Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - The Sepang incident

MotoMatters.com is delighted to feature the work of iconic MotoGP writer Mat Oxley. Oxley is a former racer, TT winner and highly respected author of biographies of world champions Mick Doohan and Valentino Rossi, and currently writes for Motor Sport Magazine, where he is MotoGP correspondent. We are featuring sections from Oxley's blogs, which are posted in full on the Motor Sport Magazine website.


The Sepang incident

I wish Hunter S Thompson was still alive for many reasons. I particularly wish he had been at Sepang, because no other writer could have written better about MotoGP’s weirdest weekend.

Thompson’s most famous novel – Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas – had his alter-ego Raoul Duke covering the Mint 400 motorcycle race outside Las Vegas. Thompson also did newspaper work, covering the Watergate hearings that led to the end of Richard Nixon’s presidency.

On the Watergate job the gun-toting acid casualty spent most of his time in the hotel swimming pool, doing lengths and occasionally stopping at one end, where he had placed a portable TV and a bottle of bourbon. The hearings were broadcast live, so whenever the coverage suggested things were about to get interesting, Thompson made his way over the road to the courtroom and took his reserved seat, no doubt scaring colleagues with his fumy breath.

What would Hunter have made of Sepang? The weekend had everything that got him excited: speed, paranoia, a fight and explosions (at up to 16,000 a minute).

I see him doing lengths in the hotel swimming pool, then hurriedly wrapping a towel around his torso and bursting into the pre-event press conference that changed everything, cigar in one hand, glass of bourbon in the other.

He would’ve stood there, blinking against the TV spotlights, slack-jawed in wonder as he listened to the GOAT attempt to dismantle a troublesome young talent sat just a few feet away.

Was this genius or madness? Was he demolishing Márquez or was he laying the foundations of his own destruction?

No one would know until Sunday when, to borrow a few of Hunter’s sports-writing words, the riders’ “nerves burned like open sores on a dog’s neck. White knuckles. Wild eyes. Strange fluid welled up in their throats, with a taste far sharper than bile”.

And then the fans. “By noon, many were weeping openly, for no apparent reason. Others wrung their hands or gnawed on the necks of pop bottles, trying to stay calm. Many fist-fights were reported in the public urinals.”

From around 3.11pm local time, we all saw the result of Rossi’s attack on Márquez. If the Spaniard hadn’t been a grim enemy before Sepang, he certainly was now.

Read the rest of Mat Oxley's blog on the Motor Sport Magazine website.

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Comments

I would say that not all of Mat's articles have been brilliant, but the average score is certainly very high.
I just love how the subtle aproaches to ilustrate a point are a constant in his articles.
Always a pleasure to read to them (same to be said of David Emmet, and also Julyan Ryder to some extent).

Another of his writings that I would recommend to have a look is this one:
http://www.twitlonger.com/show/n_1sno44r

Makes for some interesting reading while the majority of the media is caught embracing sensationalism.

Saying Marc was just rightfully riding for a position is rather naive. Sure he has all the right to get as high as he can, regardless of title contenders in the mix. And sure Honda pays him to get the best possible result, so he does not have to move over for Rossi. But he did move over for Lorenzo (not on a Honda) and he did not ride in a way to get as high as he can, because they were losing on the two leaders big time this way.

Marquez was a sour angry child in Argentina, and even more so in Assen. It was clear to me there was a serious risk of him going to sabotage Rossi, instead of simply trying to win races. Rossi's analysis of Phillip Island seems very plausible to me; at least from this perpective that whole exceptional race is all of a sudden explained.

I can understand Rossi trying to prevent further disturbing actions by Marc by exposing them at the press conference. That Marc would go on with this behaviour even more aggressively was of course not the intended effect.
What I don't understand is that the obvious blocking and slowing actions by Marc were deemed okay, but the one slowing action by Rossi is punished by a convenient three points, effectively ruining his title chances.
This even though Marc's actions were much riskier, driven by obvious personal anger instead of real racing, and that the actual contact was made by Marc himself, trying to barge his way through like he is used to.

