Destroying The Sport – And How Not To Do It
Maybe the most penetrating comment in the continuing fall-out surrounding Argentina’s Marquez-Rossi clash was one of the simplest, from an American reader. That if Marquez hadn’t have done that (knocked Rossi down with a botched overtake), then he wouldn’t be Marquez.
There is a corollary.
That if Rossi hadn’t played his “aggrieved innocent” game afterwards—all laughing charm and injured propriety—then he wouldn’t be Rossi.
In the same way, if Valentino hadn’t have done something achingly similar to Sete Gibernau at Jerez (although by good fortune Sete didn’t crash), he wouldn’t be Rossi, either.
To say nothing about the more recent time that he did push Marquez off and into a crash at Sepang in 2015. I note that back then he didn’t accuse himself of “destroying our sport”—the imprecation he hurled at Marquez directly after the race at Termas de Rio Hondo.
Nor did he apply the same sanction to Zarco—whose very similar move at the same corner actually left Pedrosa with a fractured wrist; nor to Petrucci, a frequent “destroys our sport” offender who clouted Espargaro’s Aprilia during the Argentine race.
To be fair to all of these sport destroyers, in Argentina it was very easy to stray off a narrow dry line onto a damp patch, making some collisions inevitable.
With Rossi and Marquez, however, it’s different. And very personal, in a cold war in which the older rider has history on his side, and all the best propaganda.
Where he loses out, of course, is because his career path, unlike that of Marquez, is past the crest and on the downhill slope. Contributing no doubt to an unavoidable bitterness.
It’s amazing how Rossi at 39 can still find the motivation to be competitive on the track. Yet his greater accomplishment is driven by charm. His public persona is flawless. He can’t put a foot wrong. In the commercialized world of MotoGP, that makes him the champion even when the young pups do beat him.
As a consequence, the man many regard as the GOAT gets away with playing both sides against one another and still emerges as not just the moral victor, but also takes 99 percent of the sympathy vote.
Marc was to be called up in front of Dorna at the GP in Austin. He will probably have escaped punishment beyond a “calm-down” talking to. Even though Kevin Schwantz, for one, called for a threat of a season-long ban should he do it again.
But the booing of vociferous Rossi fans when (as is inevitable) Marquez wins most of this year’s remaining races will be redoubled. And Valentino will smile beatifically while admiring the sea of yellow, each garment another little ker-ching in his bank account—the same smile he wore while telling the adoring TV cameras about his terrible ill-treatment at the hands of Marquez in Argentina.
It’s impossible not to admire Marquez’s speed and commitment in Argentina. He was streets ahead. An ill-judged (and ill-policed) error on the starting grid meant he had already served a ride-through, while an ill-judged overtake on Aleix Espargaro earned him a “drop-one-place” penalty (he in fact dropped two places, just to make sure). And even so, thanks to his special deal with the laws of physics, he’d come all the way through to challenge Rossi for sixth.
I don’t want to come over as blindly approving of Marquez’s manic move on Rossi, when he could clearly have waited until one or two corners later with less risk. But I do believe it was a genuine mistake—locking up the front and consequently running wide onto a wet patch. And he was punished: by 30-seconds, which dropped him from fifth and out of the points.
But I am surely not alone in thinking that Rossi’s response was overblown, manipulative, callous, and ultimately beneath the dignity of a great sportsman.
Rossi has a lot of people singing in his chorus. Consider this from Italian racing Svengali Carlo Pernat (with high-level past involvement not only with Rossi but among others also Biaggi, Capirossi, Iannone and the multi-titled two-stroke Aprilia effort). Pernat wrote on the Italian website GPOne that Marquez had done “a really dishonorable thing. Now Marc has everyone against him and they are scared to be hit by him… Dorna should disqualify him for one race and if it doesn’t it will cast a shadow over the whole championship.”
I hereby urge the opposite.
Marc should be left to ride as he does. Rossi should cast his mind back to his own youthful transgressions.
And the rest of us should celebrate that for all the PR speak, the TV slush and commercialization, bike racing is as tough as ever it was, and will ever remain so.CN