‘Some PRs won’t be happy until MotoGP is just a corporate event, stripped of its beauty and soul’


The MotoGP paddock can be a battlefield between PRs and journalists, who have opposing goals. Once again Mat Oxley has a MotoGP PR machine coming after him and this time the fallout is gloriously entertaining

KTM’s RC16

KTM’s RC16 – I wrote a complimentary story about the 2023 RC16, which attracted a bizarre attack from the team’s PR department


A couple of years ago I had a disagreement with the PR people from a MotoGP team who tried to stop me doing my job.

I wrote a blog about it. Because a journalist’s only power comes from his or her laptop. If we don’t tell these people to back off, pretty soon there’ll be no point in journalists attending races, so you’ll all just have to enjoy the PR releases instead.

Also, these stories offer fans an interesting insight into the weird and occasionally wonderful dynamics of a journalist’s life in the paddock.

Even better, this latest story is hilarious in its craziness. The team’s PR machine started out complaining that I hadn’t used a certain word in my story (even though I had), while banning their engineers from using that word.

Freaking weird.

It seems like PRs like these won’t be happy until MotoGP is no more than a soulless corporate marketing event, stripped of all its joy and beauty, existing purely to sell you stuff, with a bit of motorbike racing on the side. Just like Formula 1.

Most MotoGP PRs do a great job. They arrange interviews and generally help us to write about MotoGP. Back when I started, in the late 1980s, the only way to talk to a rider was to go knocking on his motorhome door. Or his tent.

Now some PRs behave like we’re there to help them do their job (flog product), rather than the other way around. If any PRs are in doubt about this, the clue is in their job title: PR, for press/public relations.

I still love MotoGP for the racing and technology, and I enjoy talking to the world’s greatest riders and engineers, but the layers of PR bullshit grow thicker and stickier each season.

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Clashes between journalists and PRs are inevitable, because they have contradicting objectives. Journos want to dig into what’s going on, while a PR’s job is to protect the brand. Truth isn’t their number-one priority.

Like George Orwell wrote, “Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed. Everything else is public relations”.

The world’s first PR person was American Edward Bernays, who during World War I was hired by the US government to sell the idea of the country entering the war, when most Americans weren’t keen. He was so successful that he set up the world’s first PR agency after the war.

Among his numerous corporate gigs, Bernays was employed by the US tobacco industry to get women smoking, because at that time few women smoked. He consulted a Freudian psychoanalyst and promoted cigarettes to women as ‘torches of freedom’. This campaign was another big success.

Bernays’ work spawned a global PR industry that now works in every sphere of human endeavour.

Press relations – as Bernays proved – is a psychological game: you tell journalists selective truths, giving them information you want them to have, while hiding information you don’t want them to have. You cultivate friendships with journalists, because if they like you, they just may be nicer to your brand. And you stay friends, even if you hate their guts, because that’s a game.

Also useful is the possession of a vague idea of how journalism works. That’s why some of the best PRs are former journalists, who swapped sides to make more money. “Journalism is more fun,” one journo-turned-PR told me. “But PR is much more lucrative.”

The Red Bull KTM team is one of MotoGP’s best – hugely dedicated, massively hardworking and well looked after by its management. It enjoys possibly the best morale of any factory team. There’s always a buzz in the KTM garage – the mechanics really enjoy what they do and usually give a friendly nod when you walk down pit lane.

KTM team celebrates at MotoGP race

Red Bull KTM’s Brad Binder finished fourth in the riders’ standings last year, while team-mate Jack Miller finished eleventh


Its riders Brad Binder and Jack Miller are great to talk to and its engineers are generous with their time when you want a quick chat behind the garages. And I’ve had some great interviews with motor sport director Pit Beirer, engine designer Kurt Trieb, technical director Sebastian Risse, crew chief Paul Trevathan and others.

I last interviewed Risse (whose nickname in the team, which includes several Sebastians, is Clever Seb) during last November’s Malaysian GP.

