For the last couple of days since the Catalunya Grand Prix, I have been wondering and trying to find out why the FIM did not confirm the one minute race time penalty given to Marc Marquez by Race Direction, awarded because of the Catalunya Caixa rider’s risky action over Pol Espargaro during the last few laps of Moto2 race at Montmeló.
As everyone knows by now the Moto2 class continues to provide some of the closest battles for victory in Grand Prix racing history and, even more today than in the past 250 class times, the price paid by riders for this show is still living on the edge of disaster if they chase any chance of glory.
Maybe that was the main reason why Marquez decided to come back to the inside line of Turn 10 as soon as possible after a massive slide on his Suter, which looked to leave him out of the race or at least out of fighting for a place on the rostrum.
Maybe that was also the reason why Pol Espargaró decided to take as much advantage from his arch rival’s mistake on his over-geared Kalex. There are lots of things to have in mind before getting a conclusion on who was right or who was wrong; like each rider’s actions and the timing of those actions, and also the key decisions taken by Race Direction and soon later by FIM Stewards. But prior to expose a particular point of view on this critical question, let us have a look a race’s final contenders for victory, Andrea Iannone and Thomas Luthi.
Since the Moto2 class started in 2010, Andrea Iannone has been one of favourite riders for victory in every race. For some observers, even, the Italian is the fastest rider in the class. But he seems to need every aspect of racing in to be perfect in order to win –perfect settings, a good qualifying lap time and a perfect start of the race too, among several factors.
Once Iannone was on the track and felt comfortable as he did at Montmeló, it was clear that victory was going to him rather than to the more conservative Thomas Luthi. The Swiss rider may not usually fight for victory as hard as Iannone, Marquez or Espargaró do, but he combines consistency with being extremely fast too. Though Luthi is not a Red Bull sponsored rider, his second place in Barcelona “gave him wings” to leap into the lead of the championship standings. While Marquez was still off the podium because of the decision of Race Direction, Luthi was even further ahead on points from Márquez, but even the decision by the FIM Stewards to put Marquez back to third still leaves Luthi as leader of the series.
Crimes remain the same
No matter how long time passes, if you look back 25 years in Grand Prix racing, you’ll find that things may have changed a lot technically, the minds of the riders have done so too. As with Andrea Iannone in 2012, back in the 1990 season there was another flying Italian rider, Luca Cadalora, not a true world championship contender at the time –still riding Giacomo Agostini team’s works Yamaha YZR 250, before joining Honda in 1991-, but for sure a challenging rival capable of winning anywhere, at anytime. As Ianonne seems to be today, Cadalora needed everything right to be competitive.
However, it all came together for Cadalora once he joined the Rothmans Honda squad run by Erv Kanemoto in 1991. Cadalora won the title then and he repeated his performance in 1992 as the strongest rider on the track. He got it thanks to the Honda NSR 250's greater potential and also due to Erv Kanemoto’s experience giving the right help to a rising star, as he had done with Freddie Spencer a few years earlier. Cadalora also found with Kanemoto the calm and peace needed to become a fast and safe rider capable of winning at every race, and maybe something similar is what Andrea Iannone needs now to become a real championship contender in Moto2.
While Cadalora was still struggling on Agostini’s Yamaha in 1988, Jacques Cornu was the Swiss rider who, like Luthi in 2012, was fighting for victory against not only Cadalora, but also against the Spaniards Sito Pons and Juan Garriga, Frenchman Dominique Sarron and the reigning 250 world champion of 1987, the German Anton Mang.
Cornu won in Austria and France in 1988 and was finally third on points after Pons and Garriga at the end of the season, but never fought for the title against them. Sarron was leading the French connection at the time, but today France’s latest hopes in Moto2 are focused on young man Johann Zarco, so France will have to wait its moment in the new intermediate class.
Curiously, there is no German reigning champion at this time because 2011 Moto2 champion Stefan Bradl has already gotten involved in a bigger MotoGP survival experience, but those two Spaniards Marc Marquez and Pol Espargaró are a throwback to Sito Pons and Juan Garriga at a time when their duel divided the Spanish fans like only the Spanish Civil War had done before.
When Spaniards Marc Márquez and Pol Esparagaró got a win each in the first two races of the present season, Spanish fans and media started to dream about a no mercy duel like Sito Pons and Juan Garriga had in 1988, chasing Spain’s first ever 250 world championship. The main difference between Pons and Garriga’s duel and Marquez and Espargaró’s is that Pons and Garriga never crashed together throughout the entire 1988 season –although they came close to after smashing each other’s bikes in the last two corners of Sweden Grand Prix at Anderstop. But the 1988 season it self was full of incidents like those may change the course of the season several times in 2012.
