Every position matters when you’re coming down to the wire in a close, hard-fought season like this year in MotoGP. When Marc Márquez went alongside championship leader Valentino Rossi at Sepang today, Rossi just plain kneed Márquez out of his way. [See update below.]
Rossi already was pretty annoyed with Márquez before today’s Shell Malaysia Motorcycle Grand Prix, accusing him of helping rival rider Jorge Lorenzo in his battle for the championship. Rossi’s Movistar Yamaha teammate Lorenzo sits in second place in the championship, and Rossi would prefer to keep it that way.
Márquez was initially able to stay with polesitter, Repsol Honda teammate and eventual race winner Dani Pedrosa, but soon fell behind Jorge Lorenzo to battle with Rossi over third place. According to NBC Sports, Rossi and Márquez went side-by-side into the turn 13-14 complex in this intense battle for third position. Rossi looked over his shoulder to see where Márquez was, noticed they were side-by-side and pushed Márquez over with his left knee.
Márquez was forced to retire, and Rossi kept riding to a third place finish. Márquez isn’t really in contention for this year’s championship, but Rossi’s third place finish was enough to help Rossi keep his lead.
Naturally, the race stewards took issue with this little move, but they decided to defer punishment until the final race of the season at Valencia and allow Rossi to keep his third-place finish. Rossi was awarded three penalty points for “irresponsible riding that is deliberately causing contact” per MotoGP race director Mike Webb, which will force Rossi to start the Valencia race from the back of the grid.
This means that Rossi still leads the MotoGP World Standing with 312 championship points over Lorenzo’s 305 — and Lorenzo, naturally, called out the stewards for going easy on Rossi’s dirty-looking move.
Lorenzo told Motorsport.com after the race:
I didn’t see when I was making the slowdown lap, but then I saw the accident. It was huge. I don’t know what to say. It’s clear that he took Marquez off and the regulation is fair.
This time they need to give him a big penalty.
Lorenzo called for a much harsher penalty than a move down the grid, which was what a Moto3 competitor was awarded for intentionally slowing down and holding up competitors in qualifying. As Rossi’s offense was during the race, Lorenzo thinks the series should be much harsher on him.
Should Rossi be disqualified from the Sepang MotoGP round, Lorenzo would gain a nine-point lead over his Movistar Yamaha teammate.
“I hope I arrive at Valencia with an advantage and not a disadvantage,” Lorenzo told Motorsport.com.
Rossi, however, is unapologetic about making the move on Márquez. He skipped the post-race press conference at Sepang, but told MotoGP how sorry-not-sorry he was for the move after the race:
You know unfortunately I lost a lot of time with Marc and in turn 14, I tried to go wide to get a better line to make him slow because he just rides to cause me some problems. Unfortunately he came to me and I think he crashed in that moment. It’s a shame because I think that in a normal race we can stay and fight with Jorge and we lost some more points. Valencia will be more difficult.
It’s clear that he still finds Márquez to be a nuisance and thus, doesn’t really care all that much about sending Márquez a little knee action. Rossi seems more annoyed that he has a hard season ender fight ahead of him than anything.
MotoGP reports that Rossi’s Movistar Yamaha team has appealed Race Direction’s decision to award him the three penalty points, so that decision will be examined by FIM Stewards shortly.
UPDATE: Many of you (including our own Sean MacDonald) have written in to say that it looks like Márquez leans in and touches Rossi’s knee with his helmet first. Obviously, that little bit of provocation changes things quite a bit. (I’ve also revised “dirty” to merely “dirty-looking” above, as I was going off the assumption that Márquez hadn’t leaned all the way on to Rossi when I wrote this up early Sunday morning.)
Rossi also confirmed that there was contact between Márquez and he made contact, although Rossi claims that it was Márquez’s handlebars making contact with his leg that forced his leg to slip from the foot-peg. Rossi explained to Motorsport.com:
I did not want him to crash, that was not my intention, I only aimed to take him off line because I was fed up, then I wanted to take off and escape.
We touched, but it is not true that I kicked him; it is he who touched me with his handlebars on my leg, which then slipped from the foot-peg.
It’s a bad outcome for all. It would have been nice to face off against Lorenzo [at Valencia], but Marc has decided that he had to settle it in his favour.
That being said, according to the latest update by MotoGP, the FIM Stewards denied Movistar Yamaha’s appeal, unanimously confirming the three-point penalty assigned by Race Direction. FIM explained their account of the incident as such:
On 25th October 2015 during the MotoGP race of the Shell Malaysia Motorcycle Grand Prix, rider #46 Valentino Rossi 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.
Márquez received no penalty from the FIM Stewards.
Rossi is now threatening to boycott the final race of the season in response to what he perceives as unfair treatment. Rossi told the media in a post-race briefing, as quoted by Motorsport.com:
Maybe I won’t even start [at Valencia], I need to decide. It’s an unfair penalty because I didn’t want to make [Marquez] fall.
I repeat myself; I’m sorry he crashed because I just wanted to annoy him.
I have always been a fair rider; the first point on my license I took at Misano for a small error in qualifying, even when I had not taken anything away from Lorenzo [who kept pole position despite being baulked by Rossi].
Rossi also continues to believe that Márquez just wants anyone but him to win over prior incidents between the pair at Argentina and Assen. In the same press conference, Rossi called Márquez a “bad loser” who is seeking retribution for Rossi forcing him to lose the championship.
We’ll see if he shows up to Valencia or not.
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