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.
MotoGP 2017: 1126 crashes!
Once again, MotoGP’s accident figures broke all records. But does that mean the racing is getting safer or more dangerous?
Late November is a guilt-ridden time of year to be a MotoGP journalist. While dozens of riders check themselves in for post-season surgery, like a reckless driver booking his car’s annual bodyshop makeover, we sit comfortably at our desks analysing MotoGP’s annual Falls Report.
This year’s report runs to 159 pages and contains almost as much pain and anguish as a war novel. Every single crash is recorded in detail: where, when and what were the injuries? And then Dorna’s Friné Velilla divides the accidents into numerous bar graphs, by class, by race track, by year and so on.
The Falls Report isn’t just a ghoul’s delight. There is science behind the data, which is used by MotoGP staff to improve safety. And sensible analysis of the crash statistics can tell us a lot about what’s going on in MotoGP, especially about how each rider gets along with his bike.
What do this year’s figures tell us? The usual, really: that the annual crash rate continues to increase. In 2016 for the first time there were more than one thousand crashes across all three classes. Last season the total increased to 1126, which makes an average of 62 crashes per weekend. That’s a lot of battered bodies, smashed carbon fibre and poorer teams pushed to the brink of bankruptcy.
Five riders crashed more than 20 times, with one reaching a new record of 31 accidents. If you are a rider this isn’t a number of which to be proud, but in some ways the total number of crashes is something that MotoGP can be proud about, because it’s not the accidents that matter (unless you’re paying the repair bills) but the serious injuries sustained.
You surely don’t need me to tell you that if you had crashed 31 times in MotoGP’s inaugural 1949 season that there’s no chance you would’ve lived to tell the tale. Riders raced around the Isle of Man, through the streets of Bern in Switzerland, between the hedges and ditches of the Ulster GP and around the original Spa-Francorchamps, where riders joked that there were so many memorials around the nine-mile street circuit that they could make a fence with them.
Sixty-nine years later, racing couldn’t be more different. Everything has changed, in all kinds of ways. For a start, bikes and riders are much more closely matched. During the 1949 season the average winning margin was 46 seconds; in 2017 the average gap was 2.11 seconds, with more than half the races won by less than 1.5 seconds. It doesn’t take a genius to work out what effect this has on the riders: the racing is so much closer that they must take big risks to make the difference.
Read the rest of Mat Oxley's blog on the Motor Sport Magazine website.