After the raft of accusations he had made on Thursday, Valentino Rossi decided to keep his council on Friday. When asked by the English speaking press about the responses of Marc Márquez and Jorge Lorenzo to his charges, Rossi cut them short. "I said everything yesterday, and I don't have anything else to say." To the Italian press, he was a little more expansive, but still insisted that he had had his say. When told that Márquez had said he had been surprised by the accusations Rossi had laid against him, Rossi rejected the suggestion. "Marc said he was surprised? I don't think that's true. And now, I have said everything, I have nothing left to say."
As it turned out, he did have a little more to say, but it was short. When told that Márquez has said that all Rossi needs to do is finish ahead of or directly behind Lorenzo at the next two races, Rossi had a cutting response. "Tell him I already know that." Did he think that he would be safer on track with Márquez, now that he had had his say? "I don't know. I took a risk, but I could not remain quiet. Maybe my words will have a positive effect, maybe negative, but at least I can sleep well at night now."
The accusations made by Rossi on Thursday had left the paddock mystified, struggling to work out exactly what he had hoped to achieve. "After some hours, I'm still surprised, like everybody," Marc Márquez said. "I respect Valentino and I will always respect him, but I understand also his situation. That he is fighting for the title, he is really close to getting his tenth title, but he knows Jorge is really strong." Márquez said he had no desire to be involved. "In the end, he needs to beat Jorge on the racetrack. I prefer to be out of this battle."
A new strategy?
Why did Rossi try to bring him into it? "I don't know. A new strategy, no?" There was no way to understand Rossi's motivation. "In reality, we don't know why he says these things. Only Valentino knows." Rossi was leading the championship by eleven points, Márquez said, and he has the championship in his own hands. "He needs to beat Jorge on the track, and I think he is strong enough to do it."
The accusations would not change the way he approaches any races, Márquez said. If he has the chance to win, he would try to win, but if he couldn't and he found himself between Rossi and Lorenzo – or Lorenzo and Rossi – he would do what he could to get the best result. "At the first moment that I heard him, I didn't want to be inside this battle. But this doesn't mean that maybe here, Valencia, maybe Pedrosa, Iannone, me, will be in-between Jorge and Valentino. Maybe it will help Valentino, maybe it will help Jorge. But in the end, everybody is doing his own race and everybody is trying to get the best results for his team and sponsors."
Which could backfire...
Rossi's accusations only bolstered Jorge Lorenzo's confidence. Sensing that Rossi was on the defensive, the Spaniard took the opportunity to go on the attack. Asked if he thought that Rossi was nervous, Lorenzo replied simply, "If he was the fastest one, he would not speak about these kinds of things. I think this time it was not the right time, to be honest."
Lorenzo told reporters that he did not feel that Márquez had helped him, but he was probably not in the right place to judge it. "Mainly, I was in front maybe 80% of the race. I was leading the race, so I didn't know what happened behind." More importantly, Lorenzo pointed out once again that it is hard to see how Márquez was helping him by passing him on the last lap and taking another five points from him.
Lorenzo also highlighted the fact that Rossi was accusing Márquez of doing something which Rossi was notorious for in the past. "With Biaggi, Gibernau, Ukawa, he was a little bit playing around during the race, and then on the final lap he push and win the race. So it is a little bit strange that he speaks like that after his own past."
Sometimes the reason is 'no reason'
Why did Rossi speak out? Neither riders nor media old hands can see what the Italian has to gain by doing so. Even if the accusations are true, and Márquez was trying to hold Rossi up to help Lorenzo, there is nothing in the rules to prevent him from doing so. The only thing that Race Direction are interested in is whether Márquez does so in a way that is safe and responsible, without endangering other riders. Marc Márquez is unlikely to change his behavior on track, and will be trying to win just as much as ever. Jorge Lorenzo feels strengthened after the attack, rather than anything else. If it was an attempt to convince Lorenzo that he would be unable to win without the help of his compatriot, that is a reality which the Spaniard has accepted for a few races now.
