As we reported on Tuesday, changes are to be made to Race Direction. At a meeting in Geneva on Thursday, the Grand Prix Commission decided to change the way disciplinary matters are handled by Race Direction. For this season, a separate body is to be set up to handle all incidents on track requiring disciplinary action. These issues have been handled by Race Direction until now, but the incident at Sepang between Valentino Rossi and Marc Marquez led to calls for such decisions to be taken away from Race Direction, to allow quicker decisions to be made.
From the start of the 2016 season, all disciplinary matters will be dealt with by a separate panel, consisting of three people. One of those will be Mike Webb, who as MotoGP Race Director is ultimately responsible for all aspects of the MotoGP race. Mike Webb will be joined by two stewards appointed by the FIM. Those stewards have yet to be appointed, and the press release issued by the FIM does not make clear whether the stewards will be appointed permanently, for a full season, or for each race individually. In the case of an incident which needs to be investigated by the panel of stewards, Mike Webb will hand over his duties as Race Director to a newly appointed deputy, Graham Webber.
The agreement to appoint a panel of stewards was much more complicated than expected. Throughout the course of the MotoGP test at Sepang, the various parties involved - FIM, the manufacturers, and Dorna - submitted a range of proposals, varying from the extremely intrusive and limiting to the more moderate proposals which were eventually adopted. The problem centers around the interpretation of rule 1.21.2, which covers the behavior of riders during the race:
2. Riders must ride in a responsible manner which does not cause danger to other competitors or participants, either on the track or in the pit-lane. Any infringement of this rule will be penalised with one of the following penalties: penalty points - fine - change of position - ride through – time penalty – drop of any number of grid position at the rider’s next race – disqualification - withdrawal of Championship points - suspension.
The wording is vague, and has been left deliberately so, as to try to narrow down a definition of exactly what comprises irresponsible riding would open more loopholes than it would close, and lead to more appeals against sanctions imposed. Under the old adage that hard cases make bad law, each and every possible infringement would have to be described in detail, which would lead either to riders pleading that their actions were subtly different to those described in the rules, and that they should they should go unpunished, or it would lead to absolute paralysis by riders, afraid to attempt a pass for fear of being penalized.
The problem with the existing system was that Dorna's Javier Alonso is a member of Race Direction, as the representative in charge of organizing all MotoGP events. Though Alonso has never previously been accused of showing any bias or favoritism, or of shaping events to fit in to Dorna's schedule, the accusations of pro-Spanish bias after the incident at Sepang raised concerns about Alonso having a say in disciplinary proceedings. To avoid any such accusations in the future, Alonso has been removed from the disciplinary equation.
The FIM press release also contains a rather strange and intriguing sentence about the communication of sanctions to the teams. According to the release, they are to be communicated via "a secure E-mail [sic] system with automated confirmation that the message has been read'. How the email is to be secured is unspecified, as is how the read confirmation is to be achieved. It also suggests that some teams were claiming not to have read emails from Race Direction containing notification of sanctions.
The creation of the stewards panel was not the only decision agreed upon during the Grand Prix Commission meeting. Another disciplinary measure was introduced: from this season, riders who skip their promotional obligations will not just face fines, but can be punished using the penalty point system as well. To this end, their obligations are to become part of the rules, instead of just set out in the contracts between teams and Dorna. The promotional activities are deeply unpopular with most of the riders, though most participate nonetheless. The threat of penalty points is aimed at coercing riders who are rich enough to view fines as a cheap price to pay for getting out of promotional activities.
Perhaps the most important rule adopted by the Grand Prix Commission was introducing greater control over tire pressures. Eventually, tire pressure sensors will be compulsory, but the details of how that is to be achieved is still to be worked out by the MSMA and Michelin. Until that is arranged, the technical marshals at each race will have the authority to monitor and check tire pressures at all points during the weekend. The new rule was brought in after the rear tire of Loris Baz' Avintia Ducati exploded at high speed down the front straight at Sepang as a result of too low a tire pressure being used.