I have never seen such lunatic conduct at this level. Marquez has become the Kenan Sofuoglu of MotoGP. Then again, even Sofuoglu only misbehaves to win races.

I guess we see what we want to see. What I saw was Rossi basically accusing MM of being a cheat and starting a battle that he doesn't need with a title on the line. After the accusation by VR I think it's only natural that MM would do whatever he could to beat VR.

I think MM genuinely ran wide letting JL through (he had been struggling with front grip all weekend) and he knew that he wouldn't be able to keep pace with DP or JL, but he was determined that he was going to beat VR no matter what. Of course lap times plummeted - the level of aggression and passing from both riders was crazy.

MM had good race pace rivaling the others from FP2 onwards, through to leading WUP. I'm sure that he was struggling with the bike at the start with the full tank, you see him run wide at the last turn a couple of times, but then he gets is sorted (there is the different line I saw Pedrosa and Marquez taking through that corner which makes it look like he is running wide too)

But going from the whole weekend, he had the pace to keep up, at least get up to second place. But he didn't and got involved fighting for 3rd in the first couple of laps. That's where VR's frustration came from, scrapping for a third place when they have the chance to catch JL and scrap for higher places.
All he sees is MM come back towards him rather rapidly, then come alive in the most aggressive fashion.

That's the key here. What Rossi is basically saying is that Marc should just move over and let him by, or not pass when he has the opportunity to because Rossi is in the title hunt. But Marc obviously has a responsibility to finish as high a position as he can. Marc's passes might have been hard but they were clean, he's not in the same team as Rossi so he's under no obligation to play nice, and until last weekend of have thought that was the last thing Rossi would have wanted anyway.

Well, as Mat says, rubbing is racing, but was it racing? Rossi felt that Marquez was not trying to achieve the best possible place for himself, but to hold up Rossi. I can see why he thought that and I understand his frustration. And, as Mat says, the reason the final incident between the two turned out so badly was that Rossi was no longer racing as wholeheartedly as he should have been.

From as objective a position as I can manage (and I should confess to being a VR fan), having re-watched the footage on the videopass it looked horribly like MM was trying to cause VR to crash. Or at least quite willing for Rossi to crash as a consequence of the hardness of the pass. It could have been the camera angles or foreshortening exaggerating the effect, but don't you think one or two of those passes were replicas of argentina but with positions reversed? Maybe I'm reading too much into it.

As I say, difficult to be fully objective but if that had been Pedders doing that to Dovi for instance, I'm sure I wouldn't have been alone in thinking Dani, as nice a chap as he is, was being a right w****r and deserved the three points a tad more than Dovi even if Dovi clearly wellied him into the gravel. They'd both still be good blokes though!

It now looks to me like VR got suckered into a trap and was stupid enough to be left holding the matches. I think he's maybe met his match there for cunning if nothing else.

I'm not precious about this viewpoint, happy to be contradicted, not least because it's a little karmic overall; Vale got away with something very comparable against Gibernau all those years ago, and some would say against Stoner at Laguna too, so while I don't actually believe he was the guilty party this time round, it's justice of sorts. And for the sake of clarity, I think all three events over-stepped the mark between hard racing and dangerous racing.

>>but don't you think one or two of those passes were replicas of argentina but with positions reversed

As a non-Rossi fan that's the whole point. Argentina was Marquez's fault so if there were a couple of passes like those but reversed positions then it was Rossi at fault. Especially since he is the one that loses more if he falls hitting the back tire of another bike.

>>if that had been Pedders doing that to Dovi for instance

We'd all be screaming 'good for you Dani, show some fight!'

>>It now looks to me like VR got suckered into a trap and was stupid enough to be left holding the matches.

