It ain’t over till it’s over

By Martin Thompson

Jorge Lorenzo, Valentino Rossi, Marc Marquez
Jorge Lorenzo, Valentino Rossi, Marc Marquez

This last two weeks has been perhaps the most talked about in motoGP history. Starting with the controversial comments issued by Valentino Rossi, both after Phillip Island and then again prior to Sepang, added to the even more controversial and much argued incident at Sepang with Rossi and Marquez’ colliding, to the comments flowing in and out of teams, riders, the media and the fans post Sepang.

It’s been an emotion charged week, and one that in my 30+ years following the premier class, I have never seen or heard as much activity about the spot coming from all directions. Some fans claimed the year was over after Valentino was issued with the penalty which will place him at the rear of the grid for the final round at Valencia this weekend. Some claim the last round was made redundant due to the penalty. However, when we look at the complexities of the current MotoGP rules, the blinding determination of the riders fighting for the championship, and all the possibilities which could occur from Valencia’s first practice right through to the final chequered flag next Sunday, as the old saying goes, it ain’t over till she sings.

There have been some wild suggestions from both the fans on social media and in the press. Some have suggested that Yamaha would preclude both riders from fronting the grid at Valencia, thus handing the championship to Valentino for his much anticipated 10th title. Some have suggested that Rossi would simply not race at the final round in protest of what he considered an unfair decision on the Sepang incident. But both Yamaha and the Rossi camp have denied either event occurring. But there are some complexities which can still alter the end results of this championship, and which make it more than worth watching closely from the start of this Friday’s first practice session through to the conclusion of the race, season, and the 2015 championship. Then to throw more uncertainty and furore in to the mix, Valentino Rossi lodged an appeal with the Court for Arbitration of sport (CAS), for an injunction on his penalty, which, if granted with a hearing date, would allow him to start from whichever grid position he qualifies on. This throws yet another variation into what are the possible outcomes of the final round, and thus the championship result.

The CAS will make it’s ruling on the injunction on Friday, but the case to hear the full appeal will likely take place some time early next year. Thus if the injunction is granted, then his penalty will have no effect on the results of the 2015 MotoGP Championship. To some, this is a great result, and to others, blatantly unfair and bordering on deceitful.. Until this decision has been made, little can be determined as to the probable outcomes of the final round. However, let’s take a look at what the possibilities are if Rossi does in fact gain the injunction, or, on the other hand, what are the likely scenarios if CAS denies the right to the injunction.

The first and perhaps most important thing to consider, is the sheer willpower of Valentino Rossi. Anyone who writes him off, regardless of a back row start, is a braver person than I. He has been an amazing talent since he first arrived in the sport, it would not surprise me to see him ride through the pack in the opening laps and to be up the front fighting with his championship rival for the 2015 title by half race distance, or perhaps even earlier. But, before the red lights go out to signal the start of the final race, there is still practice and qualifying to go through.

Over the years, we have seen many incidents which change the course of a race or championship occur on the Friday, Saturday or Sunday morning prior to the race start. People can crash, sustaining an injury. An error can enforce a penalty from race direction, again changing the landscape. A mechanical failure can occur and this is the area I would like to focus on. MotoGP rules restrict the number of engines the factory teams can use per year to five. So let’s take a look just at the two teams and four riders who are fighting for the top four spots and the championship win for 2015. Below is the who’s use what so far in the Repsol Honda and Movistar Yamaha factory teams thus far this year, according to official figures from Dorna.

But first, check out this image from Le Mans in 2014…  When Marquez ran off the track early on in the race and had to fight his way back through the field from tenth place in order to clinch a clear victory over Valentino Rossi. Can we ever imagine the pair being this jovial on a podium together ever again?

Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda RC213V) had continued his astonishing run of historic MotoGP victories with a stunning win at a sunny Le Mans in 2014. Marquez won the French Grand Prix with a comfortable margin ahead of former champion Valentino Rossi (Yamaha), despite running off the track on the first lap, which forced him to fight back from tenth place.
Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda RC213V) had continued his astonishing run of historic MotoGP victories with a stunning win at a sunny Le Mans in 2014. Marquez won the French Grand Prix with a comfortable margin ahead of former champion Valentino Rossi (Yamaha), despite running off the track on the first lap, which forced him to fight back from tenth place.
Repsol Honda

Marc Marquez team used engines #4 and #5 engines during the Sepang weekend and used his #5 engine for the actual Sepang race. None of the 5 engines used has been withdrawn from his pool of engines available to use. However, for whatever reason, or reasons, Marquez has not used his #1 engine since the Catalunya Grand Prix, and has not used his #2 engine since the Assen TT. What state of repair these engines are in is an unknown. They may be healthy and have plenty of life remaining and still produce competitive power. Yet again, they may be at the end of their service life and be a risk to run in practice, qualifying or the race.

