Termas de Rio Hondo, Argentina
Once upon a time, disciplinary measures in MotoGP were simple. If a rider was felt to have transgressed the rules, they were hauled up before the Race Director and given a punishment, and that was just about the end of it. Sometimes, riders appealed against those judgments, and sometimes, the FIM even found in their favor.
But times change, cultures change, social mores change. What was once regarded as acceptable is now frowned upon. Physical contact and riding with the intent to obstruct others became less and less acceptable. Suspected transgressions were examined more closely and judged more harshly. The increase in the number of cameras covering the track, and the vast improvement in resolution and picture quality, helped identify more potential offenders. In turn, this created more pressure on Race Direction to punish these transgressions.
Then came Sepang 2015. When the two biggest names clash on the track amid a bitter personal feud, then the pressure on the series organizers to treat the situation with kid gloves becomes almost unbearable. In the fallout of that ugly incident, Race Direction was reorganized, and the disciplinary duties moved to a separate body, the FIM Panel of Stewards. The official explanation was that this would allow Race Direction to get on with the job of managing the race, while the Stewards could focus on assessing whether a particular action needed to be punished or not.
The Forever War
Dorna today unveiled the provisional MotoGP calendar for 2019, confirming much of what we already knew. The schedule will consist of 19 races, as the circuit in Mexico City will not be ready to host a MotoGP race next year, and the Kymiring in Finland is also still under construction. Both races are provisionally expected to be on the 2020 calendar.
The calendar is broadly similar to this year's schedule, with a few tweaks. The season kicks off at Qatar on 10th March, earlier than usual and a week before F1, which normally starts before MotoGP. Three weekends later, the series is racing in Argentina at the Termas de Rio Hondo circuit, and two weeks after that, the whole circus heads north for the US round in Austin.
We are a week away from being able to book (provisionally, with free cancellation) to see a race in 2019. The provisional MotoGP calendar for 2019 is due to be published at the Misano round in just under 10 days' time.
As the official MotoGP.com website revealed over the weekend, there will only be 19 rounds in 2019. The numerical symmetry of that may be pleasing, but there were plans to have 20 races next season. The debut of the Kymiring in Finland has been delayed by a year to 2020, as the circuit will not be ready in time for a 2019 date. And the planned round in Mexico at the Hermanos Rodriguez circuit in Mexico City has been dropped, unless the circuit is prepared to make changes.
The tumultuous start to the Argentina round of MotoGP is to have consequences. As Jack Miller's brave decision to choose slicks on a drying track went unrewarded, the start procedure on the grid is to be changed, and ride through penalties served on any rider leaving the grid to switch from wet tires to slicks or vice versa. The new rules are to apply from the next race at Mugello, once approved by the Grand Prix Commission.
The new start procedure is aimed at simplifying and clarifying what happens when a rider decides to leave the grid and switch tires. If a rider leaves the grid after the sighting lap to switch bikes from a dry to a wet setup or vice versa, they will be allowed to start from their normal qualifying position, but they will have to serve a ride through penalty during the race.
As MotoGP heads to Jerez for the first classic event of the year, the red and yellow fans will be out in force. Let’s hope for a good-natured weekend
MotoGP is in a great place right now. Every other weekend we get to watch arguably the two greatest riders of all time and now we go to Jerez, where the febrile crowd sends goose-bumps down your spine.
It’s a brilliant era. I look forward to going to races now as much as I did when we rocked up to watch the Schwantz versus Rainey show, which included some great battles at Jerez, both on and off the racetrack.
Kevin Schwantz and Wayne Rainey didn’t get on, but at least their teams made sure they always had a good time after races. “We weren’t all friends but on Sunday nights everybody went out and had team dinners,” Schwantz recalls. “So the teams would end up bumping into each other and the boys would end up at the bar, having beers, telling war stories: ‘I’m gonna kick your ass next weekend!’ and ‘well, whatever, you kick my ass if you think you can!’
After Marc Márquez' wild ride in Argentina, Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta promised the riders present in the Safety Commission in Austin on Friday night that in the future, the FIM Stewards Panel would hand out harsher penalties for infringements of the rules. That new policy saw action the very next day, with Marc Márquez and Pol Espargaro being punished three grid places for riding slowly on the racing line and getting in the way of other riders.
Not everyone was happy, however. Towards the end of the race on Sunday, Jack Miller dived up the inside of Jorge Lorenzo, after the factory Ducati rider left the door wide open at Turn 1. Lorenzo, going for a very late apex, found Miller on his line, and was forced to stand the bike up. "Things didn't change so much, no?" the Spaniard grumbled after the race. "If I don't pick up the bike, I crash. So if the rider doesn't impact you or you don't crash, they don't do nothing."
On Sunday night, I went to speak to Mike Webb to hear how he, as Race Director and chair of the FIM Stewards Panel, viewed the new instructions issued by the Grand Prix Permanent Bureau. He explained both what instructions had been given, and how he and the FIM Stewards had interpreted them.
MotoMatters.com, in association with Motor Sport Magazine, is proud to feature the rider insights of 1983 and 1985 500cc world champion Freddie Spencer. After every MotoGP race, Fast Freddie will share what he saw and learned from the race.
There was certainly a lot for Freddie Spencer to talk about after an eventful Argentinian round of MotoGP, and the former world champion starts his latest video blog off with a memory of the only time he got to race in the country, his very first race in his first full season 500cc.
On Friday, the Hondas were looking pretty strong at the Termas De Rio Hondo circuit in Argentina. Dani Pedrosa led FP1, with Cal Crutchlow just behind him. In FP2, Marc Márquez opened a big lead over Crutchlow, with the rest some distance behind.
On Saturday, Marc Márquez looked just about unbeatable, despite his slip up in qualifying. Six tenths quicker than Johann Zarco, and effortlessly quick in a wet FP3. Over a second quicker than his teammate Pedrosa in FP4, an advantage that was almost embarrassing. The portents were clear on Saturday night: this was Marc Márquez' race to lose.
And that is exactly what he did, before the lights had even gone out. A combination of ignorance of the rules and panic meant he blew his chance of winning the race as soon as he jumped off his bike to try to restart it on the grid. From there, he piled error upon error to make the situation worse. By the end of Sunday, he had managed to throw away any chance of salvaging points from the Argentina round, and run up a 15-point deficit to Andrea Dovizioso. He had also managed to create a public relations disaster, though to be fair, he had more than a little help doing that.
Ignorance is no excuse
But it all starts with ignorance of the rules. When he arrived back at the grid, the engine of his Honda RC213V stalled as he pulled up at his grid slot. His immediate reaction was the right one: to raise his hand in the air. That lasted a little more than one second (approximately 1.26 seconds, averaging multiple timings), before he jumped off his bike and tried to push start it. That set in motion a chain of events that would generate an unstoppable tidal wave of controversy.
Sunday’s Argentine MotoGP Grand Prix was like a Gaucho rodeo ride: chaotic, painful and unmissable
First, I have a confession to make: I like a bit of chaos. Few things are more over-organised than modern sport, which mostly runs like a well-oiled machine, so sometimes it’s good to see a spanner thrown in the works.
It’s not unusual for this to happen in South America. Some years ago during the Brazilian GP in Rio de Janeiro, practice had to be stopped because the circuit had a power outage. The owners hadn’t paid their electricity bill, so the electricity company waited for the perfect moment, then pulled the plug. Practice continued once they’d got their money.
This sort of thing rarely happens nowadays. Like I said, everything is too well organised, there are too many rules and very often there is too much health and safety. So I hugely enjoyed Sunday’s action, with a few obvious exceptions. To me, one of the joys of motorcycle racing is that it is a kind of chaos, even when it’s not particularly chaotic. I don’t think any other sport better fits George Orwell’s famous words, written in December 1945, when his mind was already working towards writing 1984.