course, the penalty would stand.
The news, originally expected on Friday, came on Thursday, clearly to the disappointment of the darling of the crowds.
It was the last throw of the dice for the Italian to rescue his situation. The suspension of the penalty was far more important than any future judgement – except in the unlikely event of the CAS retrospectively changing the ruling of race direction and the FIM stewards.
The hearing will go ahead in due course. According to the FIM: “The CAS ruling on the request … does not prejudge the final award on the merits of the case.”
It remains possible (if almost unthinkable) that this future judgement will have an effect on the outcome of the championship several months after the final race.
Footnote: The court also turned down an application from Jorge Lorenzo to give evidence at any future hearing.
The most astonishing response to the controversy came in the number of signatures to a poorly framed web petition to race direction to remove Rossi’s penalty – signed (to no effect) by almost three quarters of a million fans.
This was an extraordinary number for any such petition. In a week when a suspected bomb brought down a Russian passenger aircraft over Egypt, and dead children were being washed up on Mediterranean beaches, this suggested some loss of any sense of proportion.
(The silliest fault in the petition was to suggest that because there was no rule against it riders would not be punished for bringing loaded weapons into action during races. There is of course a rule which would preclude gunplay on the grid: “causing danger to other competitors”.)