When Racing Passion Boils Over

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Passion in motorsport competitors can be a double edged sword. They need the motivation, the desire, the ruthless streak that’s needed for that ultimate, championship winning passing move. But that same burning desire can have negative implications if it is allowed to become dominant above all. The same passion that puts a driver or rider ‘in the zone’ can also lose them entire world championships in a moment.

The Moto GP race in Sepang this weekend was spectacular, with friction between Rossi and Marquez building before the race. What followed was always going to end in tears. But for me it was testament that I’ve been watching truly passionate sportsmen at the top of their game. Whatever your views on who was right and wrong.

If you didn’t see it, let me explain. Despite Marquez publicly declaring that he would stay out of any championship battle, after defending a move on him by fellow Spaniard Lorenzo fairly positivly, once passed, he let him ride way and evidently chose Rossi to battle with.

His motives were obvious and understandable. Comments made by Rossi in the press this week about him had not been well received and he obviously decided to make his point. The commentators were speculating, oddly in my view, that it had been mind games by Rossi. Quite why you would wind up a fellow racer that is not a championship challenger, but who could seriously screw up your own challenge, is beyond me. Rossi’s motives for the outburst are unclear in my view.

But one thing I will say is that Marquez and Rossi are my two favourite Moto GP riders. To me, the pair are an embodiment of everything that is great about truly competitive motorsport. An old, experienced silverback using all his skill, wiles and experience vs the young pretender with massive talent and no fear or respect for the old guard. The Doctor’s legendary ability to win championships on a less that perfect machine, plus his ability to plan a race win from eighth place with six laps to run is the stuff of genius. Marquez has a talent and natural machine control on the way into a corner that, even several years in, still amazes me.The two seemed to have established a mutual respect for one another and watching the pair race head to head was always literally breathtaking. But in the aggression between the two that followed it was clear that the Latin emotions of pair meant that this was only ever going to end in tears.

If you watched it, you’ll know that after several laps where the battle became ever more heated, Rossi’s tempter boiled over as he rode Marquez out to the edge of the track, dark visor giving him the hard stare, as if saying, “just what the F**ck are you doing?”. The Spaniard leaned in on him and down Marquez went. At first glance, Rossi didn’t look good on international television.

I watch Moto GP via BT Sport here in the UK. The commentary team is middling at best, never been my personal favourite. I’m mindful that live motorsport commentating is a difficult task, but with the high standards set by masters such as Martin Brundle in broadcasting, I feel they have much to work on. They were convinced that Rossi’s reputation was now in tatters, his riding akin to Schumacher-like cynicism and that he must surely be disqualified.

In the end, the penalty given post race was probably correct. Rossi wasn’t disqualified, he keeps his third place, but he loses three points and starts from the back in Valencia, which will be incredibly tough. As for comparing Rossi’s move with Schumacher. Really? In general, Rossi is a hard, tough but fair racer. I feel he has respect for his colleagues and you’ll often see him giving a back slap on the slowing down lap to someone who beats him fair and square. He clearly felt that he was being wronged by Marquez and his temper boiled over. That’s a million miles away from parking your Ferrari at the final corner in Monaco and stepping out of it.

I have great affection for both of these racers. There are the embodiment of everything that truly great racers should be. Their passion as they leap from the bike in parc ferme when winning lifts my heart as the delight they feel is so evident and passionate, light years away from the clinical press conferences of F1. There’s no way that Rossi’s reputation is dented. In the fullness of time Marquez will look back and privately accept that he was probably out of order.

In my view, for the two to ride against each other as hard as that actually shows an underlying respect. Neither wanted to kill the other, though at times it might not have appeared so, but to race so closely you have to have a degree of trust that the other will not actually take you out. In those few laps, they were operating In The Zone at a level that few of us will ever achieve, each one unwilling to back down on a world stage before a global television audience. There was absolutely no way that Rossi could allow this to happen, apart from his championship it would have shifted the balance of power away from the legend in a permanent way.

The chances are, if you asked them to play back the moves afterwards, niether one would be able to describe them. It was a stunning piece of racing, right up there with Arnoux and Villeneuve in Dijon all those years ago.

The questions now:

1. Can Rossi actually do enough from the back of the grid in Valencia to win a tenth championship? Sadly, I think we’ll be robbed of a spectacular end to the season.
2. If he does win, will he get out of Spain alive? Moto GP is a religion in Spain. The Italian robbing their hero will not go down well. Better have the Agusta 109 with the engines running…
3. Will BT Sport please get a race commentary team worthy of the brilliant race series? Their production is good, the pitlane work is good. The two behind the mic in the actual race commentary with the mutual appreciation society going on are a little too self indulgent for my liking….

And finally. If you love truly competitive motorsport and you haven’t been watching Moto GP this year. Why not?

Author: Neill Watson

Neill Watson is a professional writer, photographer and driver coach. He is the founder and editor of Historic Racer and the popular Car Photographer blog. Learn more about him and connect with him on the social media channel of your choice using the symbols below or sign up for Neill's regular email newsletter.

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