Half a decade on from his ultra-controversial 2015 title defeat, Valentino Rossi still sees his fellow MotoGP legend Marc Marquez as having played an “unforgivable” role in the outcome of that championship.
The multi-race saga involving Rossi, his then-Yamaha team-mate Jorge Lorenzo and Marquez has become an essential part of modern MotoGP lore, and while Rossi’s relationship with Marquez has occasionally appeared at least cordial the Italian has never shown any interest in burying the hatchet.
Rossi’s latest comments about his feud with Marquez came in an interview with Italian newspaper Corriere della Serra, in which Rossi was quizzed about Marquez’s ongoing injury struggles.
Marquez has been on the MotoGP sidelines since a right humerus-fracturing crash and an unsuccessful comeback attempt early in the 2020 season, and is not expected to return until after the start of the upcoming campaign at the earliest – having required three surgeries and battled a subsequent infection.
In the interview, Rossi cast doubt on the decision to allow Marquez to make his original return from injury at Jerez, but when asked whether Marquez’s absence was a positive for the championship said: “This needs a diplomatic answer – I’m very sorry he can’t race.
“If he recovers [fully] – which at the moment nobody knows if he will, not even him – he will be back as strong as he was. But Marquez is not the strongest rival I’ve had.”
And when then asked whether he has forgiven Marquez for that perceived slight in 2015, Rossi said: “Impossible. What he did to me is unforgivable.
“When I think back to those days I have the same feelings as then. And it’s been six years. It seems hard for them to change.”
What happened in 2015?
Until last year’s absence, 2015 had been the only season in Marquez’s MotoGP career when he didn’t win the title. He’d dropped away from the works Yamahas of Lorenzo and Rossi in the standings relatively early on due to a series of crashes.
Rossi was in control for much of the season, but as Lorenzo drew closer in the final stages and cut his gap to 11 points with two races to go after the Australian Grand Prix, Rossi smelled foul play.
In a remarkable press conference ahead of the subsequent round at Sepang, Rossi – with Lorenzo and Marquez both in attendance – claimed his team-mate Lorenzo was being actively helped in his title bid by Honda man Marquez.
Marquez had beaten Lorenzo to victory in a typically-frantic Phillip Island race – a fact the Honda rider cited to disprove Rossi’s claims – but the Italian theorised that Marquez had the pace to dominate and instead intentionally chose to race in the pack and in such a way that compromised Rossi.
What came next then completely overshadowed the press conference. In the Sepang race, Marquez raced Rossi hard after dropping behind Lorenzo, and it ended with Rossi kicking out at Marquez in frustration, causing him to fall.
This proved decisive for the title, as Rossi received penalty points for the indiscretion that translated to a back-of-the-grid start for the Valencia finale. His side appealed but to no avail and, after starting last, he came home in fourth place.
And Lorenzo claimed race victory, followed by Marquez – who Rossi would subsequently accuse of deliberately refusing to pass Lorenzo – and the other Honda of Dani Pedrosa, to win the title by five points and deny Rossi the crown.
What’s happened since 2015
It’s hard to describe just how frosty the relationship between Marquez and Rossi has been since that infamous day in Sepang at 2015.
Prior to events coming to a head in Malaysia, the two were if not friends then at least friendly rivals, but all respect disappeared in those weeks – and events since have conspired against any chance of redemption.
Heated scenes in the immediate aftermath of Sepang and the subsequent race at Valencia that included Marquez’s family being harassed by Italian television shows at their homes in Spain, didn’t set a good tone for rebuilding any hope of a relationship.
However, there was a small chance following the death of Luis Salom during practice for the Moto2 race at the Catalan Grand Prix the following year, where the pair begrudgingly seemed to admit that life was too short and the sport too dangerous for such grudges and that they were best put behind them, shaking hands in the post-race press conference after Rossi beat Marquez for the win.
That detente wasn’t to last, though, after Marquez and Rossi once again became embroiled in on-track antics at the Argentine Grand Prix in 2018, with another collision between the duo reigniting the war and once again leaving them fuming at each other.
Since then, there’s been no attempt whatsoever from the Rossi camp in particular to forgive and forget. He very clearly still holds a monumental grudge and has no desire to give up on it.
There are even rumours that it extended as far as Rossi blocking Marquez’s younger brother Alex’s chance to move to satellite Yamaha squad Petronas’ Moto2 team for 2020 in a deal that would’ve had a 2021 MotoGP option. That was all superseded anyway when the chance to join Marc at Repsol Honda arose for Alex instead.
Marquez is less confrontational about the whole situation than his famously-outspoken bitter rival – but nonetheless, he is also in no hurry to extend an olive branch to Rossi.
So this is one particular feud that will run until retirement – and which will no doubt cause yet more on-track drama at some point in the future.