Thursday Summary at Sepang: Of Penalty Points, Modern-Day Gladiators, Racing as Entertainment, & Ducati

10/10/2013 @ 7:09 pm, by David Emmett16 COMMENTS

Thursday Summary at Sepang: Of Penalty Points, Modern Day Gladiators, Racing as Entertainment, & Ducati marc marquez hrc motogp repsol honda 635x423

Just a few hours before the bikes hit the track, all the talk should be about the prospects for the riders in the coming weekend. At Sepang, though, it was all different.

Nobody was talking about who might end where, whether the Sepang is a Honda or a Yamaha track, whether Ducati will benefit from Sepang’s long straights or suffer around the fast corners, about whether Scott Redding or Pol Espargaro will have the upper hand in Moto2. It was not the prospect of on-track action, but off-track drama which captured the attention.

For Thursday was D-Day (or more accurately, perhaps, RD day) for Marc Marquez at Sepang.

The championship leader faced a further hearing in front of Race Direction over the incident at Aragon, where he clipped the back wheel of Dani Pedrosa, severed a rear wheel sensor, which caused Pedrosa to highside as soon as he touched the gas.

Marquez was given one penalty point for the incident, and Honda stripped of Marquez’ result for the constructors’ championship (see full details here).

The net result? In short, next to nothing, except perhaps to add a small carbon fiber protector that should have been there in the first place. One more penalty point brings Marquez’s total to three, one short of him having to start from the back of the grid.

Honda lost 25 points for Marquez’s result, but still received 13, for Alvaro Bautista’s fourth spot at Aragon, maintaining a healthy 14-point lead in that (relatively unimportant) championship.

But that was not the point. The point, Race Director Mike Webb explained to the press afterwards, was to send out a message, to Marc Marquez, to other riders, and to the manufacturers.

We shall get to the riders in a moment, but the message to the manufacturers is interesting. The legal basis for the penalty against Honda is pretty thin, the penalty being based on section 3.3.1.2 of the FIM rulebook (see below). If ever there was a catch-all regulation, this is it, it basically says that Race Direction can impose any penalty for anything they deem to be ‘prejudicial to the sport’.

The message Race Direction are sending is that if the manufacturers insist on building motorcycles that are so totally reliant on electronics, they had better make damn sure that if there is a problem with those electronics, nobody gets hurt.

There have been electronics issues before. Nicky Hayden’s Estoril race in 2011 was the prime example, Hayden stuck with a turn-by-turn electronics system that was half a lap out of sync with reality, giving him gentle power along Estoril’s long front straight, then full power around the tight and twisty sections, especially the first corner chicane.

Dani Pedrosa has been thrown from his bike when he tried a practice start without launch control, and both Jorge Lorenzo and Ben Spies suffered massive highsides when the electronics hadn’t switched modes and engaged traction control. All of those, however, can mostly be attributed to human error of one form or another.

Pedrosa’s highside was down purely to HRC’s failure to protect their sensor cable, and having a default fallback mode of full power. Doubtless there was a warning light on the dash, but warning lights are hard to see when you’re hanging off the bike in the middle of the corner.

And so to the heart of the matter. Marc Marquez’s single penalty point generated an awful lot of heat, but alarmingly little light. Mike Webb told the media that their intention was clear: to send a message to Marc Marquez, that he had to respect the riders he shares a track with, especially the riders immediately in front of him.

But also to send a message to younger riders who were watching, making an example of Marquez to strike fear into the hearts of younger riders, and make them aware that lines had been drawn in the sand, and that if you crossed them, you would be punished, no matter how famous you are. Though that sentiment is understandable, it might be communicated more effectively if it was backed up by action against those younger riders.

For even the worst rider in MotoGP is a paragon of virtue compared to some of the moves which happen in Moto2 and Moto3. Especially in the trenches: mid-pack of any Moto2 race is a bloodbath, riders doing everything and anything to gain a place, especially if it puts them in the points, which can be the difference between a contract next season and none. If Race Direction wants riders in the support classes to learn quickly that some behavior is simply not acceptable, they would do well to start punishing it.

