I'm sure I can take a pretty good guess at what you'd all like me to write about, but with your permission, I'll come to that in a minute. Valentino Rossi's excessively optimistic dive up the inside of Casey Stoner, and the ensuing fallout in its many varied forms will generate many millions of words in the future. It may even end up being the decisive moment in the championship, though we won't know that until November. But that crash will overshadow a few stories which deserve a little limelight of their own.
The rain at Jerez was the worst kind, the kind that makes the track greasy and wet, without providing a nice layer of water to help keep tires cool. The rain started early, a few spots appearing at around 8am, becoming gradually heavier over the course of the day, only stopping once the racing was done.
The conditions made the already slippery track absolutely treacherous, and though it produced a bizarre crashfest spectacular, those conditions also revealed an intriguing insight into the art of motorcycle racing. Grip was minimal, tires - especially the soft-compound Bridgestone wets - ran hot and stripped rubber, and mistakes and arrogance were punished mercilessly, intelligence, tire management and racecraft rewarded all the more.
In almost every class, we saw unfamiliar names at the front of the race. In the 125cc class, there was Danny Kent, Taylor Mackenzie and Zulfahmi Khairuddin. In Moto2, Kev Coglan scored an outstanding 8th place, and Max Neukirchner got into the top 10, though at the expense of his teammate Ant West. In the MotoGP race, Marco Simoncelli led for a good portion, his teammate Hiroshi Aoyama came within a couple of tenths of his maiden podium in the class, and the rookies Cal Crutchlow and Karel Abraham impressed with very strong showings until both men crashed out.
But the real lesson of today's racing is the value of maturity. Sandro Cortese had dominated a lot of free practice in the 125s, yet it was Cortese who lost his head crashed out. Nico Terol, the calm, methodical Spaniard, stayed calm when he needed to, pushed past teammate Hector Faubel towards the end, then backed off once Faubel crashed out. Thomas Luthi took his second podium of the season, remaining fast without risking a crash at every corner. And a masterful display by Jorge Lorenzo secured the Spaniard a comfortable victory and an equally comfortable lead in the championship.
The other side of that coin was exemplified by Marco Simoncelli. The San Carlo Gresini rider had ridden a brilliant race, pushing through the field early to pass all of the top men, and with a healthy lead to cushion him from attacks. But instead of managing the gap, he pushed on, losing the front at Turn 1, nearly saving it, then highsiding out of the race. Simoncelli's sheer talent is beyond question, the Italian is fast, aggressive, and a fantastic competitor. But until he finds a way to keep a cool head, even when leading a MotoGP race for the first time in his career, victories, and more especially championships, will be very hard to take.
Speaking of unwise maneuvers brings us naturally to the subject of Valentino Rossi's pass on Casey Stoner. At the core of the incident lies a misunderstanding, it appears. Rossi claims that he had not intended to pass Stoner on the brakes going into Turn 1, but that he found himself going too deep and too fast, and ended up on the inside of the Australian. The Australian, in turn, says he heard Rossi behind him, and left him plenty of room to make the pass on the inside. Rossi dived into the gap having braked too late, but having been offered the inside, he no longer had an escape route. Unable to make the corner, Rossi folded the front, wiping out Stoner in the process.
Speaking of the crash itself, both men were perfectly clear: Rossi said it was a mistake, and Stoner said it was a racing incident of the type that is inherent to motorcycle racing. Though Stoner gave Rossi a sarcastic slow hand clap as he passed the place where the Australian had been left stranded, Stoner understood that the pass was just one of those things. It may not have been Rossi's smartest ever move, but Stoner certainly doesn't think it was either deliberate or aimed particularly at him.
The pass is illustrative of Valentino Rossi's situation with the Ducati, however. Speaking to the press on Sunday afternoon, Rossi explained that he may well have been a little overeager. "Looking now, you know, when have a very difficult test, a difficult preseason, a difficult first race, when you have the chance to win, you are very excited. I think this is a human characteristic, and I think for that reason I made the mistake. "
The pressure is clearly starting to tell on Valentino Rossi, who came to Ducati expecting to take the bike that Stoner had won so many races, and with a few tweaks, turn it from a fast-but-difficult weapon into a machine capable of dominating the class. The reality has been sobering, Rossi struggling throughout the preseason and still consistently well off the pace.
