2011 Estoril MotoGP Saturday Round Up - We Need A Race, Already

Four weeks between races this early in the season is clearly far too long. Since arriving at Estoril, the various members of the paddock have been behaving like sailors on shore leave, getting drunk, chasing women and picking fights with everyone in their vicinity. Well, the getting drunk and chasing women part I made up, but the mood in the paddock is deeply pugnacious, as witnessed by the verbal scraps breaking out everywhere.

On Friday, we had round one of Valentino Rossi in the red corner vs Casey Stoner in the blue corner, with Jorge Lorenzo throwing in some trash talking of Marco Simoncelli as he prepared to face off with the San Carlo Gresini Honda rider. Saturday saw Rossi vs Stoner briefly revisited, while Lorenzo and Simoncelli erupted into a full-scale verbal conflict during the post-qualifying press conference.

First, Lorenzo vs Simoncelli: there's a transcript of the argument over on the MotoGP.com website, as well as a video (pay-per-view), and there is an elegant and entertaining summary by Eurosport commentator Julian Ryder over on Superbikeplanet. But the argument boils down to the following: Lorenzo complained that Simoncelli was too aggressive, citing Simoncelli's moves in Valencia last year as an example. Simoncelli accepts that some may feel his riding style is aggressive, but that's just the way he's learned to ride. However, he rejects Lorenzo's example - the race at Valencia last year - saying that it was he who had left the meeting with Lorenzo's tire marks all down his leathers. Simoncelli then went on to point out that it was Jorge Lorenzo who had been excluded by Race Direction, after taking out Alex de Angelis at Motegi. Lorenzo expressed his contrition at that incident, then took a stand to say that these were not mini-bikes, but large, fast, MotoGP machines, and that the riders were taking their lives in their own hands. Risking your own skin was acceptable, Lorenzo pontificated, but taking risks which could potentially leave other riders injured was not.

So who was right? Frankly, both of them were. Jorge Lorenzo is not the only rider to regard Simoncelli as aggressive. Lorenzo mentioned Andrea Dovizioso, who has complained about Simoncelli in the past, but both Ben Spies and Casey Stoner agreed that Simoncelli was too aggressive in his passing. Spies tempered his assessment with some admiration, though: "He [Simoncelli] is a bit over the top, but I respect the guy because he's not afraid," Spies said. "But some of those passes were made without thinking about the consequences," Spies added. Even Simoncelli's friend in the paddock Valentino Rossi concurred that the San Carlo Gresini man was an aggressive rider. "But watching two riders who are aggressive is very entertaining!" Rossi added.

But Simoncelli was right to say that Valencia was a poor example to pick on. The examples in 250 were legion, but Simoncelli's race in Sepang last year, where he physically barged Hiroshi Aoyama aside with no regard for whether the Japanese rider would make it through the corner or not was a typical example of Simoncelli's tendency to use other riders as a berm, bouncing off the inside of them to make sure he will make the corner. So why Lorenzo picked Valencia is a bit of a mystery, given that Lorenzo bore at least some of the blame for that pass.

The Rossi vs Stoner battle saw a slight reprise, and it was Casey Stoner's turn to react to what Valentino Rossi had said on Friday - the timing of the press debriefs means that Stoner speaks before Rossi, so Rossi is presented with statements by Stoner on the same afternoon, while Stoner has to wait until the next day to respond to what Rossi had to say. Asked if he had read what Valentino Rossi had had to say about him, Stoner was short. "No," the implication being that he had no interest in reading Rossi's remarks either.

When confronted with Rossi's statements to the Italian press that Stoner seemed obsessed with the Italian, Stoner merely said that he answers the questions which he is asked. He had little interesting in talking about Rossi, preferring to do his talking on the track, Stoner said, but he understood why Rossi kept bringing the matter up. "I'm one of his biggest rivals," Stoner said, "so he has to try his mind games on me."

The Moto2 class was no different. Tempers have been flaring behind the scenes, with Suter catching much of the flak. In an interview with a Spanish journalist yesterday, Kenan Sofuoglu was highly vocal in his criticism of the Swiss chassis manufacturer, claiming many broken promises. Critics may point to Sofuoglu's lack of results and see the root of his criticism there, but there are other teams who are voicing the same concerns, though rather more privately.

It wasn't just the riders who were getting tetchy with each other, even the journalists were keen to display their outrage. A guest of the Repsol Honda team sat in on Casey Stoner's media debrief, even having the temerity to ask an (admittedly, rather bland) question. Once the debrief was over, the media veterans were aghast at how a mere paddock guest had been allowed into the debrief, to mingle with motorcycling journalism's elite, complaining that the Honda hospitality had not been swept for interlopers from the real world. Their sense of self-importance duly bolstered, the press left the hospitality muttering darkly about the people who pay their wages.

Almost as an afterthought, there were also bikes on track. Jorge Lorenzo took pole, continuing his role as the invisible world champion, the rider who goes barely unnoticed until you look at the timesheets or the championship standings. He finished ahead of Marco Simoncelli, who looked to be on course to take pole back again, until he crashed out while on a hot lap. That is an all too familiar refrain, and at the core of Simoncelli's problem at the moment: Jorge Lorenzo didn't become world champion until he learned to pace himself and the risks he took; that is not a stage that Simoncelli looks like reaching in the foreseeable future.