Jorge Lorenzo also believed the single penalty point sent a message, but an entirely wrong message in his eyes. Or at least, that is probably how we should interpret his rather bizarre outburst. Tired of the arguments, Lorenzo turned to irony to make his point, saying that he had changed his mind, that Marquez should be given an extra championship point for making the show more attractive.

“This kind of riding improves the spectacle,” Lorenzo told Spanish media, “it doesn’t matter if we get injured, the important thing is the audience, that people enjoy it, and the action at Jerez was very entertaining, watching the marshals run for the lives at Silverstone was very entertaining. The overtake outside the track at Laguna Seca as well, watching Dani flying through the air at Aragon was incredibly entertaining, I think we should give people incentives for this kind of action, so that young riders will take it as an example. Making a more entertaining sport that way is a very good idea.”

Irony? Anyone watching Lorenzo’s face knew it was surely ironic, but thrice did he deny it. Are you being serious? “I’m being serious,” Lorenzo said. Totally ironic? “It’s my opinion, I’m not being ironic,” Lorenzo said again. You are not being ironic? “Why do you keep going on about being ironic? I gave my opinion, and you should respect it.’”

It must have been hard to suppress the urge to listen for a cock crowing.

Later, he made it clear that he it was not his desire to see riders crashing, but it was what the spectators appeared to want. Asked if he had enjoyed watching Pedrosa fly through the air, Lorenzo was clear. “It’s what people want to see. This is what they show on the replays. The arguments after incidents like these are what make audiences grow in the other races.” But it was not for him.

“I wouldn’t enjoy flying through the air. I hated seeing Dani flying, and if I’d had problems with my legs and couldn’t walk, I’d feel bad, but it’s what the people pay for, and what they ask for, like in the Roman circus, where crowds watched gladiators kill people. Obviously people don’t want to see anyone die, because times have changed, but when there are crashes, when riders collide, more people buy the product. There is no concern for the health of the riders in those moments,” Lorenzo said.

It was, to all intents and purposes, a stinging attack, but on whom? On Race Direction? Perhaps. Above all, it was an attack on the audience, on what people pay to watch. Lorenzo is of course correct, crash reels are a big hit with TV audiences, as witnessed by the many TV shows specializing in the subject.

Times have of course changed, as Lorenzo says: after each crash it is made very clear that the participants involved came away with relatively minor injuries. It would, after all, be bad form for a truly spectacular crash to be shown which had resulted in death.

Seeing the disclaimers under those crash reels, however, leaves a nasty taste in the mouth, a little too much like seeing a disclaimer under an adult movie advising that nobody was impregnated during the making of the picture. The audience for both products don’t really care about the outcome, they care only for the thrill of the moment.

Is Lorenzo right? It is true that Dorna is trying to increase the spectacle, because that is what the crowds demand. While rider safety is a paramount consideration, there is one thing which Lorenzo overlooks, however: MotoGP, like all forms of professional sport, is first and foremost entertainment.

It is an agreeable way to pass an hour on a Sunday afternoon. While the purity of the sporting challenge must be protected – this is, after all, unscripted entertainment, and so the outcome must remain open for as long as possible – without a paying audience, there is no MotoGP, there is no NFL, there is no Premier League, La Liga, Champions League, and World Cup.

It costs millions of dollars to organize and run a Grand Prix race weekend, and somebody has to pay. Currently, it is the circuit organizers and TV channels who are paying, which in the end, means ordinary viewers. And ordinary viewers want entertainment. No entertainment, no audience, no sport. It’s a simple equation.

In one thing, Lorenzo is right: the health of the sport means protecting the health of the riders. If there are no actors in what sports promoter and marketing genius Barry Hearn described as “a soap opera for men” then there is also no show.

If the names keep changing as riders die or are crippled out of competition, then audiences have no fixed stars in their firmament by which to navigate. Audiences may want to see a fight, but they need to be shown a clean fight, with as few injuries as possible, bearing in mind this is a motorized sport. We don’t need any more Shoya Tomizawas, Peter Lenzes, Marco Simoncellis.

The elephant in the room is the fact that the four-strokes have made the situation infinitely worse. Some fifteen years ago, the precursors of the MotoGP bikes, the 500cc two-strokes, produced 190hp and weighed 130kg (already up from the previous minimum of 115kg).

