Valencia MotoGP – The Calm Before The Storm
For years to come, the 2015 Valencia MotoGP round will be remembered as one of he strangest in the sport’s history. The story began weeks ago of course, at Sepang. No, Sepang was about what had happened at Phillip Island. But Phillip Island was about what had happened at Assen. And in Argentina. So perhaps the story as a whole began in Marc Marquez’s childhood bedroom where he put up posters of his idol, Valentino Rossi (that claim later to be questioned by said idol). Regardless of where and when the seeds for this saga were originally sown, the flowers that have bloomed from those seeds appeared at the Sepang press conference and have continued to affect the following weeks with odors redolent of pride, jealously, spite, ego, and so on.
Those odors flow freely through the Valencia paddock as the local MotoGP community (as well as the worldwide community which will experience this weekend’s event via TV and the Internet) arrive and prepare for whatever happens next. Among the journalists most of the chat centers on the central question of how the Rossi-Marquez-Lorenzo drama will play out. (As I type this in a rented house full of English-speaking journos, a new pair of fellows has just arrived and the subject of conversation took nearly a minute and a half before arriving, inevitably, back to the subject of how Rossi’s on-track actions at Sepang should have been penalized).
As much as we’d like to hear how the riders’ views may have changed since Sepang, the Powers That Be in MotoGP have declared that for the greater good the riders are not to speak about this subject. Thus the regular schedule has been a victim of the political circumstances, with the standard Thursday afternoon press conference being cancelled. In place of that, Yamaha and Honda held press conferences in their hospitalities for their riders, Lorenzo going first. Given my own schedule, I was able to attend Lorenzo’s but not Rossi’s, Marquez’s or Pedrosa’s.
To his credit, Lorenzo apologized for his thumbs-down gesture while Rossi accepted his trophy on the Sepang podium, and continued to say he would not speak about anything other than what was to come on track this weekend. While several journalists asked him questions outside that restriction (including his views on why the Yamaha Saturday night party had been cancelled), Lorenzo stuck to his guns and spoke only about his approach to this weekend, which he said would not be affected by the CAS decision not to intervene in Rossi’s FIM penalty. He would race to do his best, as always.
In my view, for a young man fighting for a world championship, Lorenzo conducted himself very well indeed. He acknowledged his mistake on the podium and apologized for it, then patiently endured the attempts of several journalists to get him to do what he said he would not do, i.e. start talking about the greater situation that began at Sepang.
I happened to spend some time with Lorenzo later in the day and while showing some signs of the stress involved in chasing a title under such unusual circumstances, Lorenzo was friendly and courteous while making time for me and the Lorenzo fans among PhotoGP readers had ordered signed photos.
That’s one of the things that is so interesting about what I do inside the world of MotoGP – occasionally working with the riders reveals very clearly how much more they do on a race weekend beyond activities related directly to riding a motorcycle. There are many activities indirectly related to riding a motorcycle. While their main focus is preparing to refine set-up in practice, qualify, race, these concerns are often interrupted by other activities that have only peripherally to do with winning on Sunday.
And this weekend, it’s not only sponsor and other tangential but important demands that may distract from the main concern of winning a title on Sunday, it’s the larger backstory of the Rossi-Marquez conflict. That conflict is so large it is causing press conferences to be cancelled and others to be scheduled and broadcast live instead. Rossi admitted in his press conference that Carmelo Ezpeleta and the FIM had directed him (and thus the other main characters as well) not to discuss the recent past, but only the future.
Can the FIM and the Dorna CEO compel riders to toe this line? Team bosses can, as those from Yamaha (such as Lynn Jarvis, shown above) and Honda attempt to control the damage and weather the storm their riders have created. For example, Honda first said it would release Marquez’s data that showed how their rider’s front brake suddenly came on to cause the Sepang crash, then reversed that to say this was not the appropriate time to do so. Who compelled Honda to change its stance? Who, indeed.
And thus the weekend gets off to a unique start, one that few of us can say is familiar in any way. The race itself has become an event that can’t possibly live up to its foreword unless on-track fisticuffs ensue. For those of us here in person, we will see what happens and be glad to be here on a weekend that may, perhaps, be remembered not only as one of the strangest, but also one of the greatest in MotoGP history.