Yes, we have to talk about it. We have to talk about it because the Rossi v. Marquez rivalry continues to be the most mesmerizing on track rivalry since Rossi v. Lorenzo, Rossi v. Stoner, Rossi v. Biaggi, Rossi v. Gibernau, and Rossi v. Hayden before that. There is an obvious pattern here. The man who has been the most beloved and successful motorsportsman of his generation will be the epicenter of MotoGP long after he retires. The man that is unfortunate enough to be Valentino Rossi’s rival finds himself becoming an anti-hero. Most of the men who have found out that the lovable, social, hospitable, and grateful Italian can be a ruthless competitor no longer find themselves on the back of a motorcycle on any grid. Men like Biaggi and Gibernau have seen their talents and hopes dashed by the plague that is Rossi’s wrath. Now it’s Marc Marquez, the kid who stormed MotoGP in 2012, whose laugh and smile had earned him as much love as his daring cornering and outright speed. Rossi and Marquez weren’t natural rivals. The age difference and the simple fact that Marquez won, and won convincingly made sure of the fact that each rider had respect for each other. Rossi, a fan of Marquez, Marquez adoring Rossi. There was no ill will between the two until Malaysia.
Some say it started in Argentina, when Rossi threw his bike into a corner as Marquez tried to ride on the outside on the penultimate lap, knocking Marquez’s front wheel and sending the two time MotoGP champion into the asphalt and down the championship standings. Then there was a sunny Saturday at the Assen circuit where again Rossi came out on top, pushing Marquez off the racing line as the Italian was forced to cut the last corner on his way to a victory. Time and time again the young Spaniard learned the meaning of the phrase, “You should never meet your heros.” There must have been a time when Marc, 14 years Rossi’s junior watched the Italian send one rider after another out of the sport. Now as we head into the 2016 season, three months after the ‘Sepang Incident’ Marquez must navigate how he can remain the future idol of the sport. To be on the wrong side of Rossi means to be on the wrong side of a considerable amount of MotoGP fanbase.
During the off season Marquez severed his contract with VR46 Merchandise, Rossi’s company which has distribution deals with Dani Pedrosa, Scott Redding, Cal Crutchlow, Jack Miller, Romano Fenati, Maverick Viñales, Bradley Smith, Alvaro Bautista, and Pol Espargarò just to name a few. While the riders remained mostly silent during the off-season, Rossi took to the Italian press ten days before the Qatar Grand Prix to lay down his version of events and how he feels on the cusp of a new season. Words such as “betrayal”, “screwed”, and phrases such as “our relationship can never be recovered” were among the carefully selected vocabulary. Several things became clearer as time passed from Malaysia. Among them is dispelling the notion that Rossi kicked Marquez off his bike. Something that given the fact that each bike and rider weighs in excess of 450 pounds and is moving at 30 mph would mean that Rossi would have needed a running start to drop Marquez. Plus why did his bike fall inside and not over if Rossi kicked him? Secondly is that as rash as the riders were, FIM, the governing body equivalent of the FiA botched the post-Sepang, pre-Valencia schedule as bad as you could. It caused an even worse riff between Rossi and Marquez, and also dragged Lorenzo and Pedrosa into the mess with them. FIM decided to give each rider a personal press conference instead of the group conferences that are the standard. This fear of incident only added to the pressure, stress, and distrust among the riders, and forced Pedrosa and Lorenzo to weigh in on the issue.
Rossi may be the “People’s Champion” of 2015 but the history books don’t have a section for “People’s Champion”. In Rossi’s desperate attempt to pass Agostini’s eight premier class titles it will be a painful reminder that Marquez is a primary culprit in that failed attempt. Rossi’s 2015 season can be summed up as a combination of consistency and luck. Rossi was one of only two riders to score points in every race. Marquez failed to score any in six races. Lorenzo won four races in a row before his crash in Misano opened the gap for Rossi. It is hard to imagine Marquez again losing out on 150 points through crashes, and for Rossi to be so consistent. It may have been Rossi’s last chance to win his tenth title overall, eighth in the premier class matching Agostini for the most all time.. That doubt that Rossi can again get as close to another title as he did in 2015 must fuel Rossi’s contempt for the Spaniard who is poised to be the face of MotoGP once the Italian hangs up his helmet. All eyes are on Marquez and his response to every word of criticism he will face. Every move on track when Rossi is nearby will be scrutinized. He risks losing his brand, one that consists of a huge smile and daring moves. It will be a season of trials and tribulations for Marquez. The jeers and boos for Marc will be deafening in Misano. In Bruno. In Silverstone. In Mugello. In Rossi-Land which covers every square inch of tarmac outside of Spain, Marquez will be the scorn of tens of thousands of die hard Rossi fans. He must now move on, and forward from this crisis with Rossi. Or at the very least put up results to match his words if he chooses to escalate the situation. Because if you come at the King, you best not miss.
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