Minutes after repeating his brilliant lights-to-flag feats of the Austrian Grand Prix for a second time in as many weekends, initial race winner Jorge Martin was shown the runner-up slot in parc fermé. His crime? Running over a sliver of green paint that follows the kerb on the outside of turn eight as he fought resolutely to fend of Marco Bezzecchi’s ever-threatening late race advances. The FIM Stewards demoted to second despite crossing the line 0.060s second ahead.
“Losing out this way is painful,” Martin sighed from that same parc fermé. “In the last lap I think I didn’t touch it. Last week I touched it but they (the FIM Stewards) said it’s OK. Today wasn’t the day to touch. We won in an amazing way. For sure Bezzecchi at the end had a little bit more but he didn’t arrive to the battle. Me and my team really deserved this victory.”
So, were the Stewards wrong to penalize him? Well, after the controversy surrounding Augusto Fernandez’s last lap victory at Misano last year, when he passed Fabio Di Giannantonio at turn 14 moments after exceeding track limits on the exit of turn eleven, Dorna published a clarification on a tightening of the rules regarding track limits.
“From now on an infraction on the last lap that has affected a race result must indicate that the rider in question was disadvantaged by exceeding track limits,” read an official release last September. “If the Stewards deem there is no clear disadvantage, the rider will be penalized with a change of position or a time penalty. This is to ensure that any rider exceeding track limits on the final lap must be in a worse position than the rider or riders with whom they are directly competing for a finish position.”
The key words here are ‘no clear disadvantage.’ It doesn’t matter if Martin made up time on Bezzecchi (0.2s behind as they entered the final sector) or the gap remained the same. Both his wheels were on the green pain at the same time. By the letter of the law, the penalty was just. So, case closed.
But, it’s not that simple. There’s been an uproar regarding recent penalties. Paolo Simoncelli, for example, opined on Sunday evening that the FIM Stewards, “conscious of their power, mask their incompetence with arrogance and superficiality, sometimes even taking inappropriate and absurd decisions, distorting the result of all the races.”
A tad overblown, perhaps. But a level of dissatisfaction is justified. Can we really say there is consistency when Maverick Viñales escaped a similar fate to Martin at the Andalusian Grand Prix when his Yamaha M1 ran across the green paint on the exit of turn five on the final lap?
Another point: some transparency would help. A simple TV interview or media debrief with Chief Steward Freddie Spencer at the end of the day to clarify why Martin was penalized and Pol Espargaro (MotoGP) and Tony Arbolino (Moto3) weren’t, when they overstepped the track limit on the exit of the final corner, would go a long way to quell the anger.
As would explaining their actions to the rider. Martin’s fury has been festering all week. On Monday he took to Twitter to write, “The issue is that Race Direction does not justify itself, it does not explain to us, nor does it allow us to complain about its SUBJECTIVE criteria and therein lies the problem.” Trust between riders and FIM Stewards is essential (especially amid recent controversies). One way to erode such trust is to hand out results without explanation.
Bezzecchi Bouncing Back
Controversy aside, it was a thrilling cat-and-mouse Moto2 affair contested between two men destined for the very top. Martin didn’t put a foot wrong and showed a few of the traits more associated with old training buddy Jorge Lorenzo: namely speed from the start, unerring consistency and an ability to withstand tremendous pressure.
But there was a great deal to admire in eventual winner Bezzecchi’s showing, too. His efforts at the first Austrian race came undone via two mistakes when braking for turn three. How he rose from seventh on lap one to put Martin under the most intense of pressure showed just how far he’s come after a largely troubled rookie year in Moto2.
And his showings this summer have been all the more remarkable considering the serious injury he sustained in June. Back on a bike after months in strict lockdown in Italy, the former Moto3 runner up broke the talus bone (similar to the scaphoid in the wrist as it takes so much time to heal) in his right ankle in a motocross spill. Even at that early point, his chances of a strong season were under threat.
“Now it’s two and a half months since I broke my foot. The problem is the bone I broke: blood doesn’t pass through it so it’s very difficult to come back very strong. It was difficult in the COVID situation to recover because I couldn’t do all the therapy that I wanted. I couldn’t train because I couldn’t walk. I tried to give my best to arrive to Jerez and ride.
“Honestly when I jumped on the bike for the first time I was impressed because I felt pain. But it wasn’t so much like when I walked. In Jerez I thought, ‘OK, maybe it’s possible to be very fast.’ There I was very fast. But I made a stupid mistake and crashed. Then I got my first podium but with the crutches. I didn’t expect it.
