Valentino Rossi and Marc Marquez renew their bitter rivalry as the MotoGP World Championship gets under way in Qatar on Sunday, with accusations of betrayal and intimidation still dominating the paddock.
Nine-time world champion Rossi was within touching distance of a 10th title on his Yamaha last season, only for an ill-judged kick at Honda rival Marquez at the penultimate race in Malaysia.
He was punished by being forced to start the title-decider in Valencia at the back of the grid, a penalty which allowed his Yamaha teammate Jorge Lorenzo to take the championship by just five points.
Rossi finished fourth, but accused Marquez of deliberately helping fellow Spaniard Lorenzo to the finish line at his expense by acting effectively as a bodyguard.
“I allowed myself to be tricked by Marquez. He really betrayed me. He said he was a fan, but it was all lies, bullshit,” Rossi said on the eve of his 21st season as a professional rider.
“It would be hypocritical to say that it’s over and shake his hand, because it’s not true. Our relationship can never be recovered. I like to do real things, not to pretend,” the Italian added.
Rossi and Lorenzo are to be teammates again this year, but they are far from friends, a factor which adds to Yamaha’s conundrum at the end of the year when both men are to be out of contract.
“What happened [last year] took a toll, so whatever happens, it seems tricky to consider keeping Lorenzo and Rossi at Yamaha in 2017,” Yamaha Tech 3 boss Herve Poncharal told motorsport.com. “If Lorenzo stays, I don’t know if Rossi will want to stay, and vice versa.”
The public disputes between Rossi, triple MotoGP champion Lorenzo and Marquez, a two-time winner of the elite title, have also attracted the attention of legendary 15-time champion Giacomo Agostini.
“I would like to see a bit more respect between them, because for me this is the most important thing,” Agostini told motogp.com, reflecting on the Rossi-Marquez spat.
“I don’t think that true friendship can exist between rivals in our sport, but the important thing is to have respect for each other as that leads to great racing and this is what I hope we will see,” he added.
Marquez, the 2013 and 2014 champion, saw his hopes of a third successive triumph undone mid-season when he fractured a finger in a dirt bike accident.
The 23-year-old again sees Lorenzo, Rossi and Honda teammate Dani Pedrosa as being his primary rivals to the title.
“The strength of Lorenzo is his speed; the guy is fast and once he’s far ahead on track it’s very hard to beat him. Valentino has a lot of experience and Dani’s comprehensive understanding of a situation is his strong point, but you never know who else could surprise you, especially seeing how the Ducati team are getting stronger with a lot of technical improvements,” he said.
This year’s championship starts under the lights in Qatar on Sunday and ends in Valencia in November with 21 riders — nine of whom are Spanish — battling over 18 races.
Rossi won in Qatar 12 months ago, but endured mixed fortunes in pre-season testing at the desert track, twice coming off his machine.
The championship also has a different tire supplier, with Bridgestone giving way to Michelin, while a new electronic control system has also been introduced.
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