Ryder Notes: The Mask Slips

On the ground in Sepang

I thought it was a joke at first. Valentino Rossi saying that Marc Marquez had been trying to help Jorge Lorenzo during the Phillip Island race. Was this a joke, maybe one that lost something in translation? Apparently not. Both Vale and Andrea Iannone were sure that Marc had been ‘playing with them’ during the race. It is certainly true, and Marc has said it all along, that he overheated his front tyre and had to give it a rest before charging hard at the end. I am not sure how that is ‘favouring’ Lorenzo.

“Of course he helped me,” said Jorge. “Especially on the last lap.” To avoid doubt, that was sarcasm. Marquez overtook Lorenzo on the last lap of the Aussie GP to take the win.

Marc was not amused. He gave a long explanation of his race without a hint of his flashing smile. Definitely not amused.

Valentino then did the rounds of TV crews spelling out his grievance in detail and several languages. He was sure to emphasise that Marc had done nothing illegal—he is too clever for that. But what’s his motivation, Vale? The answer is simple: Argentina and Assen. Now here Valentino has a point. Marquez certainly blames Rossi for the Argentine crash and resents hugely what happened in Assen.

Marc was asked in Australia if he had any reservations about affecting the championship outcome. He said that he would ride to win races but if it came down to a last corner pass, he would only go for it if he could make it with no problems. Now my idea of ‘no problems’ and Marc’s might be quite different, but his Australia last-lap pass looked perfect—he’d made up all the ground with a massive braking effort at Turn 4 but made the pass at Turn 10.

So Valentino was effectively accusing Marquez of—at best—unsportsmanlike conduct. Or worse. Why? What does he want Marc to do? He’ll be annoyed; he won’t want those accusations brought up. He’ll probably clear off and win so the points difference between the two Yamaha riders is minimised thus limiting the potential damage to Rossi’s points lead.

Too labyrinthine? Try this. Valentino is feeling the pressure. Twice in the last three races he’s lost out in last-lap duels, something that used to happen to him approximately once every five years. If he had the seven points he gave up in those two fights things would look a lot rosier from his point of view. Don’t forget, the championships he won were won with big points leads. When it went down to Valencia in 2006, Nicky Hayden came out on top despite starting with an eight-point deficit. Valentino must surely know that the stars have aligned for him this year.

This is in all likelihood Valentino’s last chance to seal his legacy as the greatest. There have been times this year when the strain has made him look his age and more. The strain of maintaining his fitness and motivation has sometimes shown.

Mostly, he’s kept those pressures well hidden. Not today.

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