Race Direction is to be altered in the wake of the clash in Sepang between Valentino Rossi and Marc Marquez. A proposal to split the responsibilities of Race Direction is to be adopted at the next meeting of the Grand Prix Commission to be held on Thursday.
The proposal will see the responsibility for disciplinary matters removed from the current four members of Race Direction, and placed in the hands of a separate panel of stewards. Race Direction will continue to be in charge of all aspects of running the race, including marshalling and safety, but incidents between riders will be investigated by the new panel. They will be charged with judging all incidents of unfair play, and especially of violations of rule 1.21.2, which mandates responsible behavior by the riders on track.
Exactly who will be in the panel is unclear at the moment, but the aim is not to have any Dorna staff in it. The fact that Javier Alonso, a senior executive of Dorna and one of the inner circle at the heart of the company, sits in Race Direction has occasionally been a concern from some of the manufacturers, with accusations of bias surfacing on occasion.
Those accusations went into overdrive after the incident between Valentino Rossi and Marc Marquez at Sepang. The Italian media, especially, accused Dorna of unfairly punishing Valentino Rossi in the affair, in an attempt to influence the outcome of the 2015 championship, and wanting a Spanish winner.
Such accusations are plainly insane. The marketing value to Dorna of a tenth title for Valentino Rossi is immeasurably greater than having any Spaniard win, let alone Jorge Lorenzo. If Dorna were to want a particular outcome, and try to influence it, they would have favored Rossi over Marquez.
Furthermore, throughout the entire history of Race Direction in its current form, there has never been an issue with pressure from Dorna inside Race Direction. Reports from those involved say that Javier Alonso has never put pressure on Race Direction to choose a particular outcome. Alonso's priority has always been to ensure that the race was run safely and fairly, reflecting the priorities of the other members of Race Direction, consisting of Safety Officer Loris Capirossi, FIM representative Franco Uncini, and Race Director Mike Webb. To preempt any suggestions of bias, and to fend off the concerns of the manufacturers, the Grand Prix Commission is to adopt this new system of two separate bodies.
Whether the new body makes any difference remains to be seen. The effectiveness of the new panel will stand and fall on the ability and reputation of the people engaged to fill it, and their experience in the field. They will be measured against the experience of the current Race Direction, all of whom have vast experience in MotoGP in their roles with Race Direction.
The instigation of a new body is unlikely to remove the allegations of bias. It is hard to see how the Sepang incident could have been handled differently. Though there were calls from the media and from fans both during the race and afterwards for Rossi to be black flagged or given a ride through penalty, Race Direction would have been accused of acting hastily if they had done so. By waiting until after the race had finished, taking their time to review the footage from as many angles as possible (and Race Direction has access to a lot more camera angles than the live TV broadcast), and talking to both riders and all parties involved. That allowed them to make a considered and careful decision, which accurately reflected the events on the track. A new disciplinary body would be expected to be just as thorough and cautious in taking a decision with such major implications for the championship.
The creation of a new body appears to be a kneejerk reaction to a situation which spiraled out of control due to the profile of the riders involved. It looks more like Dorna coming under pressure to do something, and deciding that being seen to do something was more important than actually taking account of how necessary such action might be. There are few signs that the new panel will do a better job than the current Race Direction, and plenty of opportunity for the new panel to get it wrong. There may not be an employee of Dorna in the new panel, but the new panel will be just as dependent on Dorna for its financing, and its members will be paid by the Spanish organizer, just as the members of Race Direction are.
Like the Rookie Rule, this feels like a measure that will be reversed within a few years. It adds nothing beyond added complexity and the chance for more things to go wrong.