Sunday’s Argentinian Grand Prix will go down as one of the most bizarre, entertaining and controversial races in the history of the 500cc/MotoGP World Championship.
The talking points were plenty and whilst a lot of attention post-race focused on Marc Marquez and, to a lesser extent, Valentino Rossi, the biggest point from a British perspective, and the one that needs celebrating the most, is that Cal Crutchlow won his third MotoGP. And in doing so, took over the Championship lead, the first Briton to do so since Barry Sheene in 1979.
Crutchlow’s victory, his third in MotoGP, and Honda’s 750th GP win, came in a race where a drying track saw the entire field, except pole setter Jack Miller, pull into pit lane after the warm-up lap to fit slick tyres. The Australian had already made the decision to run slicks so should have had a major advantage but the rule book was torn up and, instead of starting from the end of pit lane, the remaining 23 riders were allowed to reform on the grid albeit 50m behind Miller.
No-one seemed to know what was going on and whilst everyone else was in pit lane, Miller was left to sit alone on his Ducati in pole position. Delays took place and a 50m advantage on the grid didn’t seem anywhere enough with the Australian essentially being penalised for making the correct decision in the first place. It wasn’t MotoGP’s finest hour.
But Crutchlow, Johann Zarco, Alex Rins and Miller went on to put on a brilliant show of riding as they battled for the entire race distance. The British rider seemingly revels in such conditions and jumped to the top of the championship standings after two rounds. All four riders should have received great plaudits but were overlooked considerably instead. Rins’ first MotoGP podium, for example, barely got mentioned.
Marquez makes mistakes
What got everyone hot under the collar were the antics of Marc Marquez. From the moment he stalled his Repsol Honda, the reigning world champion seemed to be in a state of disarray and instead of pulling off the grid and starting from pit lane, he bump-started his RCV before riding it the wrong way down the track to get back to his grid position. Mistake number one.
He subsequently received a ride-through penalty for this misdemeanour which dropped him to the back of the field and as he tried to fight his way through the pack, a desperate move saw him punt Aprilia’s Aleix Espargaro off the track. Mistake number two.
This second indiscretion resulted in the race organisation instructing him to drop back a place although Espargaro later said a move on him by Danilo Petrucci, which went unpunished, was worse than that of Marquez.
But the one that caused the biggest controversy was another lunge, this time on Rossi, which caused the Italian to run wide onto the grass and fall. Mistake number three.
The Spaniard received a 30s penalty which dropped him from fifth to 18th with Rossi one further place back after remounting. The incident was similar to what happened at Malaysia in 2015 when Rossi knocked Marquez off in his own wild manoeuvre.
In scenes reminiscent of 2011 when Rossi clashed with Casey Stoner at Jerez and attempted to apologise – prompting the Australian to suggest Rossi’s ‘ambition outweighed his talent’ – Marquez made his way to Rossi’s garage after the race to make his peace. He was dismissed in no uncertain terms by the Italian’s team.
With the podium finishers largely being ignored by the media, much to Crutchlow’s annoyance – and rightly so – the fallout after the race was explosive.
Rossi didn’t hold back accusing Marquez of deliberately crashing into riders and saying “I’m scared on the track when I am with Marquez.” He also urged MotoGP to take action against Marquez, adding “This is a very bad situation, because he destroyed our sport, because he doesn’t have any respect for his rivals, never.”
Marquez responded by saying he was “completely disappointed” with Rossi’s comments and with a huge outpouring on social media where he was slated by all and sundry, he denied all of the accusations levelled at him. “In my career I never, never, never go straight to a rider thinking that he will crash. Always I try to avoid,” he said. “Today what happened with Valentino was a mistake, a consequence of the track conditions because I locked the front. But in my career, what he’s saying, I think is wrong.”
Whilst there can be no doubt Marquez’ actions were both desperate and reckless, with the red mist clearly having descended, one can’t help but acknowledge just how talented he is with his lap times way quicker than those of his rivals.
The anger directed towards him also went a little bit too far. Yes, he has form and it’s not the first time he’s collided with other riders, but so too have others albeit not so many times in one race. That was his ultimate undoing.
Rossi himself has collided with many riders as has others, the aforementioned incident with Stoner in 2011 and another at Jerez in 2005, where he piled into Sete Gibernau at the final corner just two examples.
Motorcycle racing is a very dangerous sport and Marquez needs to be punished accordingly so did the punishments fit the crimes? Yes they did. Should he be punished more? No. At the same time, one can’t help but wonder if the same penalties would have been dished out to Rossi had he committed the sins…
Having started watching motorcycle races all over the world form childhood, Phil Wain has been a freelance motorcycle journalist for 15 years and is features writer for a number of publications including BikeSport News and Classic Racer, having also been a regular contributor to MCN and MCN Sport. He is PR officer for a number of teams and riders at both the British Superbike Championship and International road races, including Smiths Triumph, Quattro Plant Kawasaki, John McGuinness, Ryan Farquhar and Keith Amor. He is also heavily involved with the Isle of Man TT Races, writing official press releases and race reports as well as providing ITV4 with statistical information.