Dani Pedrosa also used his #4 and #5 over the Sepang race weekend, and, like Marquez, he also raced using his #5 engine for the race. Dani’s team have no engines which have been withdrawn, so he also has a selection of 5 engines which, in theory, could be used over this next weekend. His #1 engine has not been used since the Indianapolis GP, for reasons only know to his team and HRC. So, in theory, assuming none of the engines have any issues, or are at the end of their service lives, there may well be a choice of engines to use over the coming weekend at Valencia.

But in reality, the two we are most focussed on are the two riders who are competing for the title of 2015 MotoGP champion, Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo. There are penalties if more engines than allocated for the season are used and we will look at that later………hmmmmm.

Movistar Yamaha
MotoGP 2015 - Round 11 - Brno - Jorge Lorenzo
MotoGP 2015 – Round 11 – Brno – Jorge Lorenzo

Rossi, is in a similar position as Marquez and Pedrosa, with all 5 engines still being in service. Until Sunday at Sepang, Rossi had used #3 and #4. For Warm Up in Sepang he used his #4 and #5 engines, and he raced using his #5 engine. Again, for unknown reasons Rossi has not used his #1 engine since Indianapolis, and he has not used his #2 engine since the Catalunya GP race. What stage each of these engines are, in terms of service life and power outputs are unknown.

Lorenzo, however, started using his #5 engine at Phillip Island, a round earlier than Valentino. He used his #3, #4 and #5 engines at Sepang. Lorenzo raced the Malaysian Grand Prix powered by his #5 engine. Lorenzo’s #1 engine has not been used since Misano, and like Rossi, none of his 5 allowed engines has been removed from allocation.

So looking at all of the above it appears that there are no real advantages held by either Rossi or Lorenzo, unless of course there has been less service miles run on one or more of their engines, or a power advantage held by one of the engines, which is an unknown, se let’s just call it line ball for arguments sake. So where is there any advantage for either.

Each rider has engines available and each rider has at least one engine with low enough service miles to finish the race in theory. However, with Rossi’s penalty from Sepang, there is one other option available to Rossi. Break out a fresh engine. Perhaps one with a significant power advantage. The penalty for using an additional engine is a pit lane start. which by my reckoning, could be a trade off worth making, as he already has to start the race from the last row of the grid.

The Rossi Factor
MotoGP 2015 - Round 11 - Brno - Valentino Rossi
MotoGP 2015 – Round 11 – Brno – Valentino Rossi

What intrigues me the most with all the recent events, is the out of character behaviour from Valentino.The normally calm and controlled Rossi appears to have lost this ability and almost panicked. It begs the question, is there something going on beyond the race track which has caused this loss of control?

Or is it just a simple desperate desire to win his tenth title?

Unless of course that the whole saga was in fact a well scripted plan from Valentino, the master of mind games, creating a scenario where it is impossible for him to lose. Conspiracy theories abound from all sides, some are feasible, others ludicrous.

With the way things have played out, Valentino really is in a win win scenario. If he is unable to overcome his grid penalty and make up enough ground to garner the points needed to remain in front of Lorenzo and therefore loses the championship, it will be forever claimed, that he lost because of a conspiracy to rob him of points by Marquez, and the penalty imposed by race direction after Sepang.

However, if he manages to make the start of all starts, gets to the front group, managing to claim enough points to win the championship, he will be forever heralded as the greatest rider to ever have thrown a leg of a race bike.

The same applies if he gains the injunction on Friday. If he then manages to race well enough to gain the needed points to maintain his lead and win the championship, one side will claim it justified and a fair result, yet others will claim he used underhanded tactics and a loophole in the rules to win the championship.

Either way it ends, this years title will be heralded as the most controversial for a long time to come, as I cannot fathom the intricacies of this title playing out in such a convoluted manner for many a year to come.

Personally, I find the lodgement of this proposed injunction by Rossi to be rather distasteful. It was obvious from all that he rode in a dangerous manner and caused the incident with Marquez, and thus the 3 penalty points being applied to his record. He should just be a man and take his medicine. After all, if he truly is the greatest of all time, then he should have the ability to ride from the back of the pack and win the 2015 championship against the odds. If he does start from the rear of the grid and manages to do it, then there can be no one who can claim that the title is not deserved. It will be irrefutable, and to me, that would be the best outcome for Rossi, for Yamaha, for the FIM, for Dorna and for all the fans.

Bring on Valencia MotoGP

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

By Martin Thompson