We need to talk about MotoGP penalties…


The racing is crazy, which is how we like it, but the penalties being handed out now are even crazier, which is why MotoGP’s stewards and race direction are losing the trust of riders, team managers, factory bosses and fans

Miguel Oliveira stretchered to ambulance at 2023 MotoGP Spanish GP

The luckless Oliveira is stretchered into an ambulance at Jerez on Sunday, while battered and bruised Quartararo is helped from the scene of the accident

Jorge Guerrero/AFP via Getty Images

MotoGP is the pinnacle of a dangerous sport, contested by highly talented, mostly intelligent maniacs. Bad things inevitably happen in this big-money petrolhead merry-go-round. Even the greatest of the great sometimes do mad things that endanger lives. Which is why there’s a supposedly robust system in place to punish bad behaviour.

During recent years and especially during recent weeks and months, some very strange announcements have been made by the MotoGP stewards, led by three-time world champion Freddie Spencer, one of the greatest bike racers of all time.

It all came to a head last weekend at Jerez, because there were two big pile-ups in MotoGP, which inevitably make the biggest headlines and thereby create the loudest hoo-ha.

First laps are like a bar-room brawl with riders using their motorcycles as weapons.

They both happened just seconds after the start of Saturday’s sprint and Sunday’s Grand Prix, as the pack jostled for position at the second corner.

The first pile-up was caused by Franco Morbidelli, who saw a glint of an opening inside Alex Márquez and went for it. He tagged Márquez, who was flicked upright and crashed, their two fallen bikes collecting championship leader Marco Bezzecchi, who was lucky not to be badly hurt. All three made the re-start on their bikes.

Sunday’s accident happened a few metres earlier. Bezzecchi, Fabio Quartararo and Miguel Oliveira were mid-pack and three abreast as they headed towards Turn 2. Bezzecchi was a fraction late peeling into the hairpin – no big deal – so Quartararo found himself squeezed between the Italian and Oliveira to his left, with nowhere to go.

On Saturday evening Morbidelli was given a long-lap penalty to be served in Sunday’s GP, while the following day Quartararo was given the same sanction to be served in the same race, which had been red-flagged. But such was the panic getting set for the restart that the 2021 MotoGP champ didn’t learn of his punishment until after the restart.

There is a reason that the stewards are supposed to give some leeway for bad stuff that happens on the first lap. For example, riders don’t usually get penalised for using the green ‘no entry’ painted areas, because first laps are like a bar-room brawl with riders using their 300-horsepower, 16-kilo motorcycles as weapons.

Alex Marquez slides off bike in 2023 MotoGP Jerez sprint

Alex Márquez goes down after being tagged by Morbidelli at the start of the Jerez sprint

Jorge Guerrero/AFP via Getty Images

My own opinion, for what it matters (i.e. nothing), is that Morbidelli didn’t deserve a penalty. He nudged another rider at the second corner. He didn’t ram him. This happens all the time and no one takes any notice – there are bits of carbon-fibre flying all over the place as riders make contact with each other and that’s just the way it is. The pile-up that ensued was irrelevant to Morbidelli’s misdemeanour.

My opinion is much the same re. the Quartararo penalty. Where else was he to go? What else was he to do? If he’d braked suddenly to get out of that three-abreast nightmare, he would’ve collected someone behind him. To me, it’s just what happens.

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Hallelujah, sideways MotoGP is back!

Hallelujah, sideways MotoGP is back!

Pecco Bagnaia’s superb Jerez MotoGP victory was the work of the very brave man, but the sideways antics of KTM wild men Brad Binder and Jack Miller were what really set the race alight

By Mat Oxley

A few laps after the restart, world champ Pecco Bagnaia was battling for the lead with the KTMs of Jack Miller and Brad Binder in the best victory contest we’ve seen since Phillip Island last year. The KTMs were making all kinds of shapes using their awesome braking performance into Turn 6, when Miller went slightly wide and Bagnaia snuck through on the inside, lifting Miller, the pair making the gentlest of contacts.

A few laps later Bagnaia was told to drop one place for his move. Again, the penalty seemed unreasonable. Are riders no longer allowed to rub? Both riders embraced each other in the parc fermé, proving that both understand all’s fair in love and war.

Everyone has their own opinions about these incidents, including the MotoGP stewards. Some riders agreed with the sanctions, most didn’t. But I guarantee that any rider who agreed with any of the sanctions would’ve felt differently if it were the stewards hammering him. That’s how racers are.

Opinions, opinions… As Miller said to Jorge Lorenzo during an angry 2017 safety commission meeting at Le Mans: “Opinions are like assholes – everyone’s got one”.

However, not everything is opinion. Some things are facts, other things are written down and can be used in a court of law against you.

Fabio Quartararo in 2023 MotoGP Spanish GP

Both Quartararo and Morbidelli were penalised for what many thought were racing incidents at Jerez, while Nakagami went unpunished for ramming Quartararo in Argentina


Let’s look at the case of Morbidelli’s penalty, issued by the stewards on Saturday at 5.24pm. It went something like this…

“Dear Sir… at Turn 2 you were found to be riding in an irresponsible manner, causing a crash with rider No73.

“This contravenes the specific instructions given to MotoGP competitors…” blah blah blah… “For the above reasons the FIM MotoGP stewards panel has imposed a long-lap penalty…”

Morbidelli guilty of “being ambitious”!? It’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve heard in 4 decades covering MotoGP

Yamaha appealed the decision. Morbidelli didn’t turn up for the appeal because most riders have given up getting involved in these situations, because they always lose and the bosses always win. His place was taken by team manager Massimo Meregalli.

The appeal was rejected and the wording of the decision of the FIM appeal stewards was truly jaw-dropping.

“The appeal stewards agreed with the MotoGP stewards that Franco Morbidelli No21 was observed as being ambitious in his attempt to overtake, causing contact and crash with rider No73.”

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So, Morbidelli was found guilty of “being ambitious”?! This is the most ridiculous thing I’ve heard in almost four decades of covering MotoGP. If ambition is no longer permitted then it’s time to shut down the entire circus and for everyone to go home, because literally the entire point of going racing is ambition.

Perhaps the wording was a mistake, missing the adverb “overly”. But this doesn’t matter, because this is the second time in two months that the stewards have made fools of themselves by incorrectly wording their decisions. The first time, of course, was when they made a hash of Marc Márquez’s Portimao sanction.

When hundreds of millions of Euros are being invested in a sport, words matter. And they matter even more when they go to a court of law.

I’m amazed that Yamaha aren’t taking the appeal decision to a higher court, as Honda is doing with the Márquez matter, because these mistakes need to be punished until Dorna and the FIM understand that they must employ someone in Race Direction with great sporting and legal knowledge, to ensure that MotoGP is policed like a professional sport, not like a game of neighbourhood golf.

MotoGP riders in tight pack at Jerez in 2023

Trouble ahead in the Jerez sprint. One reason there are more crashes and controversy is MotoGP tech rules, written to create ultra-close racing

Joao Rico/DeFodi Images via Getty Images

Next week at Le Mans the riders have asked for a meeting with the stewards and Race Direction, largely because they are fed up with the lack of consistency in judgements.

This season’s most glaring inconsistency took place at last month’s Argentine GP. During the soaking Moto3 race Ayumu Sasaki bumped into GP first-timer David Almansa, moving the youngster a metre off-line. Sasaki was ordered to drop one position for that indiscretion.

A couple of hours later Takaaki Nakagami rammed Quartararo so hard on the first lap of the MotoGP race that the Frenchman nearly crashed and had to ride off the track to regain control. Quartararo had been tenth and re-joined the track outside the points. Amazingly, Nakagami received no penalty for this move, even though he is well known for his overly aggressive first-lap attacks.

It is important to point out why things have come to this point. Dorna’s quest to make the racing closer, by equalising machine performance – and therefore more exciting and attractive to fans and viewers – has certainly made the action more frantic.

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Riders and bikes now race much closer, plus it’s harder to overtake, because everyone’s on the same tyres and so on, so the start becomes more and more important, so riders need to be more and more aggressive, both to make up positions and make sure they don’t lose any, because whatever you lose on lap one will be very, very hard to make up later on.

And because starts are so important, clever engineers have helped their riders by introducing holeshot devices, to guarantee the fastest-possible launch towards Turn 1.

And now that all bikes are fitted with the same technology the pack arrives at the first corners all together, so contacts are inevitable. And there is nowhere more dangerous to crash, when there’s a good chance you will get run over by a 160-kilo motorcycle with a 70-kilo rider on top.

In other words, it’s incredibly dangerous. Of course the riders must be policed to ensure they don’t ride like total maniacs but there is a very simple way to reduce the danger of the first few corners: outlaw holeshot devices. Then the pack will be slightly more spread out at the first corners, because it will be down to the individual rider’s skill – with the throttle, clutch, back brake and body position – to make the holeshot.

KTM currently has the best holeshot device – the RC16 accelerates from the grid like a bullet from a gun – which is why the first two bikes into Turn 1 on both Saturday and Sunday were RC16s. Even so, KTM wants holeshot devices banned…

MotoGP can ban anything instantly when safety is an issue, so why wait until a rider gets badly hurt or worse to ban holeshot devices?

Mat Oxley’s column will move from Tuesday to Wednesday from next week.
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