News out of Germany this weekend is that 15 of the 17 riders racing in the MotoGP Championship have threatened to boycott the Japanese GP at Motegi later this year because of safety concerns. Lead by Casey Stoner and Jorge Lorenzo, who publicly announced Saturday at the post-qualifying debriefing that they would not race in Japan, the riders are worried about radiation from the stricken Fukushima nuclear plant, despite Motegi officials (essentially HRC) declaring the Twin Rings circuit safe. The planned boycott also comes ahead of an independent study being conducted on behalf of MotoGP, which is supposed to be an objective assessment of the track’s safety for host MotoGP (the results of the study are due to go public on July 31st).
Stoner and Lorenzo, along with several other riders have been vocal about their desire not to race at Motegi, despite assurances from Dorna that the facility was ready for MotoGP and all safety concerns would be looked after. The only riders seemingly keen on racing in Japan is unsurprisingly Hiroshi Aoyama and rookie Karel Abraham, the latter of whom is eager to bring GP racing back to his home country. MotoGP had to cancel the Japanese GP last year because of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland grounding international flights throughout the globe.
Attitudes in the paddock have become divide over the topic, with opposition to the boycott suggesting that the riders are making a straw man argument, and in fact reacting more in response to how Dorna has handled the situation with the nuclear crisis, and how little input was taken from the riders about Motegi in the series’s final decision. This has lead to the criticism that the representations of solidarity with Japan and the “Help Japan” stickers that many of the teams fly on their race bikes have been disingenuous, as the Japanese fans are now potentially going to miss another GP race because of MotoGP’s riders wishing to have a larger voice regarding safety concerns.
With October still a long way down the calendar, it is uncertain if the boycott will last, especially since there will be plenty of contract negotiation going on between now and the rescheduled Japanese round. While Stoner and Lorenzo may be immune to such pressures (they already have a contract for 2012), other riders are not in such a fortunate position. The question will be however, how many riders will be a critical enough mass to grind MotoGP to a halt, or at least sway Dorna’s rule?
There’s also the point that riders could find themselves in breach of contract if they boycott the race, though issues of safety, if proven adequately, could be reasonable grounds to consider the contract null for the Japanese GP. Undoubtedly as MotoGP heads here to the US for the Laguna Seca round, the power struggle will continue. More as we get it.