MotoGP Race Direction has rejected a protest made by Alex Marquez's Estrella Galicia 0,0 team against Moto3 title rival Jack Miller and Miller's Ajo team-mate Danny Kent.
Marquez's lead over Miller was cut from 25 to eleven points after a thrilling penultimate round at Sepang in Malaysia, which ended with Miller second and Marquez fifth.
Part of a seven-rider lead group, Miller and Marquez made contact numerous times as they battled for both race and championship position.
The Estrella Galicia 0,0 protest contained two different elements. The first claimed that Miller had shown unsportsmanlike behaviour, trying to deliberately run into Marquez in order to force him off line, lose positons or crash.
“We looked at six passing manoeuvres, four of which did not warrant further investigation. They were completely normal passing manoeuvres,” MotoGP Race Director Mike Webb told Crash.net. “In the other two passes there was light contact - and they were definitely hard and close passing maneuverers - but our unanimous decision as Race Direction was that no rules were broken.
“Taken in isolation, not one incident warranted action. The fact that there was more than one meant we looked closer. Ultimately, no rules were broken but we made clear to Miller that it was very, very close to the limit of hard racing.”
Speaking before the investigation, Miller rejected the suggestion that his tactics had crossed the line.
“I just put my bike where he wanted to be. I didn't drive my bike into him. I just made it difficult for him to turn into the corner. If I deliberately wanted him to crash I could quite easily drive my bike into the side of him and he'd be on the floor. But I didn't want this. I just wanted to race as clean as possible but make it difficult for him to try and get as many bikes between myself and him.”
Told that Alex Marquez and his team were unhappy at the passes, Miller responded: “As you know with the Marquezes they touch a lot, so this is - for me - racing in their way. As you saw, it wasn't like I was the only one touching. He touched me many times also and put me wide. But a couple of the times when he put me wide, he went wide himself and I'd come back up the inside.”
While a visibly angry Alex Marquez avoided public comment, older brother Marc Marquez gave his opinion after winning the following MotoGP race.
“I have a lot of experience about these situations with Race Direction!” said Marc, himself penalised for aggressive riding in the past. “I go into Race Direction many times for touching one time, one rider. But during one race to touch six, seven times. Always in the same situation, the same style. I've never seen in the past.
“I don't know the decision of Race Direction, but Miller was really aggressive, but if Race Direction say he is able to do it I think my brother has enough potential and enough body to do it too.”
That is one thing, at least, that both Miller and the Marquez brothers seem to agree on.
“It's going to be like the last round of a boxing match,” Miller said of the Valencia season finale. “The gloves come off and everybody goes for it. It's only Marquez and me now fighting for the championship, so we can either be first or second. All or nothing.”
All of which could mean a further headache for Race Direction.
“My instructions to both riders were; 'don't let this carry on to Valencia, we don't need a grudge match',” Webb warned. “I'm fully aware that there are two sides and someone is not going to be happy. And the last time these two were together [at Aragon] the other side wasn't happy.
“It's an intense championship and I appreciate that not taking action in this case possibly leaves us open to things carrying on to Valencia. I impressed on them that is not what we want. I am trying to be first of all consistent with what we have done during the year and secondly view each incident on its own merits.”
Given that Marquez escaped punishment when Miller crashed out following their contact at Aragon, some will say that Miller's Sepang moves didn't even warrant an investigation since no rider fell.
Webb made clear that it is the motive, as much as the level of contact, that determines whether a punishment is given.
“The Aragon incident is different. They were both trying to be on the same line and because there was a narrow dry line there was no option to run wide,” he said.
“Intention does come into it a great deal. For example Marc Marquez crashed into Iannone in the wet second practice here and there was no penalty simply because we accepted Marquez's version that he had no intention of passing Iannone.
“There was a river of water and he momentarily lost the front as he crossed the water. And so from being far behind with no intention of passing, he had to release the brake and suddenly found himself next to Iannone with nowhere to go. So it was a non-deliberate mistake.
“By contrast, Iannone in Phillip Iannone received a penalty for intentionally trying to pass two riders, getting it wrong and running into Pedrosa. Intention comes into it a great deal as well as all the surrounding circumstances.
“Every incident is individual. We look at what is leading up to it, what exactly the riders are doing and what their intention is. At Valencia we will start again and I sincerely hope we don't have a repeat.
“Some people say if you penalise them right now it stops. But we have to be consistent. We took these decisions based on our interpretations of the rules all year. There will be people who don't agree and people who do. That's the nature of the game.”
The second part of the Estrella protest was the accusation that Danny Kent had deliberately slowed down while in front of Marquez at Turn Six on the final lap, causing Marquez to lose contact with the group ahead.
“The video does show that at that point the leading three did pull away,” Webb said. “So we reviewed the onboard data logger of Kent's bike. Our independent data technician concluded that Kent did indeed close the throttle at that point.
“However he had arrived at the turn faster than on the previous laps, opened the throttle earlier than any other lap and the rear tyre had moved. As the rear tyre started losing traction Kent instinctively closed the throttle to regain traction, then immediately opened the throttle when the tyre was back in line.
“So it was a normal mistake while trying to go as fast as you can on used tyres. We are convinced it was not a deliberate attempt to slow down Marquez.”
While team orders are understood to be in place at Ajo's KTM/Husqvarna teams, Miller believes Alex Rins was playing a similar role for Marquez.
“I felt Rins was being a good team-mate to him [Marquez]. Rins is normally a very clean rider and today he didn't give the room he normally gives, which is completely understandable," Miller said. "But I think he's been a better team-mate to Marquez than Marquez was to him last year.”
Regardless of the title outcome, Miller will move straight to MotoGP with LCR Honda next season while Marquez is stepping up to Moto2 with Marc VDS.