until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

MotoGP

'I wanted to give him a hug' - The end of a fiery MotoGP feud

by Valentin Khorounzhiy
5 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

Aleix Espargaro sought out MotoGP rival Franco Morbidelli in the lead-up to the 2023 season finale at Valencia to make amends - following their on-track encounter in Qatar and the pair's explosive back-and-forth in the media.

Espargaro smacked Morbidelli on the helmet during Saturday practice at Lusail, which prompted not just a grid penalty and fine for the Aprilia rider but a scathing verbal response from Morbidelli later that day.

It included a suggestion from Morbidelli that Espargaro "has much more episodes to be ashamed of than proud of" but also the phrase "I wonder what he will say to his kids" which Espargaro took particular offence at in the aftermath.

Speaking to the media on Thursday, the media day for the season-ending Valencia GP, a "bitter" Morbidelli insisted that he "stands by every single word" and that he and Espargaro hadn't spoken between the two weekends (and that Morbidelli had no interest in reaching out).

He also suggested that Espargaro's partial remorse in the aftermath wasn't genuine given what was said in a behind-closed-doors stewards' meeting in Qatar.

When asked by The Race whether he'd be receptive to an apology, though, Morbidelli first said he "doesn't even care" but then acknowledged it would be "well-accepted".

Shortly after Morbidelli's media appearance, Espargaro indeed went to the Yamaha motorhome to clear the air.

And when facing the media afterwards and inevitably being quizzed about Morbidelli's latest comments, Espargrao said: "I've been to his motorhome, I went to see him, maybe it was after he talked to you guys.

"Doesn't matter if I felt it was his fault or my fault. This is not important. The outcome of the situation, my reaction, was completely wrong. And I'm very sorry for the reaction that I had. Because I think those three seconds made me look like the person that I am not.

"I think I am a really good person. And those three-four seconds made me look like a really bad guy, and I felt very bad, so I went to his motorhome, I sat in the couch with him and I apologised. I said sorry to him, apologised.

"And I will work to understand how, in very high-tension moments, how I can deal better with the tension, to not repeat the situation.

"The seasons are every time more and more long, the schedule of the weekend is every time more and more tight. But we are professionals, we have to deal with it, and I have to learn, this is one of the things that I have to learn for 2024."

Espargaro said that him having "changed quite a lot my environment" - which has entailed no longer behind accompanied by long-time right-hand man Joan Lacuevas - likely contributed as well to his outburst.

He said he was "working with a psychologist" to keep his emotions in check. "But it's not a button that you press. I am not saying that it's good - but you're in your way, I'm in my way. And ... how you react when you are full of tension, it's really difficult to control and really difficult to change."

Espargaro received much criticism for his conduct in the aftermath - on social media as well as from Morbidelli and the Yamaha team.

And he was keen to make it clear that that criticism was not what drove him to clear the air with Morbidelli.

"Everybody, with their telephone, when nobody sees them, they are perfect," he snarked. "The human is perfect. And I am not.

"I fully accept the criticism because, once again, I did a big mistake. But how many times- you see the Argentina - Brazil game [football World Cup qualifying match overshadowed by crowd and police violence] two days ago? In sport... I am not defending my action, it was completely wrong, but come on."

"I know I will get again punished for this answer," he added a few minutes later when asked by The Race about the motivation for seeking out Morbidelli on Thursday, "but I don't give a s**t about the people on social media.

"I have a perfect life, I have everything what I dreamed of, I don't care what they talk. I went to talk with Franco because I felt from the bottom of my heart, I wanted to sit with him in the couch and give him a hug. That's all. That's it. Not for the reaction of the people, not for- pff."

THE RACE SAYS

The MotoGP paddock would've been a worse place with a long-time rift between two of its most thoughtful characters - and though Morbidelli is yet to tell the media whether or not Espargaro's gesture moves the needle or helps him move on from the situation, it was at least a highly welcome gesture from the Aprilia man.

Espargaro was, of course, very obviously in the wrong and seemed to realise he had done something very much out of line a second or so later. The fact his post-incident contrition was qualified somewhat rightly didn't sit wrong with Morbidelli.

But, though the hot-blooded Espargaro and the measured Morbidelli are so different outwardly (which also added weight to Morbidelli's words and conveyed just how considerable an insult he'd considered Espargaro's actions), they are both way too reflective and thoughtful to have left it the way it was left after Qatar.

You can - and certainly some will - scoff at Espargaro saying he feels he's "a really good person" misrepresented by his Qatar outburst. Certainly that's a line so often trotted out by those who committed a public wrongdoing - usually for wrongdoings, it should be said, much more serious than this.

But not every rider in MotoGP would've had the outlook to understand they've been wrong in this situation. And with Espargaro, you can be confident he isn't just giving lip service to the idea of contrition. For better or for worse - and usually for better - when the MotoGP veteran says something, you can be confident he means what he says.

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