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28 days ago
By Matthew Birt

One year on from where it began

Assen in 2015 was a dramatic affair, igniting the rivalry between Rossi and Marquez, what’s changed since?

With 21 years of experience reporting on MotoGP™, Matthew Birt knows the championship inside-out. For the 2016 season he remains with the motogp.com team to bring you exclusive news and opinion from inside the paddock.

Not one topic in MotoGP™ in the 12 months since last year’s breathtaking Dutch TT at Assen has commandeered more column inches and ignited as much fierce debate as the relationship between Valentino Rossi and Marc Marquez.

Who can forget Assen’s final chicane where Rossi and Marquez famously tangled 12 months ago to bring a controversial conclusion to an epic race long victory fight?

From the moment of contact through a frosty and awkward post race press conference, it felt at the time that we had witnessed a seismic shift in their previously amiable relationship.

#RossiVsMarquez: Last lap clash

Their clash earlier last season in Argentina might have been the start of hostilities, but Assen felt like the true tipping point when it all began to go seriously sour.

Little did we know at the time though that the Assen incident would set in motion a chain of events that became one of the most explosive, ugly and bitter relationship meltdowns in racing history.

Tension has filled the air on each occasion Rossi and Marquez have been in close proximity to each other since the Italian’s verbal rampage on the eve of last October’s Malaysian Grand Prix in Sepang. There has been nothing more than a cursory glance and certainly no move to calm the friction.

The poisonous atmosphere between the two was never going to ease until the tragic events of Barcelona put resentment and revulsion into perspective.

The untimely passing of Luis Salom at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya saw animosity and loathing give way to respect and dignity.

A truce in the form of a post race handshake though should not be misconstrued as an all-out reconciliation between Rossi and Marquez.

#RossiVsMarquez: The calm after the storm

Way too much water has passed under the bridge for Rossi to truly forgive and forget.

Let’s not forget he personally blames Marquez for intentionally trying to manipulate the outcome of last year’s World Championship against him.

Marquez too has spoken freely about how the unsavory ending to an otherwise riveting 2015 campaign diminished his respect for Rossi.

The time was right in Barcelona to show that ill-feeling can be swept aside at a time of great loss and mourning. 

But Rossi’s deep-rooted belief has not suddenly been completely cast aside, and while the peace offering handshake in Barcelona was welcomed around the world, there are wounds from 2015 that will never heal.

The great Rossi versus Marquez showdown at Assen a year ago was always going to put both of them under the microscope again this weekend.

Perhaps they will be under even more scrutiny now. Was Barcelona just a calm before another storm and can that handshake survive a repeat of the last lap drama of one year ago?

Nothing between the two will change on the track. You’ll be hard pushed to find two fiercer competitors in history than Rossi and Marquez.

So far in 2016 their skirmishes on track have been hard but fair without getting as feisty as Assen.

But nobody will be complaining if we get a repeat of their 2015 Assen showdown again this weekend.

Given their recent history, it always feels like there is always so much more at stake when Rossi and Marquez lock horns. It feels as much about pride and personal honour than 25-points.

Going quickly back to Barcelona, I wasn’t in the least bit surprised to see Rossi win the last race.

I’ve never seen a rider with such an incredible ability to bounce back from adversity in the way that Rossi has done time and time again throughout a career touched by triumph and tragedy.

An agonising last round loss to Nicky Hayden in 2006 seemed a relatively pain free experience given the hammering he got from Casey Stoner, Ducati and Bridgestone in 2007.

Yet he bounced back to win the title in 2008 and 2009. Then came the first serious injury of his career in the summer of 2010 when a compound fracture of his right leg at Mugello left many thinking he’d walk (or hobble) away from the sport.

The rise of Jorge Lorenzo from young upstart to star performer then pushed Rossi into a doomed two-year stint at Ducati.

Written off for the umpteenth time, Rossi went back to Yamaha and last season shocked the world with an incredible challenge for a 10th world title.

And now again, after a cruel engine blow-up cost him the chance to fight for the win in Mugello, he instantly responded from another big smack on the jaw.

Just 22-points split Marquez, Jorge Lorenzo and Rossi going into Assen and we’ve got the prospect of another titanic title scrap to look forward to.

Whatever your view of Marquez is, you can’t deny he is performing miracles on that Honda.

After all of his crashes in 2015, he seems to have found a balance between riding on the ragged edge and being super fast without overstepping the limit.

He’s suffered cruel late defeats in Mugello and Barcelona, but the fact that he was even in contention shows that whatever Honda is paying him they need to treble it.

The Doctor found a remedy for his Championship chances in Barcelona and an eighth premier class win at Assen on Sunday would bring him closer into contention.

A win for Marquez would be sweet revenge for the disappointment of last year, while Lorenzo’s powers of recovery will now be examined after Andrea Iannone condemned him to an early exit in Barcelona.

Lorenzo did once race to fifth in Assen less than 48 hours after trashing his left collarbone, so he’s come through tougher mental tests in Holland before.

Here’s something for you to ponder though: When was the last time Rossi won back-to-back races in MotoGP™?

Catalunya and Assen in 2009.

You just wouldn’t put it past him doing that double again would you?