Now, the 1000cc MotoGP machines weigh 30kg more, produce at least 60 more hp and can travel 20kph faster. The energies involved are much larger, as mass and speed increases, making the bikes more difficult to change direction, traveling further when crashed, and creating a much bigger impact when they hit other bikes, or even worse, other riders.

Marc Marquez pronounced himself unimpressed with the penalty. He would continue to ride as he always had, he said, though he would also continue to attempt to avoid any contact, as had always been his intention. Marquez’s problem is his style, carrying more corner speed, which means he runs into the back of riders who brake harder and make it harder to judge. However, for the first time, Marquez’s body language betrayed him.

He had a more serious look on his face than he has when his behavior has been questioned previously, clearly feeling the pressure. Whether this will affect how he rides or not remains to be seen, but for the first time, he did not look like a young kid larking about at a race track. He looked like a man surprised by the tumult he had stirred up.

While Marquez’s case held the attention in Sepang, the situation in Ducati spread across two continents and three countries. The rumors that Gigi Dall’Igna had been contacted by Ducati had been circulating for some time, but shortly before noon, the bomb burst.

A press release stating that Dall’Igna would be leaving Aprilia appeared on the Piaggio corporate website, was pulled again, then reappeared after noon. At noon, Ducati Corse sent out a press release announcing Dall’Igna’s appointment as head of Ducati Corse, reporting solely to Claudio Domenicali, Ducati CEO. At the same time, current Ducati Corse boss Bernhard Gobmeier was shuffled off to Volkswagen, there to lead the German car maker’s motorsports division.

It is just part of a titanic upheaval inside of Ducati Corse that will take several months to work out. Dall’Igna’s appointment gives him carte blanche to clean out the race department, something which was badly needed. There has been too little communication, and too little listening to the needs of riders over the past years.

It led Casey Stoner to eventually leave Ducati, meant Valentino Rossi spent two barren years at the factory, and has been a cause of massive frustration for Andrea Dovizioso this year. Changes will come in the team – Davide Tardozzi is constantly being linked with a role alongside Paolo Ciabatti in the MotoGP team – but more especially, changes will come in Borgo Panigale. Working processes, engineering dogma, everything will change. The old guard will make way for new recruits.

It is badly needed. Ducati only hung on to Philip Morris as a sponsor by the skin of their teeth this year, after suffering through three dismal seasons without success. Philip Morris want to see progress, and Dall’Igna should be able to achieve that. He was key in the development of the WSBK championship winning RSV4 bike at Aprilia, and knows what it takes to win.

He has a proven track record, is Italian (making communication much, much easier) and understands both racing and running a race department. Cal Crutchlow’s surprise decision to move to Ducati is looking more and more like a clever investment, and less like a wild gamble.

It also leaves the future at Aprilia up in the air. The Piaggio press release mentioned both a difference in strategic vision between Dall’Igna and Aprilia, as well as a lack of success in World Superbikes this season. Aprilia seem keen to use their racing division as a way of making money, selling the ART to MotoGP teams and the RSV4 to WSBK teams.

But with teams dropping the ART – Cardion AB has switched to Honda, and Aspar will either also switch to Honda, or take up the option of a customer bike from Ducati, along similar lines to the bikes Yamaha is supplying to NGM Forward – that strategy was changing, and Aprilia was showing no interest in expanding their MotoGP activities.

The switch to EVO rules will also not help the Italian factory, the RSV4 not being competitive in stock trim. Where that leaves Aprilia’s race program remains to be seen.

There will of course be racing on Sunday, and we cannot leave without a mention of that. It appears that it could be a very wet weekend, with rain expected on all three afternoons.

The first fully wet weekend of the season could throw up a few surprises, though the Malaysian weather is likely to throw up a few surprises of its own. If it rains, all bets are off, and that could be very good for the championship as well.


