More than ever before we live in a rules-based world: do this, don’t do that and if you do do that we’ll have camera evidence and you’ll find the bill in your email tomorrow morning. Or the points deducted from your world championship tally.
What drives all of this? The desire for control and the desire for improved health and safety. But the push for a safer world doesn’t only come from governments, local authorities and businesses wanting to make our lives safer, it comes from them wishing to avoid incidents and accidents and the subsequent lawsuits that will cost them millions.
Inevitably MotoGP is caught up in the same process. Dorna wants to make the racing safer, for the good of the riders and for their own good too.
On Sunday world championship leader Fabio Quartararo was sanctioned three seconds and therefore three championship points when his leathers apparently unzipped in the closing stages, forcing him to jettison his chest protector and then show off his pecs to appreciative male and female fans around the world.
MotoGP’s rulebook clearly states what riding kit should be used – including a chest protector – and how it should be worn, i.e. correctly. So Quartararo was in breach of the rules. He should have been immediately black-flagged and brought into the pits where he either would’ve retired or been able to sort himself out and rejoin the race.
The fact that Race Direction didn’t immediately black flag Quartararo was a serious error from people who should know the rulebook better. Quartararo finished the race in fourth place and might have retained that position and the 13 championship points if rival factories hadn’t intervened and demanded that the rules be followed to the word. Hence the three-second penalty, which demoted him to sixth.
Personally, I think it was wrong to sanction him after the race. If Race Direction makes a mistake, it should swallow that mistake.
If Quartararo ends up losing the 2021 world title by three points or less this race will haunt him for the rest of his life. He wouldn’t be the first to suffer thus. In 1981, factory Suzuki rider Randy Mamola lost that year’s 500cc world championship because the visor of his Nava helmet misted up during two rain-affected races, blinding him. Those days still hurt the American.
Part of the lead pack in Sunday’s Moto3 race
I wore a Nava around the same time and suffered the same problem in club racing. I tried to get around it by holding my breath through the corners, then exhaling as I rode down the straights, hoping the visor would clear by the time I arrived at the next corner. Not ideal.
Of course if you take this ongoing rule-making philosophy to its logical conclusion then MotoGP would have to ban what makes motorcycle racing dangerous: crashing. Sanctioning offenders for losing control of their motorcycles would reduce accidents and improve safety for the riders, marshals and other circuit staff, wouldn’t it? Impossible to argue with that. But I hope I haven’t given Dorna any ideas.
Which brings us to the next philosophical question: can MotoGP ever be too safe?
Twice MotoGP world champion Casey Stoner certainly thought so.
“This sport is becoming that wimpy now – there’s no danger anymore,” he told me in 2010, when asphalt run-offs were becoming a thing.
I both agree and disagree with Stoner. Of course I want racing to be safe, but if someone was able to make motorcycle racing as safe as tennis I think I’d find another interest.
I’m with legendarily adventurous American author Ernest Hemingway who is alleged to have said, “There are only three sports – bullfighting, motor racing, and mountaineering and all the rest are merely games”. (NB: I hate bullfighting.) Some danger adds another dimension to a sport and people become interesting when they’re under pressure, dealing with the risk and everything else. That’s one reason why I find bike racers more interesting than football players.
Stoner hated the introduction of asphalt run-offs, which were created to improve safety, which they did. The Aussie thought they make life too easy for riders who find it difficult to stay on the black stuff and encourage maniac overtaking attempts, because riders can make a lunge and if it doesn’t succeed they simply run off the track and continue without paying any real price. Unless of course, they collide with their intended victim.
And this is where track-limit rules came in. If you give the riders more asphalt to use then some of them will use that extra asphalt to gain an unfair advantage, so new rules were introduced to prevent that happening.
And because modern MotoGP racing – in all three classes – can be so close that races and positions are won by fractions of a second those track-limit rules are now interpreted to the millimetre.
Casey Stoner hated the introduction of asphalt run-off, which then required track-limit rules
Two weekends ago at Mugello we saw Moto2 rider Joe Roberts lose a podium for running fractionally wide on the final lap. It didn’t seem fair, but he broke the rules. Whether you agree or disagree with those rules is another matter.
An hour or so after Roberts’ heartbreak the MotoGP parc fermé was thrown into chaos when Miguel Oliveira was told he had touched the green no-go area on the final lap, demoting him to third in favour or the originally third-placed Joan Mir. Then it was announced that Mir had also touched the green, so their positions stood. This is not a good way to run a parc fermé celebration. It sucks the joy out of everything.