Former world champion Kevin Schwantz weighs in on the Marquez/Rossi controversies
1993 World Champion Kevin Schwantz has delivered his verdict on the final three races of the 2015 MotoGP season. And he believes Rossi didn’t have the pace at Valencia to match either title rival and Yamaha teammate Jorge Lorenzo nor Honda riders Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa.
That, said Schwantz, is what doomed Rossi's championship hopes, even had the Italian legend's appeal against his grid penalty been successful.
Schwantz told Motorsport.com: “Rossi was in trouble with the season ending where it did. Even if he hadn’t had a penalty but had still started that race in 12th after that mistake in qualifying, I don’t think he had the speed to match the top three. All the way back to when Nicky Hayden was racing him back in ’06, Rossi has a problem with Valencia. He just struggles to be quick around there.
“Vale did a great job to get through to fourth from the back of the grid, but by the time he got there he was 11 seconds down on third, and probably had used his tires more than the first three, because of having to get aggressive and pass all those other bikes. You can’t expect to have anything left for the front three in the second half of the race after a first half of a race like that.”
Schwantz also cast doubt on Rossi’s belief that Marquez had been helping Lorenzo win the title over the final three races, but felt that both riders were in the wrong in the penultimate round at the Sepang circuit in Malaysia.
Phillip Island – a lesson for Marquez
“Let’s take the Australian Grand Prix – absolutely the best racing of the year, by the way. Fantastic. For Rossi to say Marquez was playing with him to hold him up… OK, there’s always that possibility. But he pointed to Marc’s super-quick pace on the final lap and I don’t think that’s any proof of what he’s saying. I think Marc was right in that yes, he had needed to protect his tires up to that point.
“I look back at when me and Wayne [Rainey] were racing and quite often we’d set our fastest laps on the final lap. That’s when you’re light on fuel and if you’ve been protecting your tires the whole time, now you don’t need to. It’s the final lap and you can just go flat out so your time on the final lap will look quite a bit quicker And anyway, these days, if some of the grip has gone away, what the hell does that matter? With all the electronics, you’ve got spin control to save you!”
Schwantz did admit that no one but the protagonists know the full story, however.
“Maybe Rossi detects something different in their fights compared with how Marquez fights others,” he said. “I don’t know – it’s only Vale inside that helmet, and those leathers, so his perspective is unique. We can’t judge. But from what I saw, there was no legitimate reason for Rossi to complain after Australia.”
On a side note, Schwantz expressed hope that Marquez can learn from his performance at Phillip Island.
“After that race I thought, ‘I hope Marquez’s guys sit him down and make him watch that last lap over and over again. They should tell him he was all over the map early on in the race – kept missing the apex for the first turn, for example. He was getting it so wrong that I assumed the setup was bad or that his front tire was already giving up.
“But if you watch the last lap, he was smooth, calculating, bike not moving around under power – and that was the fastest lap of the race. So I think his management should point out, ‘Marc, look how fast it was but also less risky to ride that way.’ Yes, I know he’s been champion twice already, but I think that last lap at Phillip Island was a little lesson he could really learn from.”
Sepang – a lesson for Rossi
Both Rossi and Marquez were out of line in the Malaysian Grand Prix, according to Schwantz, and it started with the pre-race build up.
He said: “First Valentino stirs up trouble in the Thursday press conference complaining about Marc in Australia. That gave Marc the perfect reason to go, ‘OK, screw you, I will mess with you this weekend!’ Rossi then got tired of it, and later admitted that yes, he did something wrong.
“So of course they were going to penalize him for it. Marquez isn’t completely faultless because if you turn in on a guy twice with your brake lever exposed, that’s too risky, you’re asking to be knocked off. I don’t think how it turned out was what Rossi intended; I don’t think he sent Marquez to the ground on purpose, but never mind that – the guy did end up on the ground.
"In those situations, the race director has to do something, and so those three penalty points were the minimum they could come up with. But they tipped him over the line because he already had a penalty point and so he has to start the final race at the back.”
Valencia – Lessons learned from previous rounds
Rossi’s post-race comments about Marquez acting as “bodyguard” for Lorenzo in the final race, despite racing for rival teams, have been angrily disputed and defended by MotoGP fans over the past two days. Schwantz defended Marquez’s approach in Valencia.
“If it was me racing say, Eddie Lawson and Wayne Rainey back in the day, and those two were competing for the championship and I wasn’t in the hunt, then I would ride slightly differently against them in the final race. Unless I had a clear-cut opportunity to go by at the end of a straightaway on the brakes, or could pounce on a mistake, I wasn’t going to take an extra-risky move. The last thing I’d want to do was be the deciding factor in the outcome of the championship.
“Was that how Marquez was thinking after all the fuss about the previous two races? I don’t know for sure, but to me he looked on the limit as he was chasing Lorenzo. Those were fast lap times they were both putting up."
However, Schwantz admitted he was "not 100 percent certain" of Marquez's motives in the finale.
“When we see Pedrosa start to come back at them, yeah, OK, now you can be a bit suspicious of Marquez because Dani runs down Lorenzo and Marquez in what… 2.4 seconds in four laps? And then when he gets there, suddenly Marc gets all aggressive with his teammate.
"But you could argue that maybe was because Pedrosa isn’t in the title fight, so Marquez feels he can take bigger risks. Who knows? And how do you determine what Marc’s ultimate pace was?
"All we know is that Honda had no complaints about their rider, and he did keep the pressure on Lorenzo right to the checkered flag.”
Schwantz urged riders and fans to move on, but admitted he had enjoyed how the drama and controversy had generated so much comment and attention for MotoGP. He remarked: “I’m of the opinion that it was good publicity for the series. Look at motorsport.com – you had story after story, news and opinions and viewpoints. That’s great – more coverage than we’ve ever gotten!
“But now I think it’s time for these guys to put it all behind them. You know, after the [Valencia] race, I sent Rossi a text saying, ‘Hey man, that’s the best race you could have hoped for unless a Honda or two fell down. Move on. Go get ’em next year.’ And that’s how I feel now. What’s done is done, let’s start talking about 2016.”