The 2011 MotoGP season has been among the most controversy-filled seasons in recent memory. While the races themselves have been far from memorable, the off-track rhetoric - fueled in part by a few on-track clashes - has been scintillating, with barely a week going by without riders accusing each other of a wide spectrum of misdemeanors and various crimes. But the rhetoric has generated much heat and little or no light: once the riders return to the track, the arguments and incidents continue unabated.
To put an end to this situation, former 500cc rider and legendary founder of the Riders for Health charity Randy Mamola has called for MotoGP to institute a compulsory riders' meeting at the start of every race event. At that meeting, the riders would be able to talk through the issues that are worrying them and confront each other about their behavior on track, and do it behind closed doors and away from the glare of the media, Mamola suggested. Only by having such meetings - similar to the compulsory driver meetings held in Formula One - will the riders be able to clear the air and leave their disagreements behind them, freeing them up to focus on the racing, instead of on who said what about whom.
"We really need a compulsory riders briefing in this paddock," Mamola told MotoMatters.com at Assen. "If the riders can talk these things through behind closed doors, then there'll be less bitching in public," Mamola said. The main aim of holding such meetings was to get the riders to talk, and to actually listen to each other, instead of communicating via journalists and on-track gestures.
Mamola used Casey Stoner's antics aimed at riders who follow him as an example: "Look at Casey giving people the finger on the track. That kind of thing makes the championship look bad, and it doesn't make any difference, when those guys have their helmets on, they don't care if he's giving them the finger," Mamola said. "If Casey had to walk into a room and face these guys every Thursday, he wouldn't be doing that." That would be a two-way street, Mamola added. "If those riders who are trying to catch a tow off Casey had to sit and look him in the eye while Casey explained why he thought it was dangerous, they'd listen. But if he just flips them the bird while they've got their helmets on, they're just going to ignore him."
Mamola drew a similar parallel with Marco Simoncelli. So many riders had been accusing Simoncelli of being dangerous, Mamola said, yet Simonceli was still making the same mistakes over and over. This caused Jorge Lorenzo to say that Simoncelli just never learned. But if Simoncelli had to face his peers every Thursday before the race, things might be different. "Look at Simoncelli," Mamola said. "You could see after the crash he looked like a kicked puppy, but the other guys don't see that. If he has to go to a rider meeting on Thursday, walk into the room and own up to making a mistake, the other guys can see from his face how he feels about it."
The meeting should be run by and for the riders, Mamola emphasized, though that would not exclude them taking others along for support. "The meeting should be just for the riders," Mamola said, "but team managers, whatever, they can go along too as long as they keep their mouths shut. This is about getting the riders to talk to each other."
The need for a riders meeting is pressing. The only place riders currently meet is in the Safety Commission, but attendance there is usually sparse. "There's usually five, six guys there," Nicky Hayden said during his press debrief, the rest choosing to stay away. The Safety Commission has a specific role, that of improving safety for the riders at the tracks they race at. A compulsory rider meeting would have a much broader remit, and be a place where riders could unburden themselves of anything they had to say, on whatever subject, Mamola explained.
The riders themselves are far from enthusiastic about such a meeting, however. They already have a very full schedule on a race weekend, and adding another hour or so on Thursday would not be popular. However, if the riders can be persuaded of the benefits of such a meeting, then perhaps it could yet be organized. It would also need the blessing of the organizers, the most obvious body to facilitate such a meeting being Race Direction. With Paul Butler stepping down at the end of this year, and current MotoGP Technical Director Mike Webb taking his place, the 2012 season would be the perfect time to introduce such a briefing.