Analysis: is MotoGP over-regulated?

The biggest talking point at this weekend’s German Grand Prix was how race management handled the drama of Fabio Quartararo’s costume, when the Yamaha rider’s leathers opened late in the Grand Prix de Catalunya and he ultimately earned a penalty of three seconds after the race.

MORE: Why Quartararo’s penalty in Catalunya suit highlights a larger problem in MotoGP

Quartararo was breaking the rules, but the punishment for such a breach was ill-defined. For the sake of rider safety, many – including Quartararo – believe he should have immediately been awarded the black flag and disqualified. Others criticized the three-second penalty – because a penalty for something that ultimately wasn’t his fault didn’t seem appropriate, and it didn’t make sense to slap him hours after the checkered flag.

When Autosport asked him Thursday in Germany if he thought Quartararo should have been black flagged – having previously criticized him for throwing his breastplate in Barcelona – world champion Joan Mir said he would have wanted a black flag if he had been in this situation.

This discussion continued at Thursday’s pre-event press conference in Germany, where KTM’s Miguel Oliveira – who won in Barcelona – said the decision to throw a black flag was not as clear as it had been hinted at.

Fabio Quartararo, Yamaha Factory Racing MotoGP

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport images

“I mean, when the going is in the heat of the moment I think even for the race management it was a tough decision because you don’t really know what happened. he opened the leathers or if the leather opened on its own, “he said. mentionned.

“So, at that point, report a black runner for material [malfunctioning] and not from a mistake on his part, I think it’s a bit questionable.

“But it’s the Race Direction, I’m not going to comment on their decision. It’s like that.”

The Barcelona incident has only served to put MotoGP race management under further scrutiny, following a series of questionable decisions over the past year.

Riders expressed dismay at the MotoGP yellow flag rule introduced in 2020, according to which anyone passing through a yellow flag area loses that lap time, whether or not there is a danger. Runway limits have been the subject of criticism, even more recently after the introduction of pressure sensors on runoff areas to control the runway limits, removing what Mir described as “human touch” from those decisions. .

Maverick Vinales, Yamaha Factory Racing

Maverick Vinales, Yamaha Factory Racing

Photo by: Yamaha MotoGP

Maverick Vinales fell victim to this system twice in Portugal, losing qualifying laps for overstepping the limits of the track – only for images to later reveal that it was a small rear tire that triggered the sensor, this which makes it difficult to understand what he would have won.

The Yamaha Quartararo teammate believes the track limitation rules are now excessive, with the world championship leader saying their harshness makes the race “a little too serious”.

He cited penalties imposed on Mir and Oliveira at Mugello, when the pair touched the green painted area next to the curbs on the last lap – a transgression across all classes that requires a rider to give up a position. As both riders did at the same time, they retained their initial positions of second and third. Race management estimated that anyone exiting the track at Mugello Turn 5, like the two, gained 0.5 seconds.

Quartararo also had an issue with the three-second penalty handed to him at Barcelona for going through the chicane at Turns 1 and 2 when he made a mistake.

The Race Direction stated that any rider who does this must lose a second on the lap or face a long penalty on the lap. Quartararo lost seven tenths in that lap, earning him the penalty – although he argued that it was impossible for him to really judge how much time he could waste on the bike.

Jack Miller, Ducati Team, Fabio Quartararo, Yamaha Factory Racing

Jack Miller, Ducati Team, Fabio Quartararo, Yamaha Factory Racing

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport images

“Yes, not only talking about what happened in Barcelona but what happened at Mugello with Joan and Miguel, for me that kind of penalty is strange,” Quartararo said when asked by Autosport if confidence in the race direction was at its lowest. “You go out two or three centimeters on the green and you lose a position – you don’t buy time [doing that]. For me it’s a bit too much, also what happened in Barcelona when I went straight [at Turn 1]. I was seven tenths slower and they say if you go [another] three tenths slower, you have no penalty. I mean, how can you calculate?

This response led to tensions between Quartararo and Jack Miller – who was following Quartararo when he made that mistake and won third place – which erupted on Thursday, Miller noting that the track limit rules are there for safety. and have been advocated in security. Commission (something which oddly enough is not followed by all runners, Quartararo apparently one of them).

“I think no one ever likes the referee in a football game, but the referee is necessary,” Miller said in response to a question from Autosport’s race direction. “I think the race direction is necessary. This rule you’re talking about the second, it’s been three years.

Quartararo replied, “Yes, but the rule is stupid,” while Miller replied, “Yes, but what if it was grass or gravel in the middle of the chicane?

