Thursday at Valencia was one of the strangest days in MotoGP that I have known since I first started covering the sport professionally. Maybe it's just the fact that the usual schedule was disrupted. Every race weekend has a rhythm: on Thursday, it's a late start, then rider debriefs, then a press conference, then work; on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, it's an early start, watch practice, rider debriefs/press conferences and then work.
Here is the one thing which everybody has wrong about Valencia: the 2015 MotoGP championship isn't over by a very long chalk. Whether Lorenzo qualifies on pole or the front row, whether Valentino Rossi starts from his qualifying position or the back of the grid, the championship won't be done until the last rider gets the checkered flag. Everything is still to play for.
Seven days ago, we were talking about how the 2015 MotoGP season will go down in history as one of the greatest of all time, with the Australian Grand Prix as its glittering highlight. A week later, we saw its low point. There were some truly remarkable and admirable performances in all three classes. Dani Pedrosa confirmed his return to form with a formidable victory, his second of the season. The arm pump surgery has been a huge success, and if Honda can resist the temptation to build an unrideably powerful engine, Pedrosa will be back in title contention again next year.
The atmosphere hangs heavy over the Sepang International Circuit, both literally and figuratively. The thick gray haze casts a pall over the circuit, dulling the light, restricting vision, cloying at the throats of everyone at the track, and in the region. There is another oppressive weight over the proceedings, this time of expectation. There is the pressure of a MotoGP title battle going down to the wire, and a Moto3 championship that should have been wrapped up two races ago, before a new rival emerged on the scene.
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.
The pre-event press conferences held on the Thursday ahead of each MotoGP round can vary a good deal in interest. For the most part, they are full of pleasantries and platitudes, both riders and journalists doing their best to look interested and not start playing with their phones. After the utterly entrancing race at Phillip Island four days ago, we expected this to be one of the less interesting ones, the only mild interest being the dismal air quality in Malaysia.
How very wrong we were. Yes, there was the discussion of the obvious, of how the championship chances of Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo, and of Danny Kent in Moto3 would play out. But there was also an explosion of interest once Rossi made accusations that Marc Márquez was trying to help Lorenzo win the championship, accusations he pressed home further once the press conference finished.
It first livened up once Andrea Iannone and Valentino Rossi were asked what they thought of the abuse which had been plastered all over the Facebook and Instagram feeds of Iannone after the race at Phillip Island, where Iannone finished ahead of Rossi and took valuable points in the championship. Iannone shook it off, saying that 90% were positive, and the rest were "just an opinion."
Rossi was much stronger in his condemnation of the behavior of people calling themselves his fans. "I think that in reality they are not my real supporters," he said. "Is a great shame, because these people are very stupid. Unfortunately, this is the time of the social network where everybody can say his idea, even if it's a very stupid idea. The people like to speak bad about other guys that are more lucky than them, with more talent, and more happy, because they do with their life what they want." Rossi pointed out that he held no grudge against Iannone for beating him. "He just did his race, and is normal that he try to beat me."
If you thought the MotoGP race at Phillip Island was thrilling, you should have seen Moto3. Phillip Island is a track where it is almost impossible to escape on a Moto3 bike, the long fast straight, usually with a headwind, allowing a chasing group to draft each other forward and catch anyone trying to get away. The only hope is for something to happen, to split the group and force a break.
It was the race we had been waiting for. We knew it had to be coming, but each time we thought, "this will be the race!" the magic dissolved into thin air after a few laps, and the race settled into a rhythm. Not this time. From start to finish, four of the best motorcycle racers in the world – three of the best the world has ever seen, and one candidate to be elevated to that elect club – fought a close quarters battle for victory, spiced up with a dash of very serious consequences for the championship.
Will championships be decided tomorrow? The Moto3 title could well be settled after the race, a lot of bleary-eyed British fans clinging to their cappuccinos in a desperate attempt to stay awake. It won't take much: Danny Kent just has to finish ahead of Enea Bastianini and higher than seventh to be sure. The MotoGP title is still too close to be settled at Phillip Island, but tomorrow's race could well turn out to be pivotal. If Valentino Rossi finishes ahead of Jorge Lorenzo, the Italian will have one hand on the MotoGP crown.
Blame it on the Bass Strait. The weather, or perhaps more accurately, the weather, the climate and the environment, has a huge effect on the Phillip Island circuit. The weather, because the strong winds which blow in off the Strait brings regular dowsings of rain. The climate, because the hot summers, cool winters and wet weather places a severe strain on the asphalt. And the environment, because the sea breeze brings in salt, and the Antarctic ozone hole means UV levels are high, both of which have a corrosive effect on the circuit surface.