Perhaps we should just take Rossi at his word. Maybe he made the accusations public to get them off his chest. "At least I can sleep well at night," he said. If it was just a channel for the pressure and frustration which has built over the long season, then that is reason enough to do it. We – media, observers, fans – are so used to Rossi planning his moves out so meticulously that we forget that sometimes, he does things just because they make him feel better. He wanted to get this out in the open, and he has, and that's it. Slice the incident open using Occam's razor, and that is the simplest and most logical explanation. We have all been sitting here subjecting Rossi's actions to exegesis and psychoanalysis, when it was really nothing more than the equivalent of going to a gym and pounding a punching bag for a while. No more, no less.
Business as usual
Take a look at the timesheets after the first day of action, and you would be hard pressed to tell the difference to any other MotoGP weekend. Jorge Lorenzo was fast straight out of the gate, finishing second in FP1 and top in FP2. The Hondas are quick too, especially Dani Pedrosa, who swapped top spot and second with Lorenzo. Marc Márquez is close behind, but with a very strong pace. The Ducatis are fastest down the straight, some 4 km/h quicker than the Hondas, and ten clicks quicker than the Yamahas.
Valentino Rossi is only eighth on the timesheets, but that belies his pace. Unlike the others, Rossi was unable to use the new medium tire he put in at the end of FP2, as he immediately noticed a vibration on the tire when he went out on it. He and his team lost the last twelve minutes of the session swapping wheels onto the other bike and checking the bike, trying to ascertain whether the problem was the bike or the tire. It was something they didn't manage to figure, so while Rossi was happy with his pace on the hard rear tire – likely to be the tire he will race – he is still uncertain of how qualifying will work out. "I'm not happy, because it leaves us with a question mark for tomorrow morning," the Movistar Yamaha rider said.
Rossi was still confident with his race pace, however. "This morning I was already quite fast, and the most important thing is that we have a good base setting to work from the beginning of the weekend." His pace was close to Lorenzo's, the only man he has to focus on at Sepang. "Jorge was very fast, but not so far away from us. Overall, the setting is quite good and the pace is quite good."
Marc Márquez was upbeat about the performance of the Honda, telling Spanish media that he was pleased to be consistently fast, both he and Honda teammate Pedrosa. "Both Dani and me are more constant than in other tracks, but Jorge is also very constant," he said. The problem they had was the same as every race at Sepang: they arrived at the circuit with a database full of settings they had found at the test, but so much had changed in the intervening period that those settings were rendered unusable. The bikes have changed, conditions on the track are different, better set up solutions have been found for different areas, and the riders themselves have adapted their styles to get the best out of the bikes they have. They could try to go back to the bikes they had been using at the test in February, but that would mean having to figure out where the limit on the bike was again. The disadvantages far outweigh the advantages.
Purple (and gray, and yellow, and pink) haze
One thing which has changed in the intervening period is the weather. It is hot and humid as ever, but the circuit is now draped in a pall of haze, particulates and smoke coming from forest fires burning in Indonesia, mixed with the usual high level of pollution from the many aging and poorly tuned vehicles which fill Malaysia's roads. Fortunately for the riders, the air quality has improved in the past couple of days, the Air Quality Index having dropped from the 180s (regarded as unhealthy) down to around 100 (moderate).
It was still catching the back of the throat, however, especially for riders such as Cal Crutchlow who suffer from asthma. "It's definitely harder to breathe, especially from this morning," the LCR Honda rider said at the end of the day. "It's more difficult to see, not to the extent that you can't see the rider in front, but it's just more difficult. The sun is so strange, you see a tiny dot in your eyes, not the normal glare." Though it was catching in the throat sometimes, Crutchlow was keen to point out that it was very much a luxury problem. The riders, he told a local journalist, were here chasing their dreams, doing what they most loved, and would be gone again on Monday. "We are only here for four days, so we can't complain too much. These guys [the locals] are here in this all the time."
Relief could come in the form of rain, long expected but so far holding off. What is really wanted is a very heavy overnight rain, to wash the dust out of the air but leave the track dry. At the moment, the forecast is for heavy rain starting on Saturday at – you guessed it – 2pm, right when qualifying for the MotoGP class is set to get underway. The race, too, could be wet, possibly for all three classes. Whether the rain will come as expected remains to be seen. As at every race in the second half of the season, it seems, the forecast changes every time you look at it. Nature will not be dictated to.
Of course, if it does rain, then the MotoGP championship could be turned on its head. Valentino Rossi's public accusations of interference by Marc Márquez could quickly become irrelevant. It's been a topsy-turvy year. Why should this weekend be any different?
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