Should 12-year-old kids be allowed to race 130mph grand prix bikes?

Motorcycle News

Sunday’s fatal accident at Aragon should be a wake-up call to the people in charge of motorcycle racing – a debate needs to be had about minimum age limits

Hugo Millan after the 2021 European Talent Cup race at Catalunya

Hugo Millán after finishing third in last month’s European Talent Cup race at Catalunya

FIM CEV Repsol

It’s time that motorcycle racing had a debate about children racing grand prix motorcycles in a professional arena.

The death of 14-year-old Spaniard Hugo Millán during Sunday’s European Talent Cup race at Aragon wasn’t a one-off. Three years ago 14-year-old Andreas Pérez was killed during a CEV Moto3 junior world championship race at Catalunya. And, sadly, there will be more.

There are four main points to consider here. First, the morals of letting children take part in a very dangerous sport. Second, what should be the minimum age for racing 130mph motorcycles? Third, how do these child fatalities affect the rest of the world’s view of motorcycles and motorcycle racing. Fourth, the ultra-close competition in Moto3 and Supersport 300, which has created a whole new kind of danger.

There is no doubt that these children can race motorcycles. The skills and strategies on display in the Red Bull Rookies Cup and other kids series are remarkable and a joy to see.

From Casey Stoner to Pedro Acosta and many in between we are amazed by these teenage prodigies who prove to us that children are capable of so much, if mentored in the correct way.

Motorcycle racing isn’t like most sports. It has an important danger element

And the families and children are obviously happy to go racing at this level. But this doesn’t make it right.

The debate doesn’t concern the kids’ worthiness or willingness to race 130mph motorcycles elbow to elbow, it concerns the legal and moral duty of care that adults have towards children.

And these riders are children.

There are very good reasons why kids cannot vote, drink alcohol, have sex, join the army, drive cars on public roads and so on until they reach a certain age. Indeed children cannot line up on a CEV grid or any talent cup grid without their parents signing a waiver giving their permission for their child to race. In other words, children are not allowed to make their own decisions in any of these matters, because legally and morally they are considered unready.

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This is why the insider argument that “they died doing what they love” doesn’t stand up. If a 13-year-old gets drunk or causes a road accident while driving a car, who says, “it’s okay, they were doing what they love”? No one.

So when should kids be allowed to race motorcycles, as opposed to minibikes?

A line has to be drawn somewhere. And currently the line is drawn all over the place. The CEV junior world championship takes kids from 14-years-old, the minimum age for a Red Bull Rookie is 13, while the Asia, British, European and Northern Talent Cups accept 12-year-olds.

In many countries children are assumed to take a step towards adulthood when they reach 16. For example, British 16-year-olds are allowed to have consensual sex, marry, join the army and work full-time if they have left school. In other words, they should be focused on school – both education and sport – until they are at least 16.

The fact is that motorcycle racing isn’t like most sports. It has an important danger element. Rugby Union is also dangerous, so its governing body writes regulations for younger players that restrict the game to reduce physical contact and therefore the potential for serious injury.

The pressure on 12-year-olds to win races is immense and arguably much too much

And yet in motorcycling 12-year-olds are allowed to ride pretty much the same Moto3 machines that are used in grand prix racing.

The fact that they get to race on the world’s safest circuits is wonderful – and perhaps the kids think they are safe for this reason – but recent events prove that this isn’t enough.

Therefore would 16 be a better minimum age for CEV, Red Bull Rookies and the various talent cups? The difference isn’t day and night but it is significant. If you can join the army at 16, why not race motorcycles?

Kids also die racing minibikes, but there should be fewer fatalities if younger children were restricted to lower-performance machines.

Andreas Perez

Andreas Pérez, who died in similar circumstances to Millán at Catalunya in 2018


And if the minimum age for racing motorcycles is raised to 16, perhaps raise the minimum age for grand prix racing to 18, as it used to be. What would be lost through making these changes? Nothing, really. All the grids would be full, just the same. And all the grids for minibike racing would be full. So all the people making money out of these championships would still make money.

Within these considerations is another question: why the hurry? What is gained by bringing kids into professional motorcycle racing arenas at 12, 13, 14 or 15 years of age? Nothing much.

However, lowering minimum age limits has transformed the sport of motorcycle racing. Riders who haven’t been signed up to a top team by the time they are 14 or 15 are most likely already out of the game. The pressure on 12 and 13-year-olds to win races is therefore immense and arguably much too much for some of them to deal with.

How many businesses read these headlines and decide not to get involved?

The sport is overheating, so someone needs to turn down the heat. And the best way to do that would be to raise minimum age limits.

Beyond the horrors suffered by all the families involved in these fatalities the second important factor to consider is how the rest of the world sees us. Tell a non-motorcyclist that a 14-year-old was killed racing a 130mph motorcycle and he or she will most likely be appalled. How is that even possible, they ask.

Does this matter? It cannot not have a negative effect on motorcycling and motorcycle racing, and if you believe it’s good to promote bikes and biking to a wider audience then the effect of these deaths does matter.

How many parents read the headlines about Millán and Pérez, and decide then and there that they won’t buy their kids a scooter or a motorcycle to use on the roads?

At the same time how many businesses read these headlines and decide that this is not a sport with which they want to be involved? Perhaps motorcycle racing would attract more sponsorship if it looked less barbaric to outsiders.

And don’t blame the media for writing the headlines, because these are significant stories.

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Obviously children do die while engaging in other activities – horse riding, for example – but the fact is that society doesn’t look at horse riding the same way it looks at motorcycle racing. That may not be right but that’s the way it is and we have to accept that and behave accordingly.

Lastly, those in charge of motorcycle racing need to urgently consider how to deal with the problem of ultra-close racing – mostly in Moto3 and Supersport 300. This is important across all age groups, but particularly for kids’ events, because the danger of racing in these classes has been significantly increased by technical regulations written to create crowd-pleasing action.

Moto3 and Supersport 300 races are characterised by huge groups of riders circulating together, centimetres apart, lap after lap. When a rider falls in the middle of these packs there’s a strong likelihood that he or she will be struck by a following motorcycle.

Not long ago we called these events freak accidents, but they are now the norm and will continue to be so until something is done. This is how Millán died, it’s also how Pérez died, as well as Jason Dupasquier, who was killed during May’s Italian GP.

There have been numerous similar incidents from which riders have escaped serious injury or worse by the narrowest of margins – current Moto3 world championship leader Acosta was run over in a multiple accident during practice for last month’s Dutch TT, escaping with back injuries.

The riders are usually blamed for these accidents but in fact the real cause is the technical regulations.

Motorcycle racing – and minibike racing – will never be safe. Indeed one of the reasons we enjoy racing bikes is the challenge of taking risks and dealing with risks.

But now is the time for rights-holders Dorna and the FIM to debate the minimum age from which riders can take these risks on full-sized motorcycles in a professional arena. If they don’t they will be failing in their duty of care to the children involved.

Motor Sport would like to send its condolences to the family and loved ones of Hugo Millán.