Marquez laid a trap that entails him falling? Do you really think he would rather have crashed out than beaten Rossi to the line? Looking at the alternative:

What if Marquez was actually holding Rossi up then went on to finish 3rd and Rossi 4th? Rossi would have 3 less points and it would be a straight fight with actual grid positions at Valencia, something I think Jorge would prefer as he is in control instead of having Rossi starting from the back but potentially still able to finish a couple of places behind him, a situation Lorenzo then has no control over. He was there in 2013 and it didn't work. There aren't any realistic situations where Marquez could have pushed him even further back since he'd have to get pushed back to 7th to actually lose the points lead. The more you look at it the more this title conspiracy only exists in Rossi's head.

>>so while I don't actually believe he was the guilty party this time round

How can you still hold to this position? Rossi was going slow way off the racing line and looking backwards towards a rival then went out even more. His rival crashed after contact that was way off the racing line and just before the edge of the track. It was not the knee or leg or helmet that he was penalized for, its for going really slow, looking backwards and losing all pretense of actually racing. Any 'provocation' is irrelevant if that provocation was within the rules, which was explicitly confirmed by RD. It seemed to me what Rossi did was a very extreme version of what Jack Miller did a few times to Alex Marquez last year but Miller always seemed focused on getting through the corner, not looking backwards. Unfortunately it did not work for him either.

Chris

He used unnecessary words on Thursday to describe Marc as an immature, jealous, sore loser and from the reports Marquez really didn't appreciate it, he was fuming... The rest is history but I don't believe Marc waited for Valentino on purpose, it just happened they were both having a comparable pace and within this context a clash was bound to happen.

Unfortunately all you have to do is revisit the many "racing incidents" that many of these key protagonists have been involved in to see how passionate they are. They are quite willing to turn a contest into a personal battle when the stakes are high. The red mist is no myth.

The most balanced view I've read yet. David's was eloquent and emotional but Mat digs down to the bare facts and sort of thinks both riders were doing what any top athlete would do in the same situation, at least up until the incident. This is competition at the highest level and for any rider friendship only lasts as long as results allow.

I've complained about a perceived Rossi-bias from Max Oxley before but this article if anything sways in the opposite direction and makes a lot of the same points that I've made with people.

Chris

Applies quite well to both protagonists in this instance. Rossi and Marquez have both been favoured sons allowed to get away with blue murder in the past, why would they not feel they can do pretty much whatever they like? They really are golden children raised with no boundaries. Methinks if they had been shown the boundaries in no uncertain terms earlier in their careers that their dual senses of entitlement would be much less over developed.

I struggle with some of the conjecture around not compteting with the championship contenders. The unwritten rule is not that you don't compete, it is that you don't unnecessarily hinder them. By all means latch onto the contenders and if you are there at the end have a crack, but to fight tooth and nail in the first few laps is just begging for a karmic correction to come calling.

I'm no Rossi fan but I can see similarities to the epic Miller/Marquez dual at the end of last season when he repeatedly ran the younger Marquez wide. If Alex had turned into Miller would Miller have been similarly punished to Rossi? I always thought the leader rider could pretty much choose whatever line and speed they liked and Rossi was well in front.

But the whole thing bubbling and boiling away like an untreated abcess these last weeks reminds me of something a mate said when going through a very bitter divorce. When his ex-wife was being particularly vicious and everyone was advocating a 100 kinds of reciprocal revenge he just stood firm with his determination to be the better person throughout and not stoop to her level. Such a shame we had to see our heroes reduced to such petty revenge last weekend.

Rossi can't do sweep pass like Lorenzo and Marc (pass multiple riders at once). With his block pass style, his pass will limited to certain corners. How many laps he need to get into podium contention next race?

MM had the choice of keeping clear of VR (probably VR's aim) and let him ride off to see if he could still catch JL or force him into an error.

MM chose to make contact and risk the consequences, which caused him to fall.