An argument during the pre-event press conference show just how Rossi was struggling with the machine. Rossi immediately took one Italian journalist to task for giving him 4 marks out of 10 for his performance at Qatar. "I have never had a 4 before in my life!" he exclaimed, arguing for several minutes with the journalist. Being marked down by the leading sports daily in Italy is painful for Rossi, and leaves him acutely aware of the risk he has taken signing for Ducati. The success that created a legend, switching from Honda to Yamaha in 2004, actually puts more pressure on Rossi, as the Italian is expected not to fail. The Ducati is a difficult beast, however, and Filippo Preziosi seems to have taken it off in entirely the wrong direction for 2011.
The causes of the crash were relatively simple, but the fallout is already complex and likely only to grow over the next weeks until Estoril. It all started with the treatment of the two riders as they were picking themselves up out of the gravel. Both men were helped up, the corner workers first tending to Rossi, to ensure that he was not trapped under his bike. Rossi had whipped in the clutch to keep the engine of the Ducati running, but his leg had got caught under the bike. Once the marshals had extricated him from the tangle, Rossi could get back on his bike and get back underway.
Casey Stoner faced a much more difficult task. The Australian had cut the engine on his RC212V, to avoid any damage from the bike running on its side. But the Honda's fancy gearbox requires two pins to be inserted in the clutch to allow the engine to be started. It is possible to bumpstart the engine without these pins, but it is extremely difficult.
What happened next was revealed in a series of photos captured by Andrew Wheeler, who was standing on the inside of Turn 1 when the crash unfolded in front of him. While Rossi was departing, Casey Stoner was picking his bike up out of the gravel, and 6 marshals gathered round the Australian. Five of them started to push him on his way, and over the next few seconds, the marshals melted away one-by-one. By the time the bike was going fast enough to to try and start, there was only one man left pushing the bike, uphill towards the crest leading to Turn 2.
Without sufficient manpower to give him the speed he needed, and the one corner worker forced to work uphill, struggling against gravity, starting Stoner's bike proved to be impossible, a failure which Stoner took very much to heart. Afterwards, he blamed the marshals for a lack of impartiality, rushing to help Rossi, a rider who needed little assistance, while not helping him, who clearly needed help bump-starting the bike.
Stoner's complaint had been echoed earlier by Marco Simoncelli, who had also claimed that corner workers had left him to fend for himself instead of trying to bump-start the bike. But there is a further factor to consider, that by the time Stoner approached the crest of the hill, he was starting to impinge on the racing line. This may have been the reason the marshals retreated, rather than any perceived favoritism for Valentino Rossi.
The next item of contention came in the garages, when Rossi entered the Repsol Honda pit to apologize to Stoner. The Italian walked in with his helmet still on, and trailing TV cameras in his wake. He offered his apologies, but Stoner took the opportunity to get in a couple of quips, asking first how Rossi's shoulder was, then telling the Italian that his ambition had outweighed his talent. Rossi then retreated from the garage, making quips of his own to Italian television about Stoner now knowing who he is.
Andrea Dovizioso had an interesting take on this situation, saying that both men were partially right. "It is good for Rossi to apologize," Dovi told reporters, "but Stoner is right that it was not good for Valentino to do what he did." The TV cameras were unavoidable, Dovizioso said, but that did not leave Rossi entirely innocent. "The TV always follows Valentino, this is just the way it is," the Italian said. "But Valentino knows this also."
This was not the first incident between the two, Dovizioso pointed out, saying that "there is a big history with them" which may also have played a major role in proceedings. Dovizioso certainly wasn't under the impression that this was going to blow over any time soon.
In their respective press briefings, both Rossi and Stoner skated round the issue, both carefully avoiding attacking the other. But there were plenty of under-the-table jabs, though, Stoner complimenting Pedrosa and Lorenzo for being such clean racers, Rossi playing innocent, while having earlier said to Italian TV that maybe Stoner didn't know who he was.
In the end, neither man came out of it completely untainted. Valentino Rossi's desperation at the deficit Ducati has caused the Italian to make a stupid move, the kind of move Rossi hasn't tried for several years. Casey Stoner - very much the innocent party, having been robbed of a certain podium finish by the incident - ended up reinforcing the stereotype many fans have of him, whether his complaining was justified or not.
There is more to say about this story, and it is something I shall return to over the coming days. But in the meantime, another key act of the 2011 MotoGP championship is due to take place either Monday or Tuesday, when Dani Pedrosa finally gets the plate in his collarbone removed. The screws holding the collarbone together have been causing his subclavian artery to be compressed while riding, robbing him of feeling in his hand. Pedrosa should be back at full strength at Estoril, putting three of MotoGP's four aliens back on an even keel. That has got to be good for racing, and that will be good for MotoGP. Until then, we can feast on controversy, and on speculation on what effect Rossi's taking out of Casey Stoner will have in six months time, when the title race starts to be decided.