It has been a busy year for MotoGP Race Director Mike Webb. Since taking on the job of ensuring that MotoGP events take place safely and efficiently, stepping into the shoes vacated by Paul Butler at the start of the 2012 season, Webb has faced some tough decisions and unusual situations, his second year in the job even more eventful than the first.

In response to criticism over the warning system in 2012, a new penalty points system was introduced to allow for harsher penalties for persistent offenders.

There were several high-profile incidents involving Marc Marquez in his rookie season, including a clash with Jorge Lorenzo at Jerez, a touch which severed the traction control sensor of teammate Dani Pedrosa’s Honda and caused Pedrosa to crash, and the situation at Phillip Island, where the new asphalt at the circuit caused the tires to degrade much more than the two spec tire manufacturers had expected, requiring last-minute adjustments to the race schedule on the fly.

We spoke with Mike Webb extensively at Valencia, on the Thursday evening before the race, covering the above subjects and more, and reviewing his second year as Race Director.

In the first part of the interview, Webb talks of whether motorcycle racing is a contact sport, how the penalty system has worked out, explains why Marc Marquez was not given points at Jerez, why Jorge Lorenzo wasn’t penalized for the touch at Sepang, and of changing perceptions.

Q: You’re at the end of your second year in the job of Race Director. Was it easier than the first?

Mike Webb: Easier, in that I’ve done it once before. The first year of anything is a super-steep learning curve. It’s still really steep, and I’m learning lots, and you never know what’s going to happen next. But yes, easier, just because I’m more relaxed about it, because I’ve done it before.

Q: Do the decisions in the second year get any easier? Do they get any quicker?

MW: Certainly not easier. Probably a little bit quicker because a lot of the situations, even though every situation is different, you’ve had a similar situation in the past, and you’ve either been happy with the decision you made the first time round and you easily make it again, or you’ve been unhappy and you modify it because of that. So the experience makes it easier.

Q: It certainly felt to the outside world like there was a new sheriff in town? You seem to be more strict on rider behavior.

MW: If I can explain that as rather than a setting out to bang the table and try to be the tough guy, it’s a reaction to what are the norms now. And that applies in society as well as motorcycle racing. I speak a lot to my old boss Wayne Rainey, he laughs at some of the decisions we make now. 20 years ago, you wouldn’t even have that discussion.

The things that get penalized or looked badly upon were a non-event ten years ago. The general perception of what’s acceptable changes over time. To me, I’m reacting to that, as to what’s perceived to be reasonable.

It’s even feedback from riders, I sit in a room full of MotoGP riders, and discuss what’s going on, and they’re expectation of what should be allowed and what shouldn’t be has changed over the last years. It’s a reaction to that more than anything.

Q: In an interview with Dennis Noyes, your predecessor Paul Butler said ‘Motorcycle racing is a contact sport.’

MW: Yup, that was his famous headline!

Q: Is motorcycle racing a contact sport?

MW: No, I would phrase that differently. The simple answer is, inevitably, yes, but it’s more like an unintended consequence rather than that it’s intended to be contact. I mean, boxing’s a contact sport because it’s intended to be. Rugby’s a contact sport because it’s intended to be. Motorcycle racing is not intended to be, but sometimes by circumstances, it becomes one.

Q: It’s more like soccer in that contact can happen and that each time it happens you have to make a judgment?

MW: Sure. As a kid I played basketball, and I was told at the beginning it’s a non-contact sport, well sorry, it ain’t! But it’s intended to be non-contact. So we’re in that same game.

Q: The points system was new for this year. How do you feel that’s worked out?

MW: It’s good, it could do with some fine tuning, but I’m really happy with it, because what it’s done is it’s replaced the formal or informal warning. And it’s become an accountable thing, whereas a formal or informal warning was kind of a vague concept about you’ve been a naughty boy.

So I’m happy that we’ve actually made it accountable. I have to come up with a better way of handling the end of the season, because a penalty point at the last race of the season is meaningless, unless you’ve already got a certain number.

Q: As soon as the riders line up on the grid on Sunday afternoon for the last race, the penalty points are irrelevant…

MW: They don’t count. The thing is, what we do is because the system is written that way, we consciously make the decision that if something needs punishing in the last couple of races, rather than points, it tends to be something else, so we’re modifying our behavior because of the way the points rules work.

I think we could modify the points rule to make it a bit more workable. But overall, I’m really happy with it.

Q: Do you think points should be carried over between seasons, is that possible?

MW: It could be a possibility, for a limited time. I don’t think it needs to be cumulative over a rider’s career, but there could be an expiry date, something like that might be workable. Or I might just continue to change the behavior of Race Direction, and choose another penalty rather than a point, something that’s more immediate.

Q: You’ve faced a lot of criticism, you’ve had a lot of difficult decisions to make this year. Just to go through them one by one. Marc Marquez has been the worst offender, certainly, as far as points are concerned. Jerez he got no points for. What were your considerations?

MW: It’s mostly precedent. Mostly it’s Rossi/Gibernau precedent. And the way, not just that one incident, but in several incidents of a similar nature, there was a big gap there, and a rider is entitled to go for a gap. All of that kind of thinking. So that was the decision, and it was unanimous among Race Direction at that point, it was ‘that’s a racing incident’.

