Ambushed by Valentino Rossi's allegations on Thursday, Marc Marquez got his chance to respond after opening practice at Sepang.
Marquez had appeared unsure whether Rossi was joking as he sat smiling alongside the Italian in the pre-event press conference, whilst claims were made that the Honda rider tried to help Rossi's title rival Jorge Lorenzo at Phillip Island last Sunday.
Any doubts about Rossi's seriousness were swiftly erased when the Yamaha rider criticised Marquez far more harshly
- including producing printed lap times as 'evidence' - when talking to the Italian media afterwards.
Whilst that was going on, Marquez was performing his own media duties to the Spanish press and was thus unaware of Rossi's further comments. Talking to a handful of English-speaking media in the Repsol Honda hospitality on Friday, the outgoing double MotoGP champion got his chance to respond.
“After some hours, I'm still surprised like I think everybody,” Marquez began. “Of course I respect Valentino and I will respect always, but I understand also his situation. That he is fighting for the title, he is really close to getting his tenth title, but he knows Jorge is really strong. So for that reason I prefer to be out of this battle.
“Of course yesterday Valentino pushed to me, but in the end he needs to beat Jorge on the racetrack. So I don't want to be inside [the title battle] but in the end I'm doing my race. I think what I did in Phillip Island was the best, which was win the race and take the 25 points for my team, my sponsors and my factory.
“I will try to do the same here and Valencia. Try to win. Of course if I cannot win I'll try to finish second, or third. Like I say before the Phillip Island race, I will try to do my 100%.”
Among the long list of allegations made by Rossi was that Marquez is still angry about their clashes at Argentina and Assen, is “thinking like a child” and that “the lesser evil is for him is for Lorenzo to win [the title].”
“I didn't lose any respect [for Rossi] because in the end I understand his situation,” Marquez said. “Even if you are Valentino, Jorge, Marc or Dani - when you are fighting for the title, remain two races, 11 points. After a year like that everybody feel the pressure.
“Like I say, I don't want to be inside of this battle. I want to give to them the show inside the track and have a great battle between him and Jorge. But of course there is the possibility that me, Dani, Andrea will be in the middle. Maybe it will be a good thing for Valentino, maybe a good thing for Jorge.
“But in the end everybody here is doing his race and, as I said at Phillip Island before the race, he is not my team-mate that is fighting for the title. So just I will do my race and I will try to finish first and if that is not possible second, third.”
Why do you think Rossi has brought you into the battle?
“I don't know, new strategy no?!” Marquez smiled. “I was really surprised because at Phillip Island in the end I won the race. I did an incredible last lap, taking a risk to overtake Lorenzo in the downhill after a hot lap, that always is difficult.
“You know, in the end I respect him and maybe it is a new strategy. We don't know. Only Valentino knows this, but like I say of course I understand and respect [him], but he needs to beat Jorge on the track and I think Valentino is strong enough to beat Jorge on the track.
“Valentino is leading the championship by 11 points. He knows that if he finishes just behind or in front of Jorge he will win the championship, so he doesn't need to be worried.”
Did Rossi say anything to you about it at Phillip Island?
“Yeah we already speak because, you know, outside of the European races always there is a small party and we were there. We speak and he asked me about the race and everything, but he was not like this
. Just he said to me, 'why the last lap was so fast? Why you push in the middle of the race, then Jorge overtake you?'
“But it is like I say, I tried to manage the race, manage my situation, my tyres, my front tyre and in the end do the best and my target was win the race. Doesn't matter how, if by five seconds or by one millisecond.”
Did you feel angry about the comments from Valentino?
“No I'm not angry because like I say at the first moment that I heard that, I don't want to be inside of this [title] battle. But this doesn't mean that maybe here, Valencia - we don't know because it can happen - maybe Pedrosa, Iannone, me will be in-between Jorge and Valentino.
“Maybe it will be a help for Valentino and maybe it will be a help for Jorge. But in the end everybody is doing his own race and everybody is trying to get the best result for his team and sponsors.”
Marquez concluded: “In the end he [Rossi] knows that if he is doing a great job and he finishes just behind Jorge or in front, he will win the championship. If he did this in other races he can do it now. So for that reason I was surprised and I don't understand.
“But OK, in the end I respect [him], I know that Valentino is really good in the press conferences and outside the track, but he needs to beat Jorge on the track, not me.”
Told that Marquez was still surprised by Rossi's comments, the Italian responded: “For me it is not very surprising, I think, but anyway I said everything yesterday and I don't have nothing to say more.”
But like Marquez, many in the paddock are unsure of the exact motive behind Rossi going on the attack against the Honda rider.
One theory is that The Doctor was putting public pressure on Marquez to try and 'motivate' him to stay out of the title fight by either beating both Movistar Yamahas, or staying behind them both.
Either of those scenarios would favour Rossi, who can finish one place behind Lorenzo in the remaining rounds, even if the #99 wins, and still take the title.
But Rossi cannot afford to be beaten by Lorenzo if another rider finishes in-between them. Marquez, with five wins this year, is the lead candidate to split the M1s in such a way.
Throw in some apparently long held suspicions - Rossi said Marquez choosing to pass him at the Corkscrew in 2013 was the “first signal” - plus some see-sawing lap times at Phillip Island and Rossi may have concluded that forcing Marquez to effectively 'prove' he isn't helping Lorenzo is no bad thing.
Marquez was speaking after finishing third fastest in Friday practice at Sepang, setting a best lap time just 0.226s slower than Lorenzo. Team-mate Pedrosa was second quickest with Rossi in eighth.
Marquez won at Sepang last season with Rossi second and Lorenzo third.
|Marc Marquez's race lap times at Phillip Island|