“Now I can walk, not normally, but almost. I still feel pain. I can’t do all the training that I want. I started to do bicycle but honestly I don’t like it so much! These two weeks between here and Misano will be important to recover. Now I am 95% (fit) so physically I am there.”
Now fifth in the standings, 22 points back of championship leader Luca Marini, Bezzecchi can be counted among six possible title contenders.
It hasn’t been an easy start to the year for Australian Remy Gardner. Along with losing last year’s crew chief – the vastly experienced Alfred Willeke, who also acted as a close confidant – to Lorenzo Baldassarri, his Onexox SAG Racing team were beset by funding issues at the end of 2019. That is one of the reasons why he’s been forced to run the ’19 Kalex chassis all of this year.
He grabbed important points at Jerez and Brno. But his efforts at the first Austrian race were beset by a crash at turn one, as he struggled with top speed. As one of the class’ taller riders (178cm) and weighing in at 72kg, Gardner is giving away a full ten kilos to Jorge Martin, who he challenged on Sunday.
Here, he was close to flawless, braking like a mad man in sectors and two while showing real finesse to run impressive times through sectors three and four. Despite still feeling he was down on top speed, Gardner crossed the line third, just one second off the race winner. This was his finest ride in Grand Prix to date.
“Jerez was a really difficult race for us,” Gardner explained after his second Moto2 podium. “The first one I managed a decent result but the second was one of my most difficult ever. I was just going backwards, dropping like a stone. Something happened, I couldn’t ride the bike properly and I was nearly crashing the bike in ever corner. It was not good. Also, I think the extreme temperatures probably didn’t help.
“Brno was another track where we were struggling with the acceleration. We were trying a lot of things, a lot of different lines and a lot different set-ups with the bike. No matter what we did, we couldn’t break the bad cycle. We had good pace but in the quali I just couldn’t make a lap time. I qualified 22nd and I fought my way back to 13th. We just weren’t able to do a one lapper.
“Here we got a new engine. But for me it was kinda the same! But in the third and fourth sector I managed to make up the time we were losing in acceleration. The acceleration problem is maybe something to do with my weight. I’m a big boy! But I don’t know. We need to study the data harder and come up with some solutions because I need some help!”
Lowes’ FP3 Topple Explained
It was a tough weekend for Sam Lowes. The Englishman’s FP3 crash when braking for Turn 3 banged the right shoulder he dislocated so badly in February and caused him a good deal of pain for Sunday. It only got worse for the 29-year old as he crashed twice in the race, the first of which also took down Jorge Navarro and Somkiat Chantra. He’ll now seek treatment on the shoulder in the two weeks before Misano.
An interesting detail about that FP3 spill: Lowes hit a false neutral while downshifting into turn three. This year he and team-mate Augusto Fernandez have been using a lever on the left handlebar that operates the rear brake. It’s in the normal place of the clutch lever and the clutch is now further forward and just below. Lowes has cited this as a reason why his getaways from the line have been subpar in 2020, as his feeling with the new clutch and its position is not perfectly to his liking.
This also affected his FP3 crash. When a rider finds a false neutral, the natural reaction is to grab the clutch. But, because of muscle memory, Lowes touched the rear brake. “Now with Sam and Augusto we are using the rear brake on the handlebar,” said Marc VDS team boss Joan Olive. “It helps them quite a lot when they’re riding, especially in right corners to stop well the bike and have more feeling. It doesn’t happen very often but something like that does happen, you try to grab the clutch. The instinct is to do it so he also touched the rear brake.”
Moto3: Speed It Up!
We shrieked. We gasped. We cheered. And that was just from watching on TV. The first Moto3 race at the Red Bull Ring was as exciting as anything Grand Prix racing has thrown up this year. But it was slow. A number of names were frustrated by the aggression that comes in a leading fight that includes 19 riders.
Therefore a host of names worked through Free Practice for the Styrian Round to lead from the front and run quick times in clear air. John McPhee was one such name. But his hopes were dashed by a puzzling issue that left him down on top speed during both weekends. Italian duo Celestino Vietti and Tony Arbolino were the same, with the latter spending the majority of the race ahead.
“This was the strategy of the race,” Arbolino said after crossing the line in 2nd, 0.410 back of debut winner Vietti. “From Friday morning we were working a lot on this, trying to be fast. My bike was so fast on the straight so it was a bit easier. I tried to push from first position. When they passed me I tried to (immediately) overtake them. I knew I could make a bit of a gap … to be in a more ‘safe zone’.”
The plan worked. Sunday’s 23-lap affair was a full 15 seconds faster than the previous week. Rather than a lead group of 19, one group of four and another of five contested the leading positions in the closing laps, making life slightly easier for the top three.
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