“I’m going into the grass,” Quartararo added.

“That’s right, so you’re wasting more than a second,” Miller continued. “So that green outside, if it was grass like it used to be, you wouldn’t go all the way to the curb. So that brings the wall closer.

Jack Miller, Ducati team

Jack Miller, Ducati team

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport images

“If you come to the safety committee you will understand what we are discussing and that is why in the safety committee we insist on this rule because in the end, if you keep going faster and faster, more in addition, the tracks become more dangerous.

“The same with the chicane, before when it was gravel, nobody passes. When the asphalt came up, people would pass three, four times in a race, not use that side of the tire six times on each side on the tire, and they got an advantage at the end of the race.

“So the rules are the rules. Nobody likes the ref, they can do a lot of better things like we can all do, but someone has to be the bad guy. It’s that simple.”

Johann Zarco of Pramac presented a balanced argument on the issue of race direction, noting that the decision-making process for track limits is incredibly time sensitive given MotoGP’s 45-minute race time. However, he agrees that the current system is fallible.

Fabio Quartararo, Yamaha Factory Racing, Johann Zarco, Pramac Racing

Fabio Quartararo, Yamaha Factory Racing, Johann Zarco, Pramac Racing

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport images

Miller’s safety update also highlights the eternal struggle: MotoGP must craft regulations that match progress in safety. Runway limits weren’t much of an issue in the past because the curbs were edged with astro turf and the tarmac runoff areas were all gravel.

But astro turf was found to be too dangerous due to the way it absorbed water, with the material being removed from racing tracks after Aragon 2014, when Valentino Rossi crashed and was briefly concussed when he ran over the material. And the runoff areas had to expand to accommodate the increased speed.

All of this can easily be seen as the normal process of predictable disagreement between riders and lawmakers, but the concerns raised are legitimate, especially when the lower categories are taken into account.

In the Moto3 Barcelona race, a number of riders from the large leading group deliberately retreated to critical points not to be drowned again in the wake of the main straight. Behavior in Moto3 races has been a hot topic for some time, especially when it comes to qualifying tactics – although race management has taken steps to stop this by introducing tougher penalties.

But the question of how the riders perform the final laps in the big groups and the safety concerns there have been brought to the fore by the tragic death of Jason Dupasquier at Mugello.

Jeremy Alcoba, Team Gresini Moto3

Jeremy Alcoba, Team Gresini Moto3

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport images

Quartararo feels that the antics in Moto3 have become “silly” and has aimed at the fact that the race management apparently neglected this while going to extremes on the limits of the track.

“Just to add one thing: we are talking about MotoGP, but looking at the last few laps of Moto3 I think there is more to be said with safety in Moto3 than in MotoGP because it’s totally stupid to see everyone cut [the throttle] in the last two rounds with what happened last week, ”Quartararo said.

“We talk about details, OK the rules of a second are the rule, but for me to save time or not it’s OK. But we lost a guy three weeks ago so they need to focus a bit more on the smaller categories. “

Quartararo’s argument is relevant, but it is not new either. Rossi has long felt that part of the aggressiveness in MotoGP these days can be attributed to the fact that Moto3 racing is wild and that sets a precedent for young riders. He too had similar views to Quartararo about what happened in Moto3 in Barcelona.

Much of the current contempt for Race Direction – and the College of Stewards in particular, which inflicts penalties – stems from a knee-jerk reaction to the Rossi / Marc Marquez fallout at Sepang in 2015.

Valentino Rossi, Petronas Yamaha SRT

Valentino Rossi, Petronas Yamaha SRT

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport images

Rossi was not penalized for an incident that led Marquez to exit the Sepang race, with the Yamaha rider finishing third and keeping his title hopes for the final round. The move was criticized at the time, and the backlash when Rossi was hit with a start from the back of the grid for the Valencia final was huge for Italian fans – the paranoid sabotage and conspiracy talk began. by Rossi only accentuated it. .

The College of Sporting Stewards was set up in 2016 to separate the tasks of the Race Direction of managing the races from the need to also judge penalties.

One item that cannot help is the fact that the jury is headed by two-time 500cc world champion Freddie Spencer. The American is an experienced rider, but has no recent MotoGP experience. It is not unreasonable to think that someone who has ridden modern MotoGP machines would have a much better understanding of incidents.

Miller is right: race direction is needed and someone has to be there to enforce the rules.

But it is clear that the system needs to be carefully analyzed and changes implemented to restore some of the confidence in race management that seems to have disappeared on part of the grid.

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