You’ll find some examples of all this in the first lap of 1988 Spanish Grand Prix at Jerez, when a hurried Pons charged Alberto Puig’s production Honda NS 250 –also nicknamed “diesel”- and both riders crashed. Later in the season, Honda satellite riders Pons and Sarron were fighting for victory in the last lap of Dutch TT at Assen when Sarron tried a desperate braking maneuver at the last chicane that ended in disaster for both riders. After crashing, Pons restarted the race, finished sixth and earned the same ten precious points that gave him the title over Garriga at the end of the year in Brazil.
More along those lines, in what became a bizarre situation in the last race of the 1988 season at the Goiania race track, Yamaha gave German rider Martin Wimmer some technical updates in order to join satellite riders Carlos Lavado and Luca Cadalora, to help Garriga against the massed ranks of Honda riders: Pons, Cornu, Roth, Sarron, Carlos Cardús and Masahiro Shimizu. What could Wimmer do to help Garriga? For sure, taking Garriga out of the track on the very first lap would not have been the first option, but that’s exactly what Wimmer did as soon as the green light was switched on. Neither Race Direction nor FIM Stewards applied any penalties then, and that also gives an idea about how the perception of things have changed in road racing in these recent years.
One or two guilty riders?
Coming back to the present season, it is difficult to determine if either Marquez or Esparagó did something worse than the other in Barcelona, because maybe both riders did something wrong.
With Iannone and Luthi in front but still very close, the Catalunya Caixa rider was very close to crashing in a way that recalled the kind of scary situations that have taken Shoya Tomizawa and Marco Simoncelli’s lives in recent time: a rider loses grip and gets it back, becoming dangerously exposed to riders and bikes coming after him.
Fortunately, Marquez was lucky enough to not be taken by his Suter into a critical situation –as Tomizawa and Simoncelli did-, and the corner was wide enough for Marquez to try to fix this riding mistake. It was natural to expect Marquez to come back as soon as possible to the inside line and not to lose his third place against Espargaro, and maybe he did not see Espargaro’s bike on his left hand side, but it is also clear that Espargaró is almost at the same level when Marquez hits him.
Marquez’s action may be a little too much in line with the opinion of some people in the paddock about the Spaniard’s riding style. He is an absolute talent when it comes to riding, but actions such as the one last season in Australia –smashing his Suter into Ratthapark Wilairot’s bike after the practice session was over-, the risky movement against Thomas Luthi this season in the last lap of Qatar Grand Prix or coming back to the inside line without checking as he did in Catalonia, reveal a riding character that knows no fear, one that we have all already seen may have a very serious impact in road racing safety matters.
Pol Espargaró’s over-geared Kalex would not give him too many options against Marquez’s better acceleration, and it was impulsive for him to take advantage of Marquez’s mistake. But, as you can see on the broadcast images, he loses a negligible amount of speed when Marquez was almost crashing, and tried to take advantage once the Kalex rider is sure that they are not going to collide.
Of course, doing this Espargaró lost the chance of being much faster than Marquez exiting the corner, which put him again at a position of disadvantage as soon as Marquez gets back on the throttle. Then, the Suter’s better acceleration gave Marquez the hope of not being passed by Espargaró and from the humble point of view of this writer, that was the key to a disaster waiting to happen.
The Superbike and 250 world champion John Kocinski used to say: "If you are going to have hit someone else’s bike, you'd better have your footpegs ahead of theirs if you want to avoid crashing yourself". Maybe the less than 20 centimetres by which Marquez was ahead were what saved him from crashing as Espargaró did.
More important than this, there’s a higher fact that blames both riders. All this did not happen on the last lap. Both riders were aware of that and they still tried a desperate action to keep third position behind Iannone and Luthi, which gives to both the chance of letting the other go. Marquez’s quotes to the media after the race, saying he was not carrying mirrors on his Suter – that’s why he could not know Espargaró was behind him - are just an offense to the intelligence of Espargaró and his audience. On the other hand, if Marquez could not see what was going on behind him, Espargaró had full vision of the situation and could likely have avoided the contact, letting Marquez come back to the inside line without any interference.
What is even more strange is the result of the FIM Stewards' decision to cancel the one minute penalty Marquez received from Race Direction. After HP Tuenti Espargaro’s team announced an appeal to FIM decision, Motomatters.com tried to speak to HP Tuenti and Catalunya Caixa teams, but both refused to make any comments until the FIM has felled its final verdict. It could take up to three months, but we guess it will come much sooner. In the meanwhile, nobody seems to know the basis of FIM’s decision.