MotoGP regulations:

3.3.1.2 Authority and Competence

The Race Direction has the authority to penalise automatically riders, teams’ personnel, officials, promoters/organisers and all the persons involved in any capacity whatsoever in an event or in the Championship for :

  • Infringements of the Regulations.
  • any voluntary or involuntary action or deed accomplished by a person or a group of persons during a meeting, contrary to the current Regulations or instructions given by an official of the meeting.
  • any corrupt or fraudulent act, or any action prejudicial to the interests of the meetings or of the sport, carried out by a person or a group of persons occurring during an event.
  • having been unable to ensure the smooth and efficient running of the event or for serious breaches of the Regulations.

The Race Direction is competent to adjudicate upon a protest relating to infringements of the Regulations.

Source: MCN & Motociclismo; Photo: Repsol Media

This article was originally published on MotoMatters, and is republished here on Asphalt & Rubber with permission by the author.

Comment:

  1. Gonzo says:

    Cock-A-Doodle Doo!!!

  2. TheSwede says:

    I’ve never heard Lorenzo be that biting and snarky.. I.. I like it

  3. smiler says:

    Very informative, unbiased and intelligent article.

  4. Sander says:

    Indeed a verry good article.
    Keep em comming.

    S

  5. TexusTim says:

    well the years nicky spent there were the best years he had in him…so that deserves mention alongside stoner leaving ducati.
    With the evo rules (actually favor ducati most) and now the defection of Dal’igna it efectivly kills off Aprilla’s plans and future in MotoGP makes me wonder about how money and infulence afects smaller manufactures just as they are getting traction…pardon the pun. but dont we want more than two japinese bikes and one italiian in this championship ? doing things like this goes against what dorna claims about cost and fair competition and if dorna tried to make it more fair Honda would juts threaten to pull out again so I see why stoner lost his desire in motogp.
    Now the marquez thing ..of course lorenzo was being ironic or whatever, he is kinda unhappy for more than one reason but at aragon it was clear he wanted nothing to do with a one on one with marquez and if anything can be positve from this is the 4:oo sunday start everyone knows marquez style wont last long in the wet…dani on the other hand like rossi are smooth in the rain and will come to the front if it rains….my biggest fear for this race is the angry mood in the premeir class of the best riders..mostly there holdong there tounque but i see this race having high drama as dani is detirmined and marquez even though subdued some remains undisclpined and in the wet who knows what he might do or cause to happen on sunday…but anything dorna would do cant really help this right now..it just has to play itself out on the track.. if they gave him two points like silverstone he would start at the back and be doing stupid things to get to the front….so doing the least to him right now might be the best thing just to keep things from flying totaly out f control.

  6. Damn says:

    go jorge go dani. go mm keep riding like you do, ignore what they say don’t listen, keep telling your self ive done nothing wrong, keep that pokerface witch failed bigtime this time. just keep pushing mm keep pushing till you reach you reach the gates of heaven asap. mm sounds like another rider who didnt wanted to listen to jorge and who said : ok i will be arrested then. i wouldnt mind mm killing him self. like a huge child mm said : i dont change, like a whimpy kid desperate wanting a candy!! dont change, kill your self ang we and honda can prepare for 2014 already forgotten who you were!

  7. Jaybond says:

    “The switch to EVO rules will also not help the Italian factory, the RSV4 not being competitive in stock trim. Where that leaves Aprilia’s race program remains to be seen”

    Unless Aprilia is willing to produce a road going homologation special RSV4 model with at least 200bhp ~ 210bhp on tap..

  8. JS says:

    Irony or not Lorenzo is way off the mark with saying the watching audience want to see riders flying through the air and crashing. No Lorenzo we don’t want to see that as riders crashing is a poor substitute for hard fought close racing – that is what we the audience want to see.

    I commend Lorenzo for at least putting up some sort of fight on track against Marquez but the bitching and moaning he and Pedrosa continue to express for no other reason than they’re getting beat by a rookie reeks of nothing more that frustration and sour grapes.

  9. paulus says:

    “any penalty for anything they deem to be ‘prejudicial to the sport’.”

    Perhaps the bikes/riders appearing to be massively reliant on electronics?…. just saying!

  10. L2C says:

    Lorenzo is right. And I’m sure he was addressing Dorna, Race Direction and the phalanx of lazy, cowardly journos as members of the MotoGP audience.

