“Márquez would prefer Lorenzo to win.” So said a frustrated Valentino Rossi, leading the 2015 MotoGP standings and gunning for world championship number 10, lighting a fuse that would eventually result in his title aspirations disintegrating before his eyes.
The Italian was clearly feeling the pressure of heading the points table for the entirety of the year, and his accusation towards Marc Márquez, a rider who was out of the title picture, before the penultimate round of the season in Malaysia, led to one of the most acrimonious ever finishes to a season.
He was referencing the previous race in Australia, where the Italian thought Márquez had “helped” his Spanish compatriot Jorge Lorenzo by putting up less of a fight against him than against Rossi. The pair had also shared two previous on-track battles that year in Argentina and the Netherlands, both of which the Italian came through to win.
The frustration felt by “the Doctor” came to an explosive head in the race at Sepang, where he was adjudged to have kicked Márquez off his bike in a wheel-to-wheel battle for the final spot on the rostrum. Rossi was allowed to keep his points for the race but was demoted to last place on the grid for the season’s conclusion, in Valencia.
In the weeks leading up to the race in Spain, cries of conspiracy and collusion filled the air. An Italian was being pushed to the back of the grid for the finale in Spain, which would benefit the Spanish rider Lorenzo? It was too much of a coincidence for some of the Italian’s more irate fans. Such was the animosity directed towards Márquez in particular that the Thursday press conference was cancelled.
Rossi led Lorenzo by seven points going into the race. With the latter looking odds-on to take the win and the 25 points that came with it, Rossi had to climb from 25th on the grid to second, a gargantuan task on a track where is notoriously difficult to pass.
As the lights went out Lorenzo, Márquez, and Dani Pedrosa got off the line smoothly. However, all eyes were directed firmly towards the back of the grid, where Rossi was making his charge. The Italian made a lightning start, slicing his way through to 16th place before the first corner, picking up seven places within seconds of the start. With the crowd at fever pitch, you would have thought the race was being staged in Italy, for everyone’s attention was on No 46 as he made up place after place, lap after lap.
By lap seven, Rossi was up to seventh. His pace was electric, but he was losing vital seconds to the front three as they ran their own race at the front of the pack in clean air. The tension was almost unbearable, as Rossi finally made it up to fourth. He needed second place, or he needed Márquez and Pedrosa to overtake Lorenzo, with the latter looking good for the win.
As the laps ticked away, so did Rossi’s pace and his hopes for world title number 10. His charge through the field left his tyres in poor condition, and with Lorenzo riding as smooth as ever at the front, only a fleeting attempt by the third-placed Pedrosa to go for the win stood between the Mallorcan and a fifth world title.
Lorenzo crossed the finish line with Márquez right on his tail (0.263sec back to precise) and Rossi almost 20 seconds further behind. The Mallorcan had kept his head down and avoided all the controversy that had engulfed the finale of the championship. Where others had floundered, he had flourished.
Despite the failure to seal a 10th title, Rossi was welcomed into the pits as if he had won the championship. He had passed up the potential to win another world title through one moment of madness a few weeks earlier, and there was nothing he could do about it