Marquez v Rossi – The Sepang MotoGP incident examined

By Trevor Hedge

Yesterday at a sweltering Sepang circuit in Malaysia MotoGP fans were treated to some absolutely amazing racing between Valentino Rossi and Marc Marquez.

Tension had been simmering between the two men since Valentino Rossi used the opening media conference on Thursday to accuse Marquez of deliberately holding him up at Phillip Island, in an aim to favour Rossi’s title rival, Jorge Lorenzo. At the conference both Marquez and Lorenzo looked incredulous at Rossi’s comments, but the Italian then went even harder against Marquez in comments made later to the Italian press.

Personally, I thought that Rossi’s comments would only stir things up further.

If indeed, Marquez, as the Italian alleged, was deliberately frustrating him at Phillip Island, accusing him of such a thing so directly, and controversially, was always going to make it much more likely Marquez would now certainly try to frustrate Rossi further. A natural reaction to an accusation of that kind, to something that the Spaniard still denies ever took place, in Australia, or yesterday at Sepang

Come race day at Sepang the pair traded positions at almost every turn in a scintillating display of brilliant on-the-edge racing as they tussled over third place.

Meanwhile, Dani Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo were breaking away ahead, a fact that clearly frustrated Rossi.

At one point Rossi seemed to gesticulate to Marquez that they should tow each other along to the back of Lorenzo, rather than trip each other up at every turn. Something that Rossi clearly judged Marquez was doing on purpose, thereby allowing Pedrosa and Lorenzo to get away. Just as Rossi had suggested Marquez had done at Phillip Island. 

Later Rossi deliberately slowed, almost to the point of virtually stopping, pushing Marquez wider, and then after looking directly at Marquez, again slowed further, pushing the Spaniard wider again.

It was clear and deliberate, Rossi retaliating to what he judged as Marquez choosing to tussle with him for position, rather than chase the leaders.

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In hindsight, Marquez should have used the opportunity to slow further and cut back up the inside of Rossi and take the advantage, but I think the Spaniard was too incredulous at what was happening for that thought to have crossed his mind quick enough. Instead, Marquez tried to make the corner by leaning in, but the pair then clashed, and Marquez went down.

European MotoGP commentators, who generally never say anything untowards about Rossi, were rendered virtually speechless, not daring to criticise the most powerful man in MotoGP for the incident. But, eventually, even they had to comment on what they had just witnessed, however, most were still not game to make a judgment call on the issue.

Here in Australia, local commentators were a little more game to air their thoughts. 

Foxtel commentator Chris Vermeulen, clearly thought that Rossi should be penalised.

On the free-to-air Channel Ten coverage of the race Daryl Beattie was surprised that Rossi was not black flagged during the race.

Reactions on social media were interesting, one of the first high-profile tweets came from Casey Stoner.

Casey Stoner – “This is where the FIM need to make the right decision”

A few hours later Casey followed that comment up with, “If anyone else had done what Valentino did we would have been black flagged immediately, no questions asked.”

Carl Fogarty was of the same line of thinking – “Think if it was any other rider they would have been disqualified from the race for sure.”

Other riders took Rossi’s side, including Jeremy McWilliams. The Irishman suggesting that Marquez got was coming to him.

At the end of the day the opinion that really matters is that of Race Direction. They reviewed the incident after the race and awarded Rossi three penalty points.

Rossi will be forced to start the final race of the season from the back of the grid due to the accumulation of a total of 4 points (1 from Misano and one from this event at Sepang).

Yamaha appealed the decision on the basis of the penalty being too harsh, but that appeal was rejected.

Marc Marquez – “We were having a good race up until the incident. At the beginning I made a mistake, but then I regained confidence. Valentino overtook me, I followed him for half a lap, and I saw that I could go faster than him, so I tried overtake him back. We started a fight between us and I always passed without making any contact with him. At Turn 14 he passed me on the inside, I sat the bike up, he kept going straight ahead and I saw him looking at me. I didn’t know what to do. Then he kicked out at me, knocking my brake lever, and I crashed.