    He is a very smart cat. Intelligent and even a little subversive. His commentary gave me great insight into how his mind works. And I appreciate the fact that he was not being facetious or ironic. From now on, consider me a fan. He is no longer peculiar to me.

  11. Chaz Michael Michaels says:

    L2C–i agree.

    Lorenzo is a man fed up. His message is: do something about Marquez or don’t. Either end of that spectrum would speak volumes of truth. Riders wouldn’t have to agree, but at least they’d know where Dorna stands.

    But don’t do ‘almost-something’ because that’s annoying, patronizing, and Lorenzo is right–it says you don’t really care about the well-being of the riders and the sport. It says you really care about revenue even if MotoGP goes the way of gladiator blood sport.–to which Lorenzo says ‘you want blood sport, give ‘em blood sport.’

    Early in his career I thought Lorenzo was a petulant brat. He’s not that at all. This season has made me a big Lorenzo fan.

  12. proudAmerican says:

    I seem to remember that not too many years ago, Lorenzo and Rossi were banging the fairings of their factory Yamaha’s together, each clamoring to get to the checkered flag first (Japan I believe?)

    Had a wire been clipped there, somebody would have been scolded for unsafe riding. But, no wires were clipped, and the fans enjoyed it as one of the most thrilling duels in recent Moto GP history.

    Which is why I have a problem with MM’s penalty. I watched the Aragon race, and couldn’t even tell the two bikes had made contact.

    So my stance remains the same–MM was penalized for HRC’s failure to protect a vulnerable TC wire.

  13. Spamtasticus says:

    Like Stoner, Lorenzo’s image on television is deceiving. He comes across as a bratty, snobby shit but I do not believe his is. I was having a steak with some racing buds at St. Elmo’s in Indy a few years ago and Lorenzo and his Friend/Handler walked pas us. I said hi to him in spanish and wished him luck for the race and he not only acknowledged me but stopped to chat a bit. We spoke about the Indy mile and a few other short topics before his handler dragged him off. I did not get the impression that it was a contrived encounter for PR’s sake but rather a genuine socialization. It changed my whole image of the man.

  14. TexusTim says:

    @JS I agree no one “here” wants to see riders crashing..close hard fought battles YES indeed…but Dorna looks at the whole world and they think they see what viewers want but that is a small group that wants to see blood and guts and i think they watch nascar or another “cager” motorsport…the true motorcycle purist wants to see close racing, hard fought battles and SPORTSMANSHIP this is the quality that marquez lacks.
    as for lorenzo I too am more impressed now than before and I think this sunday will be huge if it rains.
    just think were things will be if marquez ends up crashing out with 0 points…o man the champioship would be blown wide open.
    the sad truth is if it doesnt rain and marquez wins it almost seals the championship or will by motegi but his will be marked with one thing… he took his teamate out to do so…even marquez said ” its dannys championship to win or lose” guess what? that cant happen fairly when a rider like marquez comes up from behind and tags you “out”

  15. JW says:

    This outcome will be debated for years. Sad that Lorenzo pulled an epic jump off a bridge public relations blunder with his poor sport comments. This will not help him sell products his sponsors need.

  16. “So my stance remains the same–MM was penalized for HRC’s failure to protect a vulnerable TC wire.”

    It’s an interesting problem. On one hand, I fully appreciate Race Direction wanting to send a message. On the other, I think their timing is inappropriate. A more appropriate message would have been putting him at the back of the grid over the yellow-flag incident in Silverstone. Hayden and Dovi got to use each other as rolling-berm apexes on two consecutive races without anything more than a “cool it, boyos” after the fact. MM gets penalized. The disparity is troubling because it means the punishments are doled out arbitrarily.

    I think the Honda penalty was entirely fair. The TC sensor and its associated wiring should not have been exposed. MM seems to be a rookie suffering through typical rookie mistakes (although with fewer crashes), but is being held to higher-than-rookie standards. I don’t think that’s entirely correct. If you look back at any of the veterans of the premier class, their rookie years were full of tumbles and the occasional bowling incident. MM is no different in that regard, but he’s being treated differently, IMO.