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.
Similarly, if a rider enters the pits at the end of the warm up lap to swap bikes, they will have to start from pit lane as before, but they will also have to serve a ride through penalty. Both of these penalties will only apply to riders who change between wet tires and slicks, however. Riders who come in to the pits with a technical problem and depart on the same tires they came in on will not be punished.
The change has been proposed because of the perceived disadvantage Jack Miller suffered at Termas De Rio Hondo. There, Miller decided to stick to slicks, while the other 23 riders left the grid to swap to their dry setup bikes. The mass confusion caused the start to be delayed and a new grid to be drawn up, with the riders who went to the grid being forced to start from the back of the grid, starting several rows behind Miller. But that advantage was too short-lived, and the resultant chaos caused a delay to the start.
If the new proposed rules were in place, then the grid would have formed as normal, but everyone but Jack Miller would have had to serve a ride through at some point in the first five laps. That would have given Miller a de facto 30+ second advantage, and been better reward for judging conditions correctly.
The new rules also more accurately reflect the reality of tire choice. In effect, the ride through is the equivalent to coming into the pits for a bike swap after starting on the wrong tires.
How the teams will handle this situation remains to be seen. Whether they will be more aggressive in their tire choice on a drying track, or play it safe and wait as long as possible before departing for the sighting lap, or perhaps go to the grid early and risk trying to change from a wet to a dry setup on the grid, will only become apparent once the MotoGP field faces the same conditions as in Argentina, a damp but drying track at the start of the race.
Below is the press release from Dorna with the proposed rules for the starting grid:
Proposal to the Grand Prix Commission
Sporting Regulations - Effective from the Italian GP
GRID PROCEDURES 2018
At the Argentina GP, when Pit Lane opened for the MotoGP™ race, the track was wet and slowly changing to dry conditions. Only one rider, Jack Miller, remained on the grid with the “Dry Bike” – meaning that 23 riders were on the grid with the “Wet Bike”.
At the end of the sighting lap, rider Franco Morbidelli entered Pit Lane to switch bikes. The penalty for this is clear in the rules: the rider will start the Warm Up Lap from Pit Lane and the race from the back of the grid. The riders who line up at the back of the grid do so in the order in which they qualified. Morbidelli was instructed by IRTA that he must start the race from 25th on the grid.
After several minutes, the rest of the riders, with the sole exception of Jack Miller, exited the grid to switch bikes and started to line up at the Pit Lane Exit. At that moment, the organisers were presented with 23 riders to line up at the back of the grid in new positions, without anyone to indicate the riders where to position themselves and no grid row marker panels. This was untenable, and for this reason the ‘Start Delayed’ board was shown.
Following instructions given last year after the Qatar GP, the organisers summoned a representative of each team to the front of the grid. It was agreed by all that since the penalty for the riders that had exited the grid was clear – “Back of the Grid Race Start” – this would be have to be upheld, but that the exact regulations would be altered to allow for an extra sighting lap (ie. a Quick Start procedure). This was for logistical reasons, with time to prepare a new grid needed – and mechanics also needed on the grid to signal to the riders where their new grid positions were.
The race demonstrated that the advantage afforded to the one rider who chose to stay on the grid with the correct bike choice was negligible. After the race, there were also complaints about the delays on the grid.
For the benefit of all and to make the start procedure safer and clearer to all teams, as well as to avoid delays due to operational problems and to give a fairer advantage to the riders making the correct choice, the following changes have been proposed – effective from the Italian GP:
Riders changing bikes before the Warm Up Lap:
If a rider doesn’t go to the grid or leaves the grid to the Pit Lane and changes tyre type (dry/wet):
The rider will start the Warm Up Lap from Pit Lane, start the Race from his Qualifying Grid Position, and serve a Ride Through penalty during the race.
This means the rider can still change bike (eg. for a technical problem), and exit on the same type of tyres and not get a Ride Through penalty. Only the current penalty would apply: Back of the Grid Start.
In this way it is not necessary to position many riders in new grid positions, thus avoiding a Start Delay.
Riders changing bikes after the Warm Up Lap:
If a rider enters the Pit Lane after the Warm Up Lap and changes type of tyres (dry/wet):
The rider will start the Race from Pit Lane and serve a Ride Through penalty during the race.
This means the rider can still change bike (eg. for a technical problem), and exit on the same type of tyres and not get a Ride Through penalty. Only the current penalty would apply: Race Start from Pit Lane.
Mass Pit Lane Start:
As agreed with the riders, it is not safe for more than 10 riders to start the race from Pit Lane.
In the case of more than 10 riders lining up at Pit Lane Exit for the Race Start, the race will be Red Flagged and a new start procedure will take place (Quick Start).
If less than 10 riders are starting the race from the Pit Lane, they will follow the procedure set out in the 'Pit Lane Exit Protocol'. In effect, this states that riders arriving at the pit lane exit will be directed to line up in single file in the order that they arrive, and may not overtake until the dotted line. Modifications will be made at circuits where the pit boxes are too close to the Pit Lane start light.
Currently, MotoGP riders can change bikes during the race in changing weather conditions, and such a change involves riding through pit lane. These regulation changes are designed to ensure the same disadvantage (ride through) to riders who leave their grid place to change tyres, compared to those riders who make this change during the race. In addition, grid positions stay the same and race starts from Pit Lane are largely avoided – increasing safety.
A rider still has the opportunity to switch bikes without any penalty after seeing the track conditions during the first Sighting Lap, because the Pit Lane is open for 5 minutes.
These regulations only impact very rare situations such as that of the Argentina GP, where there is a wet track which is drying. In the opposite scenario when a dry track is getting wet, Race Direction will invoke the 'Rain on Grid' Procedure, giving everyone time to change bikes and settings for safety reasons.
Modifications to the Rain On Grid Procedure:
The 'Rain on Grid' regulations have also been amended, requiring a Quick Restart procedure on all occasions (in the MotoGP class only). The 'Rain on Grid' regulations have also been amended so that the 'Start Delayed Board' will now be replaced by the 'Rain on Grid Procedure' board.