VR could have made his 'go away and let me race' move less obvious, but perhaps he had already tried that and/or knew it wouldn't work. MM couldn't stay with catch Pedrosa, and probably couldn't stay with JL. He had lost his race, on his terms (he was at best '2nd loser' by then, as David describes MM's own attitude).

VR got caught, yes. Trapped? Maybe. But that conclusion only makes MM very, and definitely, wrong IMO. It wasn't MGP it was banger racing, and not what MGP should be about.

RD has told MM he can play those games and win out. That's not the type of racing I want to see.

In this case the law is looking a bit of an ass.

<< MM chose to make contact >>

As has been discussed by David, there are multiple opinions, depending on your loyalties. Probably not best to post when your views are seen through the lens of bias.

As for the dicing not being the type of "racing I want to see", it most certainly was exactly what I was enjoying.
You know, real racing, where every corner and every tenth of a second is valuable. If you prefer the more sedate forms, I suggest you try F1, where there are generally only soporific processions interspersed with pit stops to break up the monotony and add a soupçon of tension. As I see it, MotoGP has been accused of often being processional in nature, and PI was lauded as a great race due to the dices involved. At Sepang the dices continued, and I was loving it. I don't care what fires people up, but to see this level of furious competition was enjoyable for me. The notion of MM saying (imagine posh British accent) "Oh, no dear boy, please feel free to politely pass me and head off for a podium" is ludicrous. The bloke would fight you for the last chip in the packet, I suspect, so to imagine he was going to make Rossi a gentlemanly offer of a pass, especially after all that transpired, is ludicrous. Particularly when Rossi was the architect of the overt hostility, courtesy of the ill-advised slanders uttered in the press conference.

Valentino has been hoist by his own petard, and I note that when he was vigorously going beyond the point of fairness dicing with the likes of Gibernau, there wasn't a scream of protest about fairness from the Yellow46 brigade. Valentino seemed to think Sete's descriptions of his passes were laughable at the time, so I see no need to give Rossi's current bleatings more oxygen.

I'm a GP fan, having followed the sport for over 50 years, first through UK-sourced annuals and the like, and then trading tapes of races, and then TV broadcasts and visits to GPs. I much admired Vale's racing over the years. But personalities come and go, and the racing remains. For me, I love them all in their own twisted, clay-footed imperfection. But above them all I love the racing itself.

I've seen a few people mention Rossi/Gibernau and Jerez. Having reviewed the incidents between Rossi/Gibernau and Marquez/Lorenzo many times I can't see that much wrong in either case, in both cases the leader left a large gap on the inside, both challengers went for the gap. In Rossi's case he was well towards the inside, in control and over a third of the way round the corner before Gibernau turned in on him. Rossi would have made the corner easily with no contact, with a tight line. The Marquez incident was a little nearer the mark (no pun intended), he went into the corner too hot, he was turning in but drifting wide when the contact happened, it was a combination of him being unable to hold the line at that speed and Lorenzo turning in. He did use Lorenzo as a berm, without contact he would have run wide, I think Lorenzo might have been able to brake harder, turn in later and undercut him. Nevertheless, both racing incidents and in the Rossi case I simply can't understand the hysteria. Apart from that race Rossi just duffed up Gibernau pretty cleanly.
What happened here was different, David has summed it up well. MM being a petulant spiteful child, after Assen we knew that, he also has an enormous capacity for self delusion, VR finally cracking under pressure from the faster man (Lorenzo), from the second he slowed drastically and eye balled MM he had stepped over the limit. The faster man (Lorenzo) again showing why not many people like him, what a load of rubbish he spouted in the press conference, "please race direction, give me the title, I'd rather not have to race for it".
I wish I'd picked up a Dani Pedrosa T shirt at Silverstone, can we give the title to him?

I cannot believe one can still claim this utter nonsense, especially after reading Matt's piece.

