Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - Is MotoGP’s tail wagging the dog?

MotoMatters.com is delighted to feature the work of iconic MotoGP writer Mat Oxley. Oxley is a former racer, TT winner and highly respected author of biographies of world champions Mick Doohan and Valentino Rossi, and currently writes for Motor Sport Magazine, where he is MotoGP correspondent. We are featuring sections from Oxley's blogs, which are posted in full on the Motor Sport Magazine website.


Is MotoGP’s tail wagging the dog?

Should the riders have raced on Sunday? Do they have too much say in their own safety?

MotoGP has always existed on a knife edge, which is why we love it. And despite safer tracks, better riding gear and everything else, the riders exist on that knife edge more now than in many a year, because getting them and their 220mph motorcycles around a racetrack with no major injuries or fatalities is quite a feat, even on a sunny day. This miracle occurs almost every race, which fools some people into thinking that MotoGP can’t be that dangerous. But believe me, Race Direction leaves the track most Sunday evenings with a huge sigh of relief: we got away with it again!

However, sometimes things do go wrong.

Sunday’s British Grand Prix was a disaster for everyone, especially for the fans who had made the pilgrimage and spent the day soaking and shivering, hoping to see some action at one of the championship’s fastest, scariest racetracks.

Everyone went home disappointed: the fans, the riders and the teams. Some fans went home feeling angry that they were kept waiting so long, for nothing. And they have every right to feel hard done by. But, at the end of the day, all that really matters is that no one died.

This is important to remember, because riders still do die in MotoGP, currently at the rate of one every three seasons.

No one died at Silverstone, but Tito Rabat remains in hospital in Coventry, nursing a broken right femur, tibia and fibula, after he came off worst in Saturday afternoon’s pile-up at Stowe corner. The Spaniard’s shattered leg was bleeding so badly that medics assumed he had severed a femoral artery – a very quick and easy way to die.

Rabat wasn’t injured when he aquaplaned on a small lake of standing rainwater and fell at the end of Hangar Straight, he was injured when another fallen machine smashed into him while he lay stranded in the gravel trap. Shoya Tomizawa died at Misano in 2010 when he was hit by a rival’s bike. And a similar fate befell Marco Simoncelli at Sepang in 2011. It is impossible to fully protect a rider once he’s on the ground, with machines moving at speed all around him.

Alex Rins was the first to crash at Stowe near the end of FP4, bravely jumping off at high speed when he felt his Suzuki GSX-RR aquaplane.

“I felt the water, cut the throttle at 290 [180mph], tried to brake, but the front was aquaplaning and locked,” he said. “I saw the wall coming at me fast, so I jumped off the bike. Then I was waving, trying to tell Tito that [Franco] Morbidelli’s bike was coming. He turned and saw the bike, but couldn’t move in time and he flew 10 metres.”

At a guess, Morbidelli’s bike was travelling at close to 100mph when it hit Rabat, who was incredibly lucky that the bike broke his leg and not his head.

Stowe was a scary mess: three riders on the ground and several more losing control and hurtling through the gravel trap, lucky to stay onboard. It could have been much worse. From that moment the Grand Prix was in jeopardy.

On Sunday, riders, teams and Race Direction waited hours for the weather to clear, but it never quite happened. Shortly before 4pm the riders had a final safety commission meeting and, because there was a possibility of yet more rain, the majority decided it was too risky to race, so at the event was abandoned.

This would not have happened in the old days.

In the old days the promoters would’ve told the riders to race and the event would have gone ahead, no matter what.

Read the rest of Mat Oxley's blog on the Motor Sport Magazine website.

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Total votes: 30
Total votes: 16

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Comments

OK, a few manufacturer teams objected, but rationally, Monday should have been a race * 3 make-up day.  Either it's all about the fans (per rider videos, etc.) or it's not.  Yes, people would have missed work, school, etc. perhaps, but it's the only MotoGP race in their country...I think they would have coped.

No question in my mind that riders need the veto vote for safety calls, too.  Finally, gladiators have a voice in where and how they compete.

Total votes: 18

I believe Monday was a bank holiday in England and Wales - so half the fans wouldn't have had work anyway.

Total votes: 11

Racers were smart to cancel the race. Racers were dumb not to make a late day sighting lap, for the fans, if nothing else. Too dangerous to make a sighting lap? With full rains? Then make it a parade lap. Didn't want to get the bikes and leathers filthy with a 5 minute ride through the muck. Think of the fans that sat for 5+ hours in the rain waiting for you to emerge from the garage.

Total votes: 21

That could easily have been construed by the social media jockeys as an insulting token gesture, and I'm sure the extreme end would find offence in it. Secondly, they don't clean their own leathers ;)

Total votes: 11

Your bike. They should have allowed the race to go ahead, it shouldn't even be a choice. Who doesn't join, won't get points. Who does, does.

Total votes: 6

They should have raced on Monday , Honda and Yamaha do not want the race as there were the two red bikes on the front row. That was a big benefit to Marc, as no race no points lost or gained by anyone and there are now less of a chance of catching him.

The points for the Silverstone race should be awarded based on qualifying 

Total votes: 16

100% agree.  Complete disincentive for Yamaha and Honda to race as theye were staring down the barrel of not getting off the line without a storm of spray from the leading bikes.  Barring a major crisis the teams should not be leaving the race without points, having turned up and qualified.

Mark my words (no pun intended) if Marquez was a point behind going into the last race and a cyclone was forecast and there was a river running across the circuit I'm pretty certain Honda would be all guns blazing trying to find a way to start........

Total votes: 2

I got up at 2am to drive myself and brother in law (who I had finally persuaded to attend) to Silverstone on Sunday.

Despite that, wasn't angry or upset that racing didn't take place - in fact quite relieved  having previously attended events where riders lives had been lost. Both of these cases were nothing to do with run-off but fast circuits (Thruxton & NW200) where fallen riders having been hit by other bikes. There's been plenty of nasty accidents at Silverstone over the years (Sheene survived but others didn't).

Very obvious that something very wrong with the track as it hadn't rained that hard or for long by the time sighting lap took place. Looked like 3" of standing water in places and safety car was losing it most laps. Weather was far worse when I was there in 2011 (?) when Stoner won in atrocious conditions - rained hard from 8am and race started at normal time. 

Rumours in the stands were that they'd try to put on a parade lap or similar in order to claim the event hadn't been cancelled in respect of refunding tickets so it may have been met with derision.  We hung around until 4pm when final announcement was made.

Disappointed & relieved but attending again next year on assumption that ticket refunds are issued. 

Total votes: 4

Wow---a track completeley repaved at massive cost and the surface is full of bumps---you could see it on TV with the front wheels bouncing up and down as they went thru the corners... Secondly, on a track known for water drainage problems, nothing was done to address that issue---NOTHING! Hard to believe that people with actual brains were involved in this process---a chance to greatly upgrape this classic track and it's just as bad as before---what were they thinking...?

Total votes: 7

Well written Mat with excellent historical preface. I agree with your sentiments 100%. I've been a Grand Prix fan for 50 years and we don't want a return to the 'good old days'.

Total votes: 8