The final rule of interest is the change to Moto2 quickshifters. A single supplier is to be appointed for quickshifters, but only after a plan has been worked out allowing all Moto2 teams to swap to the spec quickshifter. The rule is aimed at preventing the smarter Moto2 teams from exploiting the extra functionality which some quickshifter hardware offers, and from preventing gearbox problems caused by some quickshifters. Those two facts are sometimes related, as Moto2 teams have been chasing minimal ignition cuts during gear changes, allowing the rear wheel to be driven for as long as possible. The shorter the ignition cut, the greater the stress on the gearbox.
Below is the press release from the FIM with the changes to the rules:
FIM Grand Prix World Championship
Decision of the Grand Prix Commission
The Grand Prix Commission, composed of Messrs. Carmelo Ezpeleta (Dorna, Chairman), Ignacio Verneda (FIM CEO), Herve Poncharal (IRTA) and Takanao Tsubouchi (MSMA) in the presence of Vito Ipollito (President FIM), Javier Alonso (Dorna) and Mike Trimby (IRTA, Secretary of the meeting), in a meeting held on February 4 in Geneva, made the following decisions:
Race Direction and Stewards
The composition of Race Direction will remain unchanged with three members; Mike Webb (Race Director), Franco Uncini (FIM) and Javier Alonso (Dorna). However there will be a new appointment of Graham Webber as Deputy Race Director who will deputise for the Race Director when he is otherwise occupied.
Race Direction will continue to be primarily responsible for the efficient and safe running of events. However, the competence of Race Direction concerning the application of sanctions and penalties will be limited to those offences that can be considered as being indisputable matters of fact. These would include such offences as pit lane speeding, passing under yellow flags, etc.
All other issues requiring further analysis of actions, including any incidences of dangerous riding, will be reviewed by the Stewards who will exclusively be responsible for issuing any sanctions and penalties on those matters. The Stewards will also be responsible for hearing any appeals and receiving any protests. The panel of Stewards will comprise three members; Mike Webb and two other members appointed by the FIM. Mike Webb will be responsible for co-ordinating the activities of the Stewards, maintaining records and communicating decisions.
In future, any sanctions imposed by Race Direction or the Stewards will be communicated to the affected team by a secure E-mail system with automated confirmation that the message has been read. Confirmed penalties will also be displayed on timekeeping monitors and advised to the media.
Promotional Obligations for Riders
A number of obligations for riders to participate in promotional activities, already contained in the Participation Agreements between IRTA and the Teams, will now also be included in the Grand Prix regulations. Such obligations include the requirement for riders to participate in autograph signing sessions, press conferences, parade laps, etc. The effect is that non-compliance by riders can now result in sporting penalties in addition to the financial penalties contained in the Participation Agreements.
MotoGP Class Electronics
The procedure which enables the Technical Director to check specific maintenance channels on the internal datalogger, together with the precise list of compulsory channels available to him, was approved.
The homologation procedure for sensors available from third party suppliers as well as those made by the motorcycle manufacturers was approved.
MotoGP Class Minimum Tyre Pressures
Existing regulations on this matter have been reinforced enabling the Technical Director and his staff, assisted by the engineers of the official tyre supplier, to check that minimum tyre pressures are respected.
Ultimately, such information will be recorded automatically via the datalogger and be available via download by the technical staff. However, as the equipment and method of electronically recording the information has still to be finalised the technical staff and the staff of the official tyre supplier are now authorised to manually verify tyre pressures at any time.
Moto2 Class Quickshift Equipment
It has been identified that certain gearbox malfunctions in the Championship supplied engines are largely attributable to some of the quickshift components produced by third party suppliers. The Technical Director, in consultation with Externpro, will specify a brand and model of a proprietary quickshift product from a third party supplier that will be mandatory for this class. Actual implementation of this regulation will be enforced when the Technical Director is satisfied that all teams have had sufficient time to acquire the new material.
A regularly updated version of the FIM Grand Prix Regulations which contains the detailed text of the regulation changes may be viewed shortly on: