Will the 2015 Malaysian Grand Prix be remembered as the weekend the great Valentino Rossi tarnished his legacy?
Or will the yellow legions stand behind the most popular motorcycle racer of all time and blame the kid? Will anyone believe Rossi's assertions, which began on Thursday, that Marc Márquez was trying to help Jorge Lorenzo win the championship?
With Dani Pedrosa and Lorenzo disappearing into the distance in the Malaysian Grand Prix, Rossi and Márquez clashed in a battle for third that will likely be the deciding moment in the 2015 MotoGP world championship. After several hard passes, Rossi slowed and drifted toward the outside of the track in a turn, looked over at Márquez twice, and then appeared to bump him with his knee or leg. Márquez crashed.
Rossi admitted in a post-race TV interview that he pushed Márquez wide. According to Race Director Mike Webb, in post-race interviews with the two riders, Rossi said he did not kick Márquez and did not intend to make him crash, but he admitted trying to push Márquez wide, because he felt the Honda rider was intentionally slowing him down to keep him from catching Lorenzo.
Webb imposed three penalty points on Rossi. The penalty was appealed but the FIM stewards unanimously rejected the Yamaha team's appeal.
The end result is that Rossi will start the final race at Valencia from the back of the grid and with a seven-point lead over Lorenzo. That's because amassing four penalty points during the season automatically puts the rider at the back of the grid for the next race. Suddenly, that lone penalty point Rossi was assigned at Misano for riding slowly during qualifying (a rule intended to deter riders from trying to get a "tow" for a better qualifying time), looms large, because Rossi will have to pass most of the field at Valencia to keep Lorenzo from erasing Rossi's lead in the championship.
The Twitterverse exploded, naturally. One of the first sources I always turn to, for fair and insightful MotoGP commentary, is David Emmett of MotoMatters.com. After warning everyone they would not like his opinions, he had this to say:
Marquez clearly tried to hold Rossi up. That is dirty riding, but not against the rules. He's allowed to do that.— David Emmett (@motomatters) October 25, 2015
Rossi clearly intended to run Marquez off the track. Did he want him to crash? Hard to say. That is definitely against the rules— David Emmett (@motomatters) October 25, 2015
Everyone from die-hard fans to former world champions chimed in with opinions. A couple of former world champions, one of whom had his own run-ins with Rossi, did not see things in a favorable light for VR46:
If anyone else had done what Valentino did we would have been black flagged immediately, no questions asked.— Casey Stoner (@Official_CS27) October 25, 2015
Some racers, however, felt Márquez got what he deserved.
Not that anyone asked, but here's my take. I thought Rossi's assertion at the Thursday news conference at Sepang that Márquez tried to help Lorenzo was fatally flawed logic for one simple reason. If Márquez had really wanted to help Lorenzo at Phillip Island, all he had to do on the last lap was ride a superhuman pace, instead of the alien pace he actually rode, putting in his fastest lap of the race to pass Lorenzo for the win and cost Lorenzo five crucial points.
Things changed on Thursday when Rossi questioned Márquez's motives at the Sepang news conference, and it was clearly a planned, intentional move because Rossi showed up with a chart to support his argument. It got personal when Rossi went further and questioned Márquez's old story about growing up with a Rossi poster on his bedroom wall as a boy.
My view of what happened in Sepang is that two intensely competitive men made the battle a little too personal. The way Márquez's bike was moving around, I don't believe he intentionally fell back to Rossi. I just don't think he could keep up with Lorenzo. In the end, what matters is that Márquez didn't break any rules and Rossi did, in a way that could not only cost him an eighth MotoGP title, but also take some shine off his legacy.
And with that, I'll also give the final word to Emmett:
After last week's race, I tweeted that we were all winners, fans, riders, everyone. After this week's race, we are all losers.— David Emmett (@motomatters) October 25, 2015