Dani Pedrosa sits on 3rd on the grid, while Casey Stoner has been struggling to get the Honda turned and managed only 4th. Ben Spies found some improvement to end up 5th on the grid, while Valentino Rossi saw yesterday's improvement disappear again, the Italian stuck down in 9th. Rossi is starting to face the same kind of problems encountered by Casey Stoner and Nicky Hayden last year, where setup changes in a particular direction would succeed only very erratically. A small change might bring a big improvement, or it may bring none, while a huge change may make no difference. The Ducati's front end remains a problem, but Rossi was optimistic the new chassis to be tested on Monday would be a first step in the right direction to solving the issue permanently.

At least there will be a race tomorrow. We can only hope that the release of adrenaline produced by an actual race will go some way to relieving the tension in the paddock, and give everyone something real to talk about for a while. With the weather forecast still very uncertain, we could instead see yet more incidents to fill the pages of the papers over the next two weeks before Le Mans.

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Comments

This is all just fluff. Sometimes I'm surprised at how grown men can act just like a pack of high school girls. Who the hell cares if Stoner doesn't like Rossi? Who cares if Lorenzo is mad at Simo? Is it because theres so little excitement on track that so much attention is paid to this crap? For gods sake, just get on with the racing.

The races are as boring as watching David Emmett talk about them.

Spies criticising passing? Wasn't he in Supers? I guess he's become accustomed to not passing anyone in MotoGP, only getting passed himself.

Now we have NASCAR drama. Please. Let's all hike up our skirts and screech for the mouse on the floor.

I'd pay to see a Gibbers/Biaggi/Tamada vs. Rossi battle...on the track. Because this crap is...well, crap.

I personally find the extra drama welcomed, and apparently so do plenty of fans and media around the globe.

Whilst Stoner V Rossi and Jorge V Sic may not be the classiest of 'battles' presently, there is absolutely no denying that when they come together on the track - spice is added.

Personally I find every aspect of racing exciting, whether that's the incredible comments and reporting on this site - the number crunching, the amazing engineering feats, the race results, or even just the old rivalries firing up in pit lane.. it's all a part of the theatre and it spices up what is already a wonderful sport.

Just remember these criticisms when Rossi takes his bat and ball and calls it a day. Most of the 'glamour' and media attention GP currently gets will likely leave with him in a suitcase.. then it will just be a (much smaller) group of grumpy old men arguing about weight differential advantages over race distance here on MM.

Lighten up guys.

..."Rossi is starting to face the same kind of problems encountered by Casey Stoner and Nicky Hayden last year"...

Yes, this was inevitable once Vale finally felt comfortable enough on the Duc to try to gain that last, critical, 1/2 second. I just hope he doesn't start tucking the front end like Casey did and get hurt again. I can't wait to see him on the big red machine once he finally gets it all together.

This year so far has been fantastic with all the bike changes and "variables" mixed in. I just hope my man Spies can finally get his mo-jo started this weekend.

Jorge is proving to the doubters that his "best of show" trophy from last year was well deserved. He is smooth as glass is he not?

SimoSic is a fantastic showman. Quite a character. I like him. He is flying - literarily. Fun to watch on and off the track.

that's words about super sic by lorenzo sounds me like than Sic can be an serious headache for him and the simple thing than the superb pace than sic got in jerez put to think lorenzo than he need to care about pedrosa, stoner, rossi and now Simoncelli, so to try to send alot of pressure to sic he say that things than drives like a madman and valencia and that stuff, c'mon lorenzo some years ago you was more aggresive and nobody has maded a major complain, now than he is looking how dangerous can be some another player not specifically the others aliens, an non alien, then Lorenzo's have to say that things against a competitor. shut up man, with all respect.

Sic has maded alot of progress and looks like than he can be more than a animator, a possible championship contender, something than some persons than lorenzo obviously dont like.

Taerkasten

How about breaking your post into actual sentences and paragraphs, so we can understand what you are trying to say.

Yes, Sic rode well this weekend. Three crashes.....

These off-track spats do have bearing on the riders' mindsets for the race. There is no avoiding it if you want in-depth reporting. As long as it doesn't get to Crash.net levels then I consider it being comprehensive.
I think Jorge is right about Simoncelli for the most part. I think Aoyama might have had better ground to stand on here but he wouldn't have gotten the mic like Jorge.
I do like watching Simoncelli ride when he's not pushing people off though. He's got good style.
Anyway, race on.

agreed in your arguments just like to add something, lorenzo forgives than sometime ago he was aggresive like simoncelli is now at this moment, lorenzo must view both sides of the coin, not his side only that's all.

Seems to me that Jorge was overly aggressive and learnt his lesson; that lesson being, it was not professional or safe to be so aggressive and considering other riders wellbeing was maybe more important than ending up in an ambition outweighing his talent situation :)

Hope Simoncelli does learn the same lesson, he is fast, but also dangerous and currently prone to crashing when he pushes past the bikes/his limits.

we were all whinging that the riders had become such bland automatons with their corporate comments. I'm loving the niggle, especially Pedrosa sitting quietly in the corner chuckling away to himself.

Over and above which this passion is bound to spill over onto the track and really liven the season up if Jerez hasn't done that already. The 800's are really going to go out with a bang. We might be looking back on them misty eyed yet.

MotoGP doesn't need all this soap opera drama to get fans. They need to get rid of all the stupid cost cutting rules and go back to letting the teams and riders fight it out.

All this pre-event hype is par for the course these days in professional sport and as is often the case the event fails to match up. A recent example being the "El Classico" champions league clash. Lets hope todays race does work out to be a good 'un. Lorenzo seems very worried that his title defence could fall foul of over enthusiastic riding by others. Perhaps Rossi's behaviour last year has stayed in his mind.

"...Their sense of self-importance duly bolstered, the press left the hospitality muttering darkly about the people who pay their wages. "

Anyone give you the evil eye this morning?

Or thank you for not naming them?