The first lap of the French GP worked out very well for MotoGP fans. First, Andrea Dovizioso accelerated past Marc Marquez, putting the pole sitter and race favorite into second position. Moments later Stefan Bradl passed Marquez on the outside, Marquez into third.
As the pack entered the Dunlop Chicane, Pol Espargaro passed Marquez, putting 93 into 4th. Valentino Rossi passed Marquez at La Chapelle, 93 now in 5th. Jorge Lorenzo pushed past at Garage Vert, and Marquez went off track to rejoin in 10th place.
Not a good start for the Championship leader, but a wonderful half first lap for fans. Instead of Marquez riding off into the distance, yawn, he had to work his way up from tenth place.
The following laps showed clearly the degree to which Marquez rides at a level higher than anyone else on the premier class grid. The confidence with which he made pass after pass was a pleasure to watch, and for me, much more enjoyable than seeing him ride a time trial at the front while the rest of the pack tried in vain to catch him.
Not only was it fun to watch Marquez ride back to the front, but there was some fantastic racing between Dovi, Rossi, Bradl, and Pol Espargaro for the lead of the race, instead of for second place.
Watching all of this on my flight home from France – I see only part of the story while photographing it – I was reminded of a conversation I’d had with Livio Suppo in 2012.
It was one of those conversations that, being off the record, contained all sorts of things I wish I could’ve repeated. But at one point we were discussing the problem of how the best rider on the best bike often equals poor entertainment value.
I started describing an idea I’d had based on the old IROC series (in which cars were prepared to be as equal as possible in order to make driver skill the difference between winning and losing).
“Wouldn’t it be interesting,” I said, “if we abandoned the rider-factory contract model and made riders independent?” To my surprise, Suppo started explaining my idea to me, as he’d been thinking of the same thing for years himself. I sat there wondering if I had somehow heard this from him at some point, and then fooled myself into thinking I had come up with it on my own.
Whether I did or not, the idea goes like this: instead of factories putting riders under contract, riders enter the series on their own, with their own personal sponsorship from any source other than a manufacturer entered in the series.
Manufacturers enter machines they have designed and built, and non-factory teams can lease or buy chassis/engine combinations as needed to enter with their own sponsorship agreements.
Each weekend a given rider is on a different machine, and each machine has a different rider. The best rider is the one who can deliver the best results on a variety of machines over the course of the season. The best team is the one to achieve the best results with each rider.
Each team gets a turn with Marc Marquez on its bike. He rides the Repsol Honda one weekend and the Ioda ART the next. So does Danielo Patrucci. We get to see what the best rider can do on the worst bike, and we get to see what backmarker riders can do on the best machines.
Because each race weekend is a different combination of rider/machine, teams that under the current system receive little or no TV coverage suddenly get lots when a top rider is on their bike. And riders like Petrucci, who give everything they’ve got each weekend on underpowered machines, get multiple chances to show how good they are.
The best rider is on the best motorcycle only a handful of times a season, but even then it’s not the case that settings have been refined from weekend to weekend, so the combination is less potent than under the current system.
In theory, racing is more competitive and more entertaining. Riders prove their own talents by being the best over a season on a variety of machinery. Factories prove their machine is the best by winning points regardless of the rider.
I suspect you could get riders and satellite teams on board with this idea, but I doubt you’d get the factories to go for it. Honda, of course, is perfectly happy having Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa on their bikes each weekend.
And there are many other reasons why this idea is flawed and doomed to remain just an idea. I expect one or two to show up in the comments below.
But over the coming years, as Marc Marquez rides away from the pack on his Repsol Honda again and again, I will be thinking fondly of this idea, wherever it came from originally, and wishing I could see how he’d do on Hayden’s RCV1000, or the PBR machine, or (just consider it!) on the Ducati.
We’d never know what was going to happen on any given weekend, and we’d have more situations like the first eleven laps of the French GP. And that sounds pretty good to me.
Photo: © 2014 Scott Jones / Scott Jones Photography – All Rights Reserved