“I will leave the sanction in the hands of Race Direction. All I know is that I scored zero points and ended up in the gravel, but thankfully I’m fine. Both what Valentino said to Race Direction and what he did on the track has made me disappointed. I’ve never seen anything like it: a rider kicking another rider. It might be down to nerves, but I want to try to forget about all this and the important thing is that I’m fine physically. I hope, for the sake of the sport that this ends here.”

Valentino Rossi – “Marquez knows it wasn‘t red mist that caused the incident. It‘s very clear from the helicopter footage that I didn‘t want to make him crash, I just wanted to make him lose time, go outside of the line and slow down, because he was playing his dirty game, even worse than in Australia. When I went wide and slowed down to nearly a stop, I looked at him as if to say ’what are you doing?‘. After that we touched. He touched with his right underarm on my leg and my foot slipped off the foot peg. If you look at the image from the helicopter it‘s clear that when my foot slipped of the foot peg, Marquez had already crashed. I didn‘t want to kick him, especially because, if you give a kick to a MotoGP bike, it won‘t crash, it‘s very heavy.

“For me the sanction is not fair, because Marquez won his fight. His program is OK because he is making me lose the championship. The sanction is not good, especially for me, because I didn‘t purposefully want to make him crash, I just reacted to his behaviour, but I didn‘t kick him. You can‘t say anything in the press conference, maybe it changes something, but to me this was not fair, because I just want to fight for the championship with Jorge and let the better man win, but like this that‘s not happening. Like I said, I didn‘t want to make Marquez crash, but I had to do something because at that moment Jorge was already gone. The championship is not over yet, but this sanction cut me off by the legs and made Marquez win.”

Valentino Rossi talks to the media about the Sepang MotoGP incident
Valentino Rossi talks to the media about the Sepang MotoGP incident

Predictably, the respective team managers sided with their riders.

Livio Suppo – Repsol HRC Team Principal – “For the Repsol Honda Team what happened today is something we never want to see in racing, as it is unacceptable that a rider would intentionally create a dangerous situation causing the crash of another rider. We love motorsport and we like to see riders competing for victory, but there must be a limit and mutual respect of each other.”

Massimo Meregalli – Yamaha MotoGP Team Director – “It‘s a shame to see such a beautiful championship, that was supposed to result in one of the most exciting battles between the two Yamaha riders, be affected and almost compromised by another rider. We should be here today dealing with Jorge‘s amazing performance on track and his second place, as well as another thrilling battle among top riders but unfortunately this is not the case. We made an appeal to the FIM stewards against the penalty issued by the Race Direction because whilst we respect the infringement, we felt 3 penalty points were too harsh. We have since heard that the appeal has been rejected. We respect this final decision.”

RACE DIRECTION

NOTIFICATION OF SANCTION

To: Mr. Valentino Rossi, Rider No. 46 of the MotoGP Class.

Dear Sir,

According to Article 3.5.5 of the FIM Road Racing World Championship Grand Prix Regulations, we confirm our decision.

Motive

On 25th October 2015 during the MotoGP race of the Shell Malaysia Motorcycle Grand Prix, you deliberately ran wide on Turn 14 in order to force another rider off line, resulting in contact causing the other rider to crash.

This is considered to be irresponsible riding causing danger to other competitors and is therefore an infringement of Article 1.21.2 of the FIM Road Racing World Championship Grand Prix Regulations.

Convocation

You were requested to attend a Race Direction hearing. Both riders involved were present at the hearing, both gave testimony, and video evidence was reviewed.

Decision

For the above motive, Race Direction has decided to impose on you the addition of 3 penalty points on your record, according to Article 3.2.1. of the FIM Road Racing World Championship Grand Prix Disciplinary and Arbitration Code.

MotoGP 2015 - Sepang - Malaysia - MotoGP Championship Standings
MotoGP 2015 – Sepang – Malaysia – MotoGP Championship Standings