Mike Webb Explains That Moto3 Time Penalties At Le Mans Are "Virtual Gravel Traps"

Fans watching the Moto3 race at Le Mans faced mixed emotions. On the one hand, they were thrilled at yet another scintillating Moto3 race featuring close quarter battles. On the other hand, they were bewildered by the time penalties issued to Jakub Kornfeil and Niccolo Antonelli during the course of the race. Kornfeil was handed a 1.3 second penalty, while Antonelli was given a 1.8 second penalty. Fans found it difficult to make head or tail of the penalties issued.

Their confusion turned to outright anger once the Moto3 race had ended. Fabio Di Giannantonio crossed the line in first, after Marco Bezzecchi lost the rear in the final corner and took Jorge Martin down with him. But Di Giannantonio would not get to enjoy his victory: the Italian was handed a 2 second penalty after the race had finished, demoting him from first to fourth.

The anger of the fans was fueled mainly by a feeling that the penalties appeared to be arbitrary, with no logic to their structure. The FIM Stewards Panel appeared to be handing out penalties almost at a whim, and with no way for those outside of the panel to understand what was going on.

The logic behind this

To get to the bottom of this, I emailed Race Director and head of the Stewards Panel Mike Webb about the penalties. Webb replied with a clear and cogent explanation of why the penalties had been given, and how they had been assessed. He also explained that the teams and riders knew that penalties would be given at Le Mans, as they had been issued a letter explaining the protocol which would be used to judge penalties. Unfortunately for the fans and the media, the letter was not sent to the media, and so journalists and commentators had to take a guess at what was going on.

The reason for the penalties was simple, Webb wrote. "The penalties in the Moto3 race were due to 'course cutting' (i.e. making the track shorter) as opposed to 'track limits' (running out of track, i.e. making it longer)," he said. Such penalties do not apply at every track, but there are a number of tracks where cutting corners is a serious problem, and for which serious penalties are applied. "There are only a few tracks where it’s possible to do this; Austin T3/6, Le Mans T3/4, T9/10, Catalunya T1/2, Assen T6/8, T16/18, Silverstone T3/5, T5/6, Misano T1/3," Webb explained.

Time gained by cutting corners is measured using dedicated timing loops which monitor every rider, and check how much time they have gained or lost in the sector where they cut the course. "The criteria applied is that a rider must lose time in a short cut (i.e. shut the gas) and if they don't, we will add a time penalty. Therefore, you have to lose at least a second if you short cut and if you don’t then we’ll give a bigger penalty," Webb said.

"We use dedicated timing loops to identify these sectors, the software calculates the rider’s average time through that section and notifies us of the time difference when he makes a course cut," Webb wrote. "The penalty is simple; a) at least 1 sec slower = no penalty, b) less than 1 sec slower = 2 second penalty minus whatever loss the rider had, c) faster sector = 2 second penalty plus whatever gain the rider made."

Virtual gravel traps

The penalty system was put in place after extensive discussions with the riders in the Safety Commission, where the riders and Dorna had tried to find a system acceptable to all involved, and which fairly reflects the advantage gained by cutting the corners. The problem was caused by the fact that more and more tracks are replacing gravel by the side of the track with asphalt run off, allowing riders to safely run wide with no risk.

In some places, the asphalt run off is tempting riders into making passes they would never have previously considered because they risked serious injury if the went down in the gravel by the side of the track. They can now attempt the pass and lose little or nothing, a state of affairs which is seen as undesirable. "The overall principle is to make it more fair and to reward staying on track," Webb said. "The sizable time penalties are a disincentive to short cut, but way better than the old days where you’d crash in the gravel or lose 20 seconds if you managed to keep it upright." The penalties serve as a "virtual gravel trap," as Webb neatly phrased it.

Once explained, the penalties suddenly make a lot more sense. And given the teams and riders had already been informed that these penalties would be applied, they should have known what to expect. However, the fact that the media (and as a consequence, the fans) had no idea that the course-cutting penalty system had been put in place, they were left in a state of confusion, where there was no need. It might be better if Dorna were to issue an official communique ahead of the next race where the course-cutting time penalties will apply (Barcelona), reminding the media that such penalties could be enforced.

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"The sizable time penalties are a disincentive to short cut, but way better than the old days where you’d crash in the gravel or lose 20 seconds if you managed to keep it upright."