Moving on from there, just the way Marquez has been all year and all of that, I think it could logically be argued that perhaps a point was justifiable at that time. Right there, on the set of circumstances we had and the precedents, we were happy that it was a racing incident.

Q: So if the same thing had happened at for example Sepang, which has a similar hairpin at the end, but is the 15th race of the season, then there could have been a point there.

MW: I’d have to be honest and say it’s probably more likely, having had the year’s experience of seeing how Marc rides and all of that. And I’m happy that he’s getting better, but he’s still a little bit close for comfort at some times.

Q: The Aragon incident was a big headache for everyone.

MW: Exactly.

Q: Why in the end does Marc get points? Because there was a defect, there was a design defect which is why Honda was penalized, and there was what looked like a totally harmless touch.

MW: Exactly. I think we can all agree that the touch itself was a racing incident of the more harmless variety. It was as I said in interviews at the time immediately after, in both cases, the Honda penalty and the Marquez penalty were sending messages.

And it was a case of, I know not everyone agrees that we should take precedent into account, but it was a number of incidents that didn’t result in any kind of accident that Marc was involved in, and this was kind of the one straw that broke the camel’s back, if you like. It was one incident more, and he needed to be told, hey, stop.

Q: The trouble with precedents is that it can look arbitrary. Because one rider does something and gets away with it, and another rider does something and gets points.

MW: Exactly right. That’s the one thing I dislike about taking precedent into it, but overall, I’m happier judging things over a period rather than everything on one incident at a time.

A rider who’s totally blameless and has never put a foot out of line, and makes one mistake will get judged differently than a rider who is continually in front of Race Direction for doing something wrong. And I think that’s fair and reasonable.

Q: For example, there have been a few times when it looked like Jorge has been a little bit more physical with Marc. Because you must have looked at the incident at Sepang, you must have looked at the pit lane exit for both riders at Phillip Island.

MW: Yes, over and over.

Q: When you talk about precedent, would that be a reason for not penalizing Jorge at Sepang, but maybe if he did it again and again, you’d maybe start looking at points?

MW: You’ve pretty much got it. I know there is a desire to be completely objective and judge every incident on its own, and I’d like to do that, but as I said before, although there are downsides to it, overall I’m happier taking precedent into account.

Which is exactly what happened in Sepang, where Jorge doing what he did to Marc, it was basically doing back to Marc what Marc had done to him a number of times, so it’s all fair and reasonable.

However, if it’s once, that’s fine, if it becomes a pattern of behavior, absolutely not. And that’s what we’re trying to do with Marc, is to stop that being a pattern of behavior. It’s clearly not a pattern with Jorge, and so at that time, it didn’t get a penalty, it would in the future if it becomes his normal style.

Q: Because to me, it looks like Jorge is changing his behavior, it looks like he’s becoming more physical with Marc, in part because he’s tired of the physical intimidation from Marc, and he’s showing that he’s giving it back as good as he gets.

MW: Yes, you’ve pretty much summed it up. I’ve said before about the general opinion about what’s accepted and what’s not, and in the riders we currently have in the championship, Jorge is a little bit off center of what the general opinion is. He would like things to be a lot more strictly controlled, and a lot less possibility of contact or anything dangerous.

So he is frustrated that we don’t always share his opinion on every incident. Sometimes we see eye to eye and sometimes we don’t, and his frustrated that we don’t automatically think the same way he does.

So I think there’s a certain amount of frustration creeping in, where he thinks ‘well, Race Direction’s not going to do anything, I might as well behave like the others.’ I certainly wish he didn’t think that way, but it seems to be that perhaps saying ‘hey, you guys aren’t going to do anything about it, so…’

But I would make the point that as that general consensus of what’s acceptable and what’s not slowly changes, I think we’re pretty much on the money of reacting to that, and stopping people doing things that perhaps ten years ago were acceptable, and today isn’t.

Photo: © 2013 Scott Jones / Scott Jones Photography – All Rights Reserved

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

  • Ok…I’m on the edge of my seat now!

  • n/a

    Fire all these new guys.

    Put Kenny Roberts in charge.

  • SBPilot

    soooo. what happened with Jorge in the last race where he hit DP pretty intentionally twice. Didn’t hear a thing about that. Race Direction is a joke

  • FutRider

    Like the man said, what difference does it make at the end of the season. The championship points won’t change.

  • Conrice

    What a joke….

  • Jimboecv

    Last week I took a class for rugby officiating. Everyone had questions.
    The instructor summed it up; Is it safe? Does it look like rugby? I think that can also be applied to all forms of racing.

  • Will

    It’s all driven by money and publicity. IMO. If it adversely affects “the show” and disrupts the Spanish contingent, nothing’s gonna be done about it. Especially if they’re fighting for the title. Do as I say not as I do type of thing. Kinda Goes back to “the rookie rule” which effected spies and which was dropped for Marquez. Don’t get me wrong I’m a Marquez fan, but Carmelo knows exactly where his bread is buttered.

  • Dan

    Off topic: Im glad scott got the photo above of MM’s pit lane ‘ritual’ have any reporters ever asked what it’s about?

    It looks like he’s making cat ears with his hands either side of his helmet. or an over exaggerated flipping down of the visor, I cracked up the first time I saw it.

  • Spamtasticus

    I find it ridiculous how some couch jockies who have never raced a motorcycle, sat on the side of the track watching the helicopter carