What I do know this morning is that Jorge Lorenzo is the 2015 MotoGP world champion. I also know that he scored more points than Valentino Rossi and more race victories. He also rode and equally incredible year, just like Rossi, on a bike of stunning engineering. What I can’t be sure of is what to make of the battle of words and erosion of the MotoGP fan base in to a mob of mouth-frothing, vitriolic armchair philosophers chanting “people’s champion” and “Lorenzo’s bodyguard”.
With the win in Valencia on Sunday, Lorenzo secured his third MotoGP title and along with that achievement came the demise of Rossi’s attempt to win his 7th title in a storybook year that saw the 36-year-old rejuvenate his career, his loyal fans and along with that, the resuscitation of the MotoGP championship. A shame then that the series, which should be enjoying the explosion of publicity over one of the best season’s I have ever seen into a war of words and poorly chosen actions on all sides.
Rossi started from the back of the grid having had a penalty for his role in the clash with Honda rider Marc Marquez two week’s prior in Sepang. What he did on Sunday was nothing short of amazing as he sliced his way through the field to secure 4th in the race at Valencia. It was an epic ride by anyone’s measure but it wasn’t enough to win the title, he needed help from the Honda’s or a mistake by teammate Jorge Lorenzo. Neither materialized and Rossi was reduced to 2nd in the championship. Jorge was just too fast for anyone to catch as the lap times prove that.
When the mobocracy on social media says that Rossi is the people’s champion, they aren’t far from the truth in that the Italian has a throng of rabid fans. It’s not hard to see why the tirade on Twitter would reduce itself to third-rate hit pieces on Lorenzo as he doesn’t have that boyish Rossi charm or the Cheshire cat grin of Marquez. What he does have, though, is that metronomic pace that is nearly untouchable and it is exacerbated by the hammer of consistency and that wins world titles regardless of conspiracy.
To juxtapose, in the final race of 2008, Ferrari’s Felipe Massa was seven points behind Lewis Hamilton, meaning that Massa had to either finish first or second to win, and Hamilton had to be outside the top 5 – the same position Kimi Räikkönen had been in a year earlier, when he won the championship.
Going into the last lap, if the order stayed as it was, then Massa would have been champion. Massa crossed the checkered flag and thought that he had won the championship. Lewis Hamilton was still sixth as he came up to the second-to-last corner, but then passed Timo Glock who had just been overtaken by Sebastian Vettel and who was struggling for grip on his dry tires, and so this moved Hamilton into 5th place. Crossing the line Hamilton won the Drivers title by just a single point. If he had tied points with Massa, by virtue of 6 victories to 5 in the season, Massa would have won the title. Massa was world champion for about 8 seconds that day.
What we didn’t get post-race was accusations from Massa that Glock had let Hamilton past or helped him win the title.
To be honest, I haven’t been watching MotoGP my entire life and I really have no axe to grind here. I like Rossi, Lorenzo and Marquez and respect each for their immense talents and in Rossi’s case, what he’s given to MotoGP and vice versa. I can’t say if Marquez was pushing or holding back, I have no way of knowing that from my couch but if memory serves, I don’t recall Lorenzo and Marquez being best mates to be honest. I think Marc races to win period…regardless of who it is in front of him.
I like Rossi too. I do, however, feel that blaming Marc, Jorge or others for the loss of the title is not very becoming of a 6-time champion. Calling MotoGP and DORNA into question and suggesting there was some sort of Spanish conspiracy is a very serious allegation. It is hard to see anything else about the 2015 season other than Rossi and the accusations and that’s a shame because it was an epic season that deserves more than just hints and allegations.
In Formula 1, they have an FIA sporting regulation about bringing the sport into disrepute and to be honest, if MotoGP had this, one could argue that Rossi has run afoul of it. It’s difficult to believe you can swat a hornets nest and expect nothing in return. I tend to believe that the battle between Rossi and Marquez was really between themselves and Valentino’s nest-swatting words unleashed of torrent of stinging rebuke from Marquez. It became personal and Marc couldn’t care less about Rossi’s title bid. He was on a mission to shut the old man up.
Lorenzo had his moments as well but if I were Jorge, I would want to make sure that Rossi didn’t manipulate the series outcome through attaching my name to Marquez as well as it would diminish the effort I put in during my 2015 campaign. I would want to make sure that someone got on top of the “people’s champion” and didn’t cave to the pressure he and his mobocracy could bring to DORNA.
All of the white noise aside, Lorenzo put in a performance of legends on Sunday as did Rossi and it is a shame we aren’t speaking of those rides instead. Unfortunately, we’re parroting phrases like “Lorenzo’s bodyguard” and “people’s champion” as fanboy lemmings.
Perhaps the bigger tragedy in 2015 is the spoiling of one of the best seasons in memory due to emotional rhetoric and mobocracy but at some level, I have come to expect that this is what racing has become. Look at the NASCAR debacle, F1’s current situation and even stick and ball sports. It’s not very becoming if I’m honest.
Rossi galvanized the sport and it was never going to be easy to be the first person to challenge that dynasty as Lorenzo found out. He’s not as well-liked for whatever reason but it didn’t matter who came next, they were never going to be loved like Rossi. Then came Marquez to knock off the Rossi replacement and his boyish charm and grin reminded people that there may be life beyond Rossi and this was an exciting champion they could possibly like. Then it happened, Rossi came back and that galvanized the sport once again.
What I am left with is the sinking feeling that Rossi is much better and winning six titles than he is in losing the six titles.