Author: Oli Rushby Posted: 23 Dec 2015
The 2015 MotoGP season was one of the most memorable in recent years. While many will undoubtedly focus on the unprecedented drama of the final three rounds, the season as a whole had so much more than that.
In five races this season the winner crossed the line less than a second ahead of the man in second place; something almost unheard of in this modern era of MotoGP where runaway victors have become commonplace.
Instead of one or two races to remember, the 2015 season presented an array of spectacular encounters, all very different in their own special way, contributing to one of the most unpredictable MotoGP championships of all time.
That unpredictability began at the very first race in Qatar. That night, under the blinding floodlights, we were given an indication of what was to come throughout the next 17 rounds.
Having dominated the last two seasons, Marc Marquez was a clear favourite for the title this year but in Qatar we saw something unusual. While the cheeky Spaniard is known for his practice crashes, it’s become rare for him to make a mistake in a race, but that’s exactly what he did. Running wide in the first few turns, Marquez’ race was almost over before it had even started.
After finishing second in the championship in 2014, it made perfect sense that Valentino Rossi would be the one to shine with Marquez out contention. Just 12 months previous at the same circuit the Italian veteran had run young Marquez to the line in a last-lap battle for the win.
Despite Marquez’ absence, Rossi didn’t have it easy and the challenge didn’t come from where you’d expect. Ducati’s Andrea Dovizioso pushed the nine-time world champion until the very end, indicating the Bologna factory’s dark years may have come to an end.
At the second round in Austin normal service resumed as Marquez stormed to victory just as he had in the previous two years. Dovizioso continued to show promise for Ducati taking another second place, this time ahead of Rossi.
It looked as though we’d have a similar scenario in Argentina. Having qualified on pole, Marquez, keen to show his mistake in Qatar was a one-off, shot off the line and into the distance. However, towards the end of the race Marquez’ pace dropped as his tyre began to wear. Despite the Spaniard holding a significant lead, second-placed Rossi began to close the gap and little did we know what was about to happen.
What came next turned out to be the first in a series of events that would lead to the irrevocable breakdown of Rossi and Marquez’ relationship.
Rossi quickly reeled Marquez in and wasted no time in making a move. Despite the Italian’s far superior grip, Marquez tried to fight back but Rossi had the upper hand.
Desperate not to settle for second, Marquez continued to fight but after two corners hit Rossi’s rear wheel and dramatically crashed out of the race in what would become the first of five DNFs for the Spaniard across the season.
After a somewhat troubling 2014, Jorge Lorenzo got off to a quiet start this year. His results in the first three races (fourth, fourth and fifth) were by no means bad but if he wanted to add to the two GP world titles he already had, he’d at least need to start finishing on the podium.
As the first European leg of the season got underway in Jerez, Lorenzo woke up. He took the win some five seconds ahead of Marquez’ Respol Honda. Rossi completed the podium.
The next major turning point in the 2015 season came at Mugello. Lorenzo had won the three previous rounds, but with Rossi having been on the podium at every round so far it was his best chance of victory at the Tuscan circuit since 2009.
The colossal congregation of Rossi fans were left disappointed as Lorenzo took his fourth victory in a row. Crucially, however, Marquez crashed again. His second DNF of the season while Rossi continued his podium run.
Marquez crashed for the third time at the next round in Catalunya while pursuing Lorenzo for the lead on lap three. If his chances of taking a third title weren’t over already, it was starting to look that way.
TT Circuit Assen, once dubbed the Cathedral of Speed, is a venue known to provide exhilarating racing. Marquez was determined to come back fighting, Lorenzo had his sights set on Rossi’s championship lead and Rossi knew his team-mate was closing in.
The race would be between Rossi and Marquez. The pair were inseparable on track, their pace identical.
They fought hard over the final few laps and it became clear that whoever was going to take the win would have to make the boldest of moves to secure it. Chasing Rossi into the last sector on the final lap it was down to Marquez to try. He barged past the Italian in the penultimate turn pushing them both wide. Rossi ran on into the gravel, but knowing it wasn’t too deep, he ploughed through to re-join the track ahead of Marquez and took victory by over a second.
Honda protested the result claiming Rossi had cut the corner but the reality of the situation was that he was only off the track because Marquez had put him there. It was ruled a racing incident but left another big dent in Marquez and Rossi’s friendship.
