Is there going to be a more heavily scrutinised MotoGP race in history than the final round of the 2015 championship at Valencia on November 8?
In a 'normal' season, all the chatter would be focussed solely on the tantalising battle for title honours between Yamaha factory teammates Valentino Rossi and Jorge Lorenzo — the smallest margin between the top two riders when arriving at the final race of the year since 1992 — but Valencia will be much more than that after the fallout from the heated penultimate round at Sepang continues.
The incident between reigning world champion Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda) and Rossi at Sepang has nearly become an industry in itself, with accusations of overblown egos and pettiness levelled at both riders from not just the motorcycle commentariat, but also an overheated and occasionally hostile social media. The big bosses of Honda and Yamaha have also had their say.
Opinions aside, the fact remains that Rossi was sanctioned by Race Direction, and confirmed by FIM stewards, to the tune of three penalty points for his Sepang actions, consigning the Italian to the final grid spot at Valencia.
However, that's not even a fait accompli now, with Rossi appealing to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) seeking annulment or reduction of the penalty that he was handed down by Race Direction. He further requests stay of execution of the decision. A decision is expected on that appeal by November 6 — the day that practice begins at Valencia.
"It will be a very intense weekend and also a very important one," says Rossi. "I want to think just about what will happen at the track. My goal is to work at my best capabilities with my team and make the most of every session to get to the race on Sunday with everything I need to express myself in the best way possible.
"I'm still waiting to hear the decision of the CAS, but I hope I can do a normal GP to battle and fight for the title on equal terms with Jorge. In Valencia there will be so many fans and I'm glad for that. I'll try to do my best on the track."
Marquez, for his part, has remained silent since he had his say about the Sepang incident, while Lorenzo hasn't been as insular, initially describing the Rossi sanction as too lenient, and then seeking to become involved in the CAS appeal through a "request for intervention". That was immediately rejected.
Here's what Lorenzo has to say ahead of Valencia: "In Malaysia we got a good result and we recovered more points in the championship, but I will skip past all that happened there and stay focused in Cheste, where there is a lot at stake.
"I hope the fans will support us at home and that we will have a good race. This year I won the previous three races that were held in Spain and to do well in Valencia would be amazing. I've always noticed the warmth of the fans and I'm sure in Valencia we will enjoy a great show. I will give everything on the track to get this championship title."
So what now? Whether Rossi's CAS appeal is successful or not, the scenarios for either Yamaha rider to become world champion in 2015 are as follows:
- If Lorenzo wins the race then Rossi needs to finish second to become world champion.
- If Lorenzo finishes second then Rossi needs to finish on the podium to become world champion.
- If Lorenzo finishes third then Rossi needs to finish sixth or better to become world champion.
- If Lorenzo finishes fourth then Rossi needs to finish ninth or better to become world champion.
- If Lorenzo finishes fifth to ninth then Rossi needs to finish no more than six places further back to become world champion.
- If Lorenzo finishes lower than ninth then Rossi will be world champion.
You won't hear Rossi or Lorenzo (or even Marquez) ruminating about the scenarios either, as the traditional pre-race press conference on Thursday has been cancelled because riders and team management will be called in front of the FIM President Vito Ippolito and Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta to discuss recent events.
If Rossi gets the job done on Sunday, it will be the Italian icon's eighth MotoGP title, and if Lorenzo's the new world champion he will become only the third rider in premier class history to turn around a points' deficit in the final round. Rossi was the 'victim' of one of those, in 2006, when American Nicky Hayden (who will retire from MotoGP after this event to start a new career in world superbikes) came from behind to get the job done after the Italian crashed and then finished well back in 13th position.
It's a tantalising recipe, and the magnitude of Lorenzo's job will not only depend on where Rossi starts the race, but on Repsol Honda teammates Marquez and Dani Pedrosa.
Pedrosa is the form rider in the field with two victories in his last three starts, and he's also the most successful rider at the Valencia circuit with six wins: three in MotoGP, two in 250cc, and one in the 125cc class. The only rider other than Pedrosa with more than two wins at Valencia is Aussie Casey Stoner (1 x 125cc, 2 x MotoGP).
Meanwhile, in 2014 Marquez won in Valencia after qualifying in fifth place on the grid — the first time the MotoGP race in Valencia has been won by a rider not starting from the front row.
"It’s been a difficult week after what happened in Sepang but I’ve tried my best to put it behind me and concentrate on my training and looking forward to the final race of the season," said Marquez. "We want to finish on a high note so we will work hard from Friday to get the bike setup well and give ourselves the best chance for the race.
"I’ve had mixed results here in the past but I enjoy racing here in front of the home fans. I hope the events of the past week can be put behind us and we can focus on the race."
With Marquez safe in third position, Pedrosa and Ducati's Andrea Iannone will fight for fourth overall in the championship at Valencia, while Bradley Smith (Monster Yamaha Tech 3) —alongside Rossi the only riders to have scored points in all 17 races this year — will finish fifth in the title as well as being the leading satellite rider.
Aussie Jack Miller (LCR Honda) will finish off his rollercoaster campaign on the Open class machine, and will be looking to continue his good form from Sepang.
With the Moto2 class already decided in favour of Frenchman Johann Zarco (Ajo Motorsport), Moto3 is also going down to the wire courtesy of Briton Danny Kent (Leopard Racing Honda) and Portugal's Miguel Oliveira (Red Bull KTM Ajo). Kent's had plenty of chances already, but he is still in the box seat to finally grab the glory at Valencia, holding a 24pt lead over the in-form Oliveira.
The last Briton to win a GP title was Barry Sheene way back in 1977.
Australia's Remy Gardner (CIP Mahindra) will compete in his final Moto3 race as he looks set for a move to Moto2 in 2016. Gardner's best result in 2015 remains his excellent 10th place at Phillip Island.
The three world championship races at Valencia will be held over the following distances and times:
• MotoGP: 30 laps, 120.2km, starting at 2:00pm local time (midnight AST)
• Moto2: 27 laps, 108.1km, starting a 12:20pm local time (10:20pm AST)
• Moto3: 24 laps, 96.1km, starting at 11:00 local time (9:00pm AST)