The full interview was published on this site a while back, running to more than 2200 words. The print magazines I work for – in Europe, the USA, Australia and Japan – are more restricted on space, so I had just 500 words to cover each manufacturer, including rider and engineer quotes.

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If an editor says he or she wants 500 words, you write 500 words, not 499 or 501. Magazine writing has to be tight, with quotes edited for clarity and brevity. I’ve been doing this for more than forty years, so I think I have the general idea.

PRs who try to control me by telling me what to write is like me walking into the KTM garage and telling the mechanics how to tighten the RC16’s brake bolts. I’d rightly get a slap.

And yet a KTM PR thought it a good idea to tell me how to do my job. This PR accused me of making “misquotations” in my magazine story and asked me to contact my editors, so they could make “the necessary corrections to reflect what was said accurately”.

At first, I thought it was a joke because I still have the tapes and transcripts of the interviews.

But I take the attack seriously. KTM asked these magazines to correct my text. I have no contracts with any of the magazines that publish my stuff, so I’m only ever as good as my last story. And why would an editor want to employ a journo who changes quotes to alter their meaning? Because that’s a serious crime in this job.

The attack seemed especially perverse because my story was very complimentary about KTM’s MotoGP project – “It’s a fantastic motorcycle to ride,” said Miller.

Why is KTM so mad at me?

To make sure I wasn’t being wrongheaded, I forwarded KTM’s email to two renowned MotoGP journalists, who between them have covered the championship for eighty years.

“I can’t understand what the complaints are about,” wrote Michael Scott, the doyen of MotoGP journalists, who started covering GPs in the early 1980s. “It is a journalist’s job to edit comments for brevity and comprehensibility. However, if someone is going to nitpick about exact wording, you either have to adopt the approach of [a former MotoGP journalist] and publish every ‘um’ and ‘er’ and every half-finished sentence and end up with overlong garble, or report in indirect speech, to preserve clarity and ensure brevity. They are nitpicking because they are nits.”

“Sounds like a carpet stroller trying justify their existence,” wrote my other colleague, who covered his first GP around the same time. “It’s astounding, just mindless nitpicking. The really baffling thing is that the context of your story is 500 words of positivity about how KTM are tech trendsetters!”

I would’ve published the rest of this email, but it was way too rude.

I even contacted Britain’s National Union of Journalists to ask its opinion. “I can’t see anything that changed the meaning,” replied an NUJ advisor.

So why is KTM so mad at me?

The first complaint concerned my magazine headline and subsequent discussion about the RC16’s carbon-fibre frame.

(Italics denote their words.)

“We note that in the headline you included ‘CARBON’ whereas in the text itself you’ve removed this and kept it to just ‘frame’.”

A quick read of the story – below – reveals that the word ‘carbon’ did indeed appear within the story. Twice. Whatever they’re smoking is making them paranoid and confused. And a bit sleepy too.

Next, KTM complained about this.

“We are convinced that sooner or later everyone will have carbon frames,” says Risse.

This sentence was edited for clarity from the original, “We are convinced that sooner or later everyone will end up on this”. This was Risse’s answer to my eighth consecutive question about the RC16’s carbon-fibre frame, so there was no doubt that “this” referred to carbon frames, so the meaning hasn’t been changed.

Their last complaint concerned this Miller quote…

“We’ve been able to find more grip with the carbon-fibre frame, so the thing I’ve been working on is understanding the front end to carry more corner speed.”

This quote was subbed for clarity and brevity, from 49 words to 28. Cutting text is a major part of a journalist’s job – in fact it often takes longer to edit a story down to the required word count than to write the first draft.

This was Miller’s full quote…

“We’ve been able to find quite a bit more grip with the new chassis, so that’s the biggest thing we were trying to chase and we’ve got some steps coming to keep improving that and trying to understand the front end a bit more, to carry some corner speed.”

Again, both quotes say the same thing: the new frame gives more grip, but we need to find more corner speed.

What the PRs would’ve liked me to write was something like this, to signal each of my edits to the reader…

Risse, “We are convinced that sooner or later everyone will end up on [have] this [carbon-fibre frame technology]”.