Which means that instead of a whimsy two seconds penalty, they should be giving a 20 second penalty for cutting corners. And the way I see it, something similar for exceeding track limits. This whole massive asphalt run-off wild growth is becoming more and more annoying, for the reasons stated in the article above. Many riders will ride more dangerously because of these so-called 'safety measures', so it's counter-productive in many ways. Casey Stoner didn't like those asphalt run-offs for that exact reason already many years ago.

Apart from the exchange of one risk to a whole collection of other risks, this ever wider spreading of asphalt also makes tracks bloody ugly, and the action looking more and more artificial. I like to see bikes race on something that resembles a road, not a giant parking with white lines and bright coloured areas drawn on it. But maybe I'm old-fashioned.

as of course the IOM TT starts in just over a week! ;)

Regarding the penalty system, I rather like the methodology behind it myself. I had assumed the penalty times were decided by looking at the overall avg. lap times by the offender up to "the cut" and were the specific time gained by the perp on that lap. Of course overall times can be affected by battles. hazards, traffic etc. so using just the specific sector and working up or down from a base 2 second penalty seems like a, dare I say, elegant solution to me. The only thing missing from the explanation is exactly how many sector times (before & after) the offense are needed for comparison before the penalty can be enacted as it's obviously more then 2 or 3, else we would've had Fabio's penalty known before the race finish.  

Some fans will still complain, but having the information that Mike Webb and team used timing loops for data and had a clear, communicated and calculated formula for doling out peanalties gives me confidence in the stewards.  I felt very sorry for Fabio Di Giannantonio after the elation of winning and the crushing news that he was classified fourth, but if teams (and by extension, riders) were told before the race of course cutting peanalties then nobody should be able to constest the results.

...especially considering he has had a week to make it up

If they can make the decision to penalise so in a few minutes then why does it always take a week or more to provide an explanation of these terrible decisions to fans? The consistency in regards to both who gets punished and what the punishment will be is terrible. Not to mention the complete lack of transparency regarding the decisions. Mike Webb needs to be held accountable for some of the crazy decisions we have seen. We have now reached the point where everyone expects a calamity and bad desicions from race direction and thats a terrible place for a sport the sie and standing of MotoGP. If the riders have to behave profesionally then the same should apply to race direction

Race direction has made a laughing stock of MotoGP many, many, many times over the last 5 years. Its time for a different system and different people along with viewer transpanercy about why the decision was made. Add an open transparrent appeals system for the numerous times that race direction makes these stupid desicions.

serious?  It was a very clear and concise explanation. with the rules drawn up before the races AND asked for by the riders.  How can you possibly think Mike Webb is accountable?

If you doubt that Mike Webb is being truthful, best you check out Loris Baz's twitter feed as he was posting these rules on Sunday whislt the races were still on.

to cut the bikes electronics while it is "out of bounds"?  Given the lack of power it might make a few of the riders think about crossing the line.  Not sure how safe it would be for the rider returning to the track but a small transgression should see the rider pull the clutch and turn back to the actual track and still be left with a decent amount of momentum.

It would not be easy at all.  Nor would it be wise... to many chances for things to wrong.  Plus if a rider crashes but picks the bike up relatively undamaged, how would he start the bike again? run out onto the track?  not a good idea.

I was forgetting the genuine crash/over shoot.  Yep, can see them now getting to the very boundary where they are given back control of the bike and trying to "safely" bump start from there.  Yeah, right....

Thanks for the update David. 

A shame that wasn’t communicated before the race.  Or at the very least you would think if Dorna didn’t send it out to the fans and the media, they could have at least told their own employees…. THE COMMENTATORS!!

Whilst I whole heartedly agree that the penalties are needed and justified (I agree with some in that I don’t like that the extra run off lets the riders get away with a lot), it does open up a slight grey area in the reason for WHY someone goes off track.  Jacob Kornfiel went off track twice during the race, cutting corners.  Both times he was dusted up by Jorge Martin and JK chose to leave the race track in an avoiding action rather than get bumped off and potentially crash.  Is it fair that he gets penalised for that? DiGiantonio’s excursion was different in it looked like he was making a dive down the outside (we didn’t catch it on camera) when he went off.  The only thing he did different was that DiGiantonio didn’t back off and actually made up a place.  Kornfiel did not make any places on both occasions.  I think JK was unfairly punished.

Could have race control have communicated better to members of the public about how the moto3 time penalties were here handed out - possibly.

Given in particular the more professional nature of motorbike racing at this level they could have the equivalent of a referee's microphone which some sports have so that we can hear what the referees are saying to the players when they dish out a penalty.  This might be done after the event in the form of a penalty sheet for journalists and the interested public to read.

However, I used to write procedures, permits in my work environment so used to scour "rulebooks". To make sure those procedures and permits along with many other things complied with all the internal and external rules (the law) in force. You would be amazed the number of people who would fail to read the procedures or permits perform an action they covered then complain to me about the outcome of failing to follow either the rules, laws or procedures. 

Given the teams were informed about the rules prior to the event I am sure they would have read them Ha- Ha. I am led to believe by the information presented here by PeteRC8 at least Loris Baz had read them or someone has told him and he has a good memory. 

So in this light,  http://www.fim-live.com/en/sport/regulations-and-documents/grand-prix/ may be of interest to some people. I am sure you will read the rules Ha- Ha.

So the disclaimers - since it is not my job I will not read the rules. I actually don't even care enough about the rules to do more than glance at the first few pages of the rules download long enough to "think" that I have found the right document. If I have it wrong I am confident someone will correct the link. I can take this approach because I follow the sport for enjoyment.  It's not religion, life or death, national pride, some sort of a conspiracy, etc to me. Slack I know.

I must give David a huge pat on the back for asking Mike Webb for an explanation, that is too rare an occurrence in my experience. Very occasionally people would ask me to explain something usually after it had been ballsed up but occasionally in advance. Most left satisfied with the explanation, some would occasionally point out how they believed I could do a better job or I should do it there way.

I would point out to them that I was not the only person who could write the documents and I was more than happy for them to do that job. As long as they put their name to the document produced then accepted the responsibilities and consequences that came with that option. No one ever took that option up.

Anyone care for Mike Webb's job?.

David, time to take out a subscription. Now to find that link 


P.S. The FIM WORLD CHAMPIONSHIP GRAND PRIX REGULATIONS 2018 for those who do care to read them are only 336 pages long. There are a few other documents with more rules on the same link don't forget to download and read them. 


Not at all IMO. I wish every fan (no matter the sport) had that attitude. It's the main reason I quit following anything other then motorsports years ago. Not that the fanaticism & tribalism doesn't exist in this realm but it's genrally not as bad as in all the stick and ball sports.

if they had explained that 5 races ago!  Motorcycle racing depends on the fans that watch it, and we depend on the commentators and journalists that explain it.  It was pretty ridiculous watching the Dorna sponsored race, while listening to the Dorna employed commentators utterly baffled as to why penalties were being issued and how they were being decided.  The FIM Stewards really dropped the ball here.  It is actually a pretty good and predictable system, now that we understand it.  During the race, it just looked like an arbitrary mess with no one able to figure out what the heck was going on.  Going forward, it would be a good idea for the FIM, Race Direction, and the race series sponsors to communicate with each other, and most especially their public interpreters (the commentators and journalists), about rules and penalties that they know will affect race results.  I'm sure the professional commentators did not appreciate looking like bafoons because their coworkers and bosses kept them out of the loop.  I did not particularly enjoy watching race results change after the checkered flag without any discernible rhyme or reason.  Now we know.  And knowing is half the battle!

isnt the whole problem of asphalt run off that it encourages more dangerous and aggressive riding, not just gaining time from course cutting? If it is supposedly a virtual gravel trap then a penalty should be approximated to the same amount of time that would have been lost running into the gravel. Ten or twenty second penalties would surely discourage such ambitious moves with the benefit to the rider being safety aspect that he doesn't bin it in the kitty litter. Instead these riders remain in touch with the leading group and as we saw in LeMans, massively affect the race result by being there at the end.

What about ride throughs or even constructing a penalty ride through sin bin section like a bus stop that is placed in a safe area where track exit and return could be done safely and fairly without danger to other racers, removing these riders from potentially affecting race and championships positions. Dash board messages could communicate this to riders in real time. There's obviously no easy solution but keeping press and commentators in the loop about whatever system they decide upon is surely a no brainer Dorna.