Marquez won the next two races and finished second to Lorenzo in Brno; but having already given away 75 points through crashes, it was too little too late.
Lorenzo, however, had equalled Rossi’s points lead and looked poised to move ahead as the series came to the UK. Rossi hadn’t won since Assen and Lorenzo looked to be on unbeatable form but the unpredictability of the 2015 season continued in true British fashion as the weather intervened.
A sudden downpour while riders were on the grid forced a delayed start at Silverstone and fortunately for Rossi the rain continued to fall. Suffering with a steaming up visor, Lorenzo endured a nightmare race as Rossi made his way to the front.
Taking victory in front of the British crowd for the first time in ten years, Rossi pulled away from Lorenzo once again.
The weather didn’t just cause havoc in Britain. A week later in Misano a wet start on a drying track brought us an incident-packed race. Bradley Smith and Scott Redding scored a double podium for the UK, even after Redding binned it in the early stages.
In terms of the championship it was an important race. Rossi looked to have the win in the bag. Lorenzo dramatically crashed out with six laps remaining, handing Rossi an important advantage but the Italian was unable to capitalise fully as he stayed out on track too long on wet tyres. By the time he pitted for slicks he’d lost so much time he could only finish fifth.
Lorenzo clawed a few points back by winning in Aragon with Rossi behind Marquez in third. but Rossi showed he was determined to win a tenth title by beating Lorenzo to second in Japan behind Dani Pedrosa.
The Australian Grand Prix was quite possibly the best motorcycle Grand Prix race we’ve seen in decades. A four way, race-long scrap for the lead has never been witnessed before in the four-stroke MotoGP era and even when Lorenzo looked to be checking out at the front, Marquez, Rossi and Iannone were still knocking ten bells out of one another for second. Marquez eventually broke free, caught Lorenzo and took the win.
Just four days later Rossi hit out at Marquez for allegedly holding him up in the earlier stages of the race in Australia preventing him getting near Lorenzo. Taking it one step further, he even accused Marquez of doing it on purpose to aid Lorenzo in the title fight, suggesting the Spaniard was looking to seek revenge for Argentina and Assen.
The outburst didn’t help matters as Rossi and Marquez found themselves fighting for third place in the opening laps in Sepang. A gigantic duel ensued between the pair; both began to look increasingly frustrated and corner by corner the moves became more aggressive.
It culminated with Rossi deliberately running Marquez wide. The Italian almost stopped, clearly intending to slow the Repsol Honda down. They touched. Marquez fell. Rossi looked behind and continued on his way.
That move cast a dark shadow on the 2015 season. Had Rossi deliberately knocked Marquez off? That remains unknown. Rossi says he didn’t mean for Marquez to crash but freely admitted deliberately trying to slow him as he felt he was again attempting to prevent him from reaching Lorenzo.
Marquez’ story was slightly different. He claimed Rossi kicked his handlebars as they touched and Honda even claimed to have data evidence to prove it.
Following the race Race Direction handed Rossi three penalty points for the incident. This, when added to his single point for holding Lorenzo up in qualifying at Misano, meant he’d have to start the final race in Valencia from the back of the grid. His lead over Lorenzo in the standings was just seven points.
Rossi attempted to appeal the decision at the highest level, the Court of Arbitration for Sport, in the hope that they would suspend his penalty while they investigated. However, the CAS decided that wouldn’t be necessary leaving Rossi to start from the back.
Rossi fought through like the champion he is to take fourth place but it wasn’t enough to stop Lorenzo who took a dominant lights to flag victory. However, the controversy didn’t stop there as Rossi accused Marc Marquez of ‘protecting’ Lorenzo during the race. The Italian slammed the two-time GP world champion as ‘embarrassing’ suggesting Marquez had opted against fighting for the win in order to help Lorenzo.
The controversy of the final three rounds was just a small part of what made the 2015 season. While some may say it was ‘ruined’ we were still gifted one of the best championship battles in modern times. When thinking back to Qatar, Assen, Misano and Phillip Island you realise what an epic season we’ve been witness to this year.
Nobody can question the deservedness of Lorenzo as champion. He won more races, led more laps and took more poles than any other rider. He came back to form not once but twice, first from a lacklustre start to the season and then after losing significant points at Silverstone and Misano.
Rossi would have deserved it too. At 36 years of age he rode a remarkable season, but it just wasn’t quite remarkable enough.