MotoGP, motorsport, motorcycling and the world in general suffered a great loss today as Marco Simoncelli succumbed to injuries sustained during the Sepang round of MotoGP.
As has so often been the case for the last couple of years, Simoncelli was providing the only real interest on track as he was engaged with one of his regular ding-dong scraps, this time with Alvaro Bautista. Having regained the advantage into turn eleven on the second lap, Simoncelli ran wide and the like slid out from under him. Unfortunately he managed to catch it before the Honda went down completely, and he was still partly on board as physics took over and swung him back across the track toward the inside of the corner. Straight into the path of the following pack.
Turn eleven at Sepang is a third gear corner so the riders aren't exactly hanging around. Fully committed to the corner and to their own battle for position, Colin Edwards and Valentino Rossi had neither the time nor the space to do anything other than plough straight into the hapless Simoncelli. The race was red flagged immediately. Rossi managed to stay on his bike and simply rode the battered Ducati straight into the pit box, showing no sign of getting ready to restart. Colin Edwards, who came off in the collision, simply sat on the grass, his body language expressing his shock and horror at what had just happened.
Simoncelli was immediately taken to the medical centre, and initial reports were favourable as we were told that he had regained consciousness. However this was clearly a false dawn, and he was declared dead around half an hour later, just before 10:00 UK time.
Marco Simoncelli came into GPs in 2002, when he was just fifteen years old, racing 125s. It took him two years before his first podium, which he managed to combine with both pole position and a race win. Well, if you're going to do it then you may as well do it in style, right? It wasn't until 2006 when his talent really had a chance to shine, though, when he came up to the 250 class with Gilera. Though the results didn't come immediately, he was certainly fast and was well on the way to developing his distinctive racing style.
2008 saw him take the 250 cc world championship with twelve podiums out of sixteen rounds, half of them race wins. 2009 was less successful, ending the season in third place behind Hiroshi Aoyama and Hector Barbera. Then MotoGP beckoned with a ride on the San Carlo Gresini Honda, initially partenring Marco Melandri.
2010 was a good first year in MotoGP which saw him battling with Ben Spies for Rookie of the Year. Contrary to popular belief, in his first season in MotoGP Simoncelli only failed to finish two races, ending the season in eighth place. 2011 saw hm back on the San Carlo Gresini bike, this time with more factory support and former 250 championship rival Aoyama as team-mate. The season started well with a respectable fifth place but a number of crashes hampered his championship hopes, and coming to Malaysia he was in sixth place. Despite this, he had scored podiums in Brno and Philip Island (where he came second to Casey Stoner) as well as taking pole in Catalunya.
The 2011 season wasn't without controversy, though, as Simoncelli found himself on the receiving end of criticism from some other riders and occasional official censure from the FIM. Riders appeared to be split firmly into two camps - those who felt that Simoncelli rode hard but cleanly, and that his passion and enthusiasm was a welcome addition on the track, and those that felt he was dangerous and needed to be reigned in.
Personally, as an objective observer and former racer, I saw Simoncelli as a breath of fresh air in an overwhelmingly corporate and straight laced environment. He was prodigiously talented, light hearted and a genuinely nice guy. He was fast, opportunistic and occasionally allowed his enthusiasm to get the better of him. Perhaps there were occasions where a more mature or experienced rider wouldn't have got into the scrapes he did, but in my opinion at least none of the incidents where he received criticism - those involving other riders - were any worse than things carried out by those same riders in other races. In at least one case, in fact, he was clearly the innocent party but still got the blame...
But this isn't the place for dragging up past transgressions by others. Let's just say that Marco Simoncelli was one of the true rising stars in MotoGP. He made the paddock a more interesting place to be, he was a delight to watch on track and his loss will surely be felt throughout the racing world. I was only fortunate enough to meet him the once, but he struck me as being a genuinely nice guy - enthusiastic about everything and completely without the airs and graces we see with some of his peers.
All of us here at MotorbikesToday extend our heartfelt best wishes to his family, his friends and to all involved in today's tragic events.