It's so amazingly clear how the opposite of what you say is true. Rossi is the one who made the contact, Marquez did everything he could to avoid it. Rossi made as many block passes on Marques as the other way around. Rossi didn't need to be in that fight because he had a championship to think of. He could have backed down and waited behind Marquez to see if he had the pace to catch Lorenzo. Rossi sure didn't himself, that much was clear. He chose to ignore that and made it personal. He chose to make contact and he's been punished for it.

The law is looking like a bit of an ass because Rossi got off so lightly. He has been rewarded for punting off Marquez by keeping his third and only starting from the back (which is hardly a punishment at all). At the very least he should receive a very hefty fine for bringing the sport and the championship in discredit.

Inspired observation Mat. Hunter S Thompson would have struck the perfect balance between pouring fuel on the flames & pointing out the comic side. Someone needs to make light of the ridiculous side of this.

Yesterday's weirdness is tomorrow's reason why.
Hunter S Thompson

In his early years in the premier class particularly, Rossi's ability to make the pass stick was unparalleled. He would wait for the moment, make the pass, place the bike in exactly the right place on exit so that no comeback was possible, then motor away.

All of that changed at Catalunya '07, when Stoner won a mano-et-mano exchange with Rossi. Stoner's corner speed was such that Rossi's passes left him with no good line nor speed to resist the counter-pass, and Stoner arrived at the line first. That race was not won by any Ducati top-speed advantage, but by intelligent racing.

The Marquez-Rossi clash in Sepang 2015 has none of the downright dangerous moments of the Rossi-Stoner Laguna Seca clash of '08. Watch the race; on two occasions Rossi left the track and returned in situations that were little more than centimetres from disaster for both riders had Stoner not reacted correctly to the instant - and conducted at a pace that had left the rest of the field 15 seconds behind.

At P.I '08, Stoner returned the L.S. '07 race lesson; as much as Rossi had the comparable speed, Stoner placed himself where Rossi needed to be to achieve a pass. The one actual pass Rossi attempted, Stoner could have run Rossi off track but did not, and at that moment he broke Rossi's fight. Rossi's own statement that he 'has never fought so hard for second place' is a worthy admission of the abilities of both riders, and one for which Rossi deserves admiration.

Rossi chose, at Sepang '15, to forego racing for his potential championship in order to engage in retribution for his perceived harassment by Marquez. That that harassment was real is probably entirely correct. That Rossi had induced the potential for such action by his charge about the race at P.I. has to be allowed as a factor in the nature of the competition between those two riders.

The idea that Marquez fought with Rossi as a strategy to assist Lorenzo to win the WC is a complete and utter flight of fancy. That fight was between Marquez and Rossi for supremacy as to who was the more capable rider.

Both MM and Vale have exposed their enormous egos to the millions of m/gp fans,about time that someone with balls explained to the 2 brats that the sport of motorcycle racing is far bigger than either of them.

We can know Rossi intended to run Marc wide because, well, he admitted it and it's obviousness was the point (to Marquez). The crash? Well that wasn't forgone & it's believable that it wasn't Rossi's intent. It took two to tango for Marc to go down and he's as culpable for that contact as Rossi but Rossi created the situation so fault ultimately lies with him. This is all well covered ground. What is the question is/was Marquez' intent. Everyone's gone round and round about how he's entitled to fight for position, how he did or did not have speed to stay with Dani & Jorge, etc. I think the smoking gun in convicting Marquez of the accusation of vindictive interference is where & when he decided to go berzerk for that 3rd place position. Rossi passed him on turn 4 of the 3rd lap. by turn 14 of the 6th lap Marc was picking his bike up and it was all over. Had that battle taken place within the last lap or had kicked off within the last 5 then I would have said bravo to Marc for the fight. The way it went down Marc used no brains if he was fighting for a best finishing position. Who starts a fight to the death on the 3rd lap? A moto3 rookie? People have claimed Marc didn't have the pace to stay with Lorenzo & Dani. Who's to say that on the 3rd lap? The fact is we don't know & will never know where Marc & Rossi's pace would have been established after the third lap because Marc made the race about petty revenge instead of podium positions.