Miller, “We’ve been able to find [quite a bit] more grip with the new [carbon-fibre] chassis [sic, the swingarm was already carbon-fibre], so [that’s the biggest thing we were trying to chase and we’ve got some steps coming to keep improving that] and [Ed: what he’s been working on is] trying to understand the front end a bit more, to carry some corner speed.”

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There’s a reason you never read quotes like this: because they’re ugly to read, they make the speaker sound ridiculous and they use twice the space, so the story would contain half the information.

This is why I don’t like PR people telling me how to be a journalist.

As already noted, the story praised KTM’s valiant attempts to beat Ducati. Perhaps its PR geniuses would’ve been happier if I’d more accurately reflected KTM’s recent efforts in MotoGP and written this instead…

‘Despite massive investment from KTM and Red Bull, working with Red Bull Advanced Technologies (arguably the world’s foremost motor sport aerodynamicists), having one of the best riders on the grid and taking some of the key brains from MotoGP dominators Ducati and Öhlins, KTM is the only manufacturer not to have won a single dry-weather grand prix in almost three years, since June 2021. Even Honda and Suzuki have won more dry GPs in that period.’

During the Sepang tests I had a lively, er, conversation with KTM, in the hope they’d realise their accusations were false. The PR doubled down, so I suggested KTM sues me, so we could go to court and let the experts decide. My offer was declined.

KTM 2024 testing

Binder led KTM through a successful test, but the team’s PR department were more focused on off-track endeavours…

Getty Images

When I got home from Sepang I contacted the magazines that had published the story, because KTM wanted them to make corrections, where possible.

And this is when things got really funny.

The first of my editors that contacted KTM’s PRs told them he had reviewed the transcripts and story and saw no need for any corrections. It provoked this response from KTM’s motor sport PR chief.

“To be clear on this – nobody from KTM clarified that the new chassis was a carbon fibre chassis in 2023 and we were surprised and disappointed to read it as a quote from an official KTM spokesperson.”

So that’s it! KTM engineers weren’t allowed to use the term carbon-fibre to describe the RC16’s new frame, even though everyone was talking about it.

Risse and I spent more than three minutes talking specifically about the carbon frame. He went into some detail describing how it improved the bike but couldn’t actually say carbon-fibre.

How wild is that?!

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KTM’s PR wonks had gone wonky – they were in a terminal tank-slapper, triggered by diametrically opposing brainwaves.

What I would’ve given to be sat in that PR/marketing meeting…

“Ladies and gentlemen, our genius MotoGP engineers have designed a genius new frame, so our genius marketing plan is to ban our genius engineers from mentioning their genius creation to anyone. Even though everyone already knows about it.”

“Dude, you’re a marketing genius!”

High-fives all round.

I assume that following this great meeting of the minds the KTM PR team gave KTM’s actual chief MotoGP engineer a bollocking for not telling me that the carbon-fibre frame didn’t exist.

Talk about the tail trying to wag the dog.

And now the crowning glory to this comedy wild-goose chase.

A few weeks after my chat with Risse, another journalist interviewed Risse and he did say the word that should not be said. (I wonder if the crack PRs returned to the office of their actual chief engineer to give him another bollocking.)

So, the PR boss was being economical with the truth when he told me that, “nobody from KTM clarified that the new chassis was a carbon fibre chassis in 2023”.

These people have their knickers in such a twist that I wonder how they get out of bed in the morning.

One last thought: a PR’s job isn’t only to establish good relations with journalists, it’s their job to promote MotoGP to a wider audience.

Considering that motorcycle racing is currently the world’s 30th most popular sport (after horse dressage!), I believe these PRs would be better spending their time trying to grow the sport – by getting stories in mainstream magazines and so on – instead of chasing after journalists for petty nothings.

Finally, I’d like to wish Red Bull KTM all the best for the 2024 season. They’re a great bunch of people (mostly) and I’d love to see them winning GPs again.