Will MotoGP go radio gaga?


Some people want pit-to-rider radios introduced to MotoGP. Please, no… please, no…

So, Valentino Rossi wants to discuss the introduction of pit-to-rider radios in MotoGP’s Safety Commission.

This is weird, because radios are currently banned from MotoGP, partly for safety reasons, after various riders and teams tested the technology some years ago. Radios certainly won’t improve safety in any great way; they will merely be a tool that might have saved Rossi the woeful embarrassment of disregarding his pit-board in Germany a few weeks ago.

Radios won’t stop riders and teams making mistakes in wet/dry races. There will still be confusion and errors. Some will make the right call; others will make the wrong call. Racing is like war in many respects: most wars are won by the side that makes the fewest mistakes. It’s the same in racing – radios will not prevent cock-ups, they will merely create different types of cock-ups.

I am against radios in MotoGP for various reasons.  Riders spend hours and hours throughout each weekend conferring with armies of engineers, technicians and advisors; so what makes the race so compelling is that the moment the lights go out the riders are totally alone and 100 per cent masters of their own destinies. This is the moment of release to which they’ve all been looking forward: finally, it’s all down to them. The endless debriefs and discussions about strategies, tyre choice and settings are done, the rider is at last where he really wants to be: alone on his motorcycle, just him against the world.

For what it’s worth (because this bit has nothing to do with racing) I get the same feeling when I’m out on an everyday ride. The moment I flip down the visor, I am alone. It’s just me, the bike and the road, so I am entirely responsible for what happens next. I never feel more relaxed than at this moment: no phone, no internet, no nothing; just 100 per cent focus. To me, it’s the best meditation.

If riders and their pit crews get hooked up with radios, the whole dynamic of MotoGP will change. In fact the sport itself will be transformed. It will no longer be the rider riding the bike, using his riding skill and tactical knowhow to win the race; it will be the rider advised by his tyre technician, his data engineer and various other staff, all offering their valuable advice via his crew chief.

Radios have been a feature in Formula 1 for some years. I believe their only service to the sport has been a wonderful quote, from Kimi Räikkönen to his Lotus crew, who were sat in their pit telling him what to do during the 2012 Abu Dhabi GP, which he won.

“OK, Kimi the next car behind you is Alonso… I’ll keep you updated on his pace,” says his crew chief.

“Just leave me alone,” replies Räikkönen, obviously riled at the interruption. “I know what I’m doing.”

A while later, when the pace car is on track, his crew chief again interrupts. “OK Kimi, we need to keep working all four tyres; please keep working all four tyres.”

“Yes, yes, yes, I’m doing that all the time – you don’t have to keep reminding me every 10 seconds,” seethes Räikkönen,

Can you imagine anything worse than racing around, elbow on the ground, brain going at two million miles an hour, while someone tells you what to do? Marc Marquez can’t. “I cannot imagine leaning into a corner at 200kph and somebody speaking… no way.” Nor Cal Crutchlow. “Honestly I don’t think it’s a great idea. You could imagine what I would say back!”

F1 eventually revised its radio regulations to ban pit-to-car conversations aimed at assisting a driver’s performance. Which is why Nico Rosberg lost second place in last month’s British GP, but now the rules have been rewritten once again because Rosberg’s Mercedes crew were in fact improving his performance by helping him overcome a critical car failure. And so it goes on…

No wonder many people in F1 hate radios. They’ve not improved the racing, they’ve merely added an extra few chapters to the rule book, encouraging yet more argument, quite apart from turning one of the fundamental attractions of racing on its head.

“Formula 1 went this way and it contributed hugely to the philosophical taming of the drivers,” says Motor Sport‘s Grand Prix editor Mark Hughes, one of the most respected voices in the F1 paddock. “It’s made them much more publicly employees rather than stars; which is not the image it should be projecting to the outside, regardless of the realities.

“The sport has recognised this with radio restrictions regarding driver coaching, but in the meantime the radio has enabled vastly more complex control systems that require guidance on how to use – hence the current controversy about whether teams should be allowed to tell a driver that his gearbox or brakes need nursing or the engine is in incorrect mode and so on.

“I personally feel it should be pit boards only, once they leave the pit lane, and the control systems should be simplified accordingly. I’d hate to see MotoGP follow F1’s misguided engineering-led path on this.”

Some people suggest radios should only be allowed in wet MotoGP races to help riders and crews decide on tyre choice. But why? Electronics are not the answer to everything. Riders have been making their own choice on tyres for decades: the rider who makes the right choice at the right time will probably win the race. If radios arrive, the team that makes the right choice at the right time will probably win the race.

Others suggest I’m being archaic, that we mustn’t stop the progress of modern technology. But, you know what, motorcycles are archaic; how else could you describe a vehicle capable of 150mph and more that doesn’t feature seat belts, airbags and scientifically designed crumple zones? If the motorcycle was invented today, it would have no more chance of being made road legal than a 100mph Segway.

And what about racing with internal combustion engines? So archaic. If we were sensible we would go racing powered by electricity, hydrogen or something. But we’re not sensible. Racing isn’t sensible. I would have no interest in it if it was.

We will know soon if MotoGP will get radios.

“From our side it’s no problem if that’s what the teams and riders want,” says MotoGP Race Director Mike Webb. “We researched and tested it a few years ago and the teams and riders rejected it as unworkable. Maybe the technology is better now. I’m pretty sure the Grand Prix Commission would remove the ban if the teams want – we’re not that bothered because it’s not crazy expensive now. I still have doubts on safety grounds about interrupting a rider with a radio but probably that protocol can be worked out.”

Here’s hoping that common sense prevails.

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