New season, new tires, new spec software, and the same-old bitterness. For the first time since 2015, Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo, Marc Marquez, and Dani Pedrosa gathered for the traditional pre-race press conference for the opening round of the 2016 MotoGP season in Qatar. They were joined by Andrea Iannone and Maverick Viñales, the rising stars from Ducati
, both determined to be among the protagonists in the coming season. As was predictable, there was not a gaze between Rossi and Marquez, divided by the reigning world champion Lorenzo, who was sitting in the middle. The atmosphere was icy, to say the least. Rossi confessed that he hasn’t forgotten what happened at Malaysia and then dragged on into the Valencia finale last year. He also stressed his admiration for the late Formula 1 star Ayrton Senna who settled his score with Alain Prost at Suzuka in 1990. Was it a warning for his young rival? A shot across his bow? “In the last races of the 2015 season something happened,” said Rossi. “It was something different from what we were used to seeing. I would have liked that things would have gone in a different way, and not only for the final result. It’s normal that they (the Spanish riders) don’t want to speak about it and it’s true that we cannot go on and on discussing what happened last year. It’s not useful to change. Finally it’s time to race and I really look forward to it. The most important thing is to be competitive from the very beginning. The Qatar GP is very important, you get the same 25 points, but winning at Losail (as Rossi did in 2015) has a special value because it’s the first round. I have always had good results here in Qatar but Lorenzo is the favorite. He was the strongest rider in the winter, claiming the top of the timesheets on two of the three testing sessions. He will try to do his strategy also with the Michelin tires. He will try to go away. The qualifying session should be easier for me this year with the Michelin tires, because you can do 2 or 3 laps and this suits better my style.”
In addition to fighting with Jorge Lorenzo, who remains the number-one contender for the MotoGP title, Rossi has a difficult task, namely, beating Marquez on track and taming his feelings for revenge. “Only afterwards, I understood the greatness of Senna,” continued Rossi. “He showed he had courage.” At that time, in fact, Rossi was a fan of Nigel Mansell and when Prost joined Ferrari, the young Valentino supported him. Referring to the example from Formula 1, Rossi reassured, “I think nothing particularly special will happen on track and not because it’s dangerous. The danger depends on the speed, if you go slow, it’s not dangerous. Respect counts: I hope that respect will prevail on track.” Marquez seemed uncomfortable when Valentino repeated that: “the last races of last year added something different compared to normal.” Marquez brushed off the question on whether the pair’s rivalry would intensify and said he would use the experience he gained in 2015 to improve. “I have to fight against 20 opponents to win the title, not only Valentino,” said Marquez. “Winning the championship is my target. This year will be an interesting season because everything looks closer and compared to the past there is more balance. We will try to fight for the championship and use the experience from last year from the beginning of the season to the end and fight again for the title until Valencia. The Qatar circuit doesn’t suit me and my Honda, but we can play around our technical difficulties with motivation. My attitude doesn’t change; I always give my best on track!” And then, speaking with the Spanish media, he returned on the subject of the rivalry: “Rossi repeats always the same things, he has said that so many times that in the end he will also convince me that I have been unfair.”
Starting tonight, 37-year old Rossi and 23-year old Marquez will duel on track to the very last hundredth of a second, but helmets off, they will ignore each other. “Only respect on track counts,” says Rossi. “The personal relationships cannot be the same.” This is Rossi’s double mission facing his 21st Grand Prix season. If the revenge feeling prevails, Rossi has everything to lose, but if he tries to have fun and enjoy racing as he has always done, anything can be possible. Even a 10th title. On his side, the nine-time world champion can count on his experience, his unquestionable talent and his extraordinary skill to adapt to the changes (this year the switch to the Michelin tires and the introduction of the unified electronics software). He feels in perfect shape and has strong motivation. Will this be enough? At 37-years old, The Doctor will have to fight against the younger Lorenzo and Marquez, who are as fast, determined, and ruthless as he used to be against his historical rivals Max Biaggi and Sete Gibernau.
Lorenzo dominated winter testing and is able to get the most out of his Yamaha M1. Marquez has suffered more with his Honda due to the new software that the team is still struggling to tame due to the more aggressive engine of the RC213V, but he will be there fighting for the top positions. Last year, Rossi took advantage of the troubles that, for different reasons, affected his teammate and the Honda riders. The 2016 championship looks different and more difficult for the Italian, but Rossi reassures us that he is “facing the new season with the same enthusiasm and motivation.” Regarding the future, his intention is to continue racing for two more years with Yamaha. Two more seasons of spectacular battles and new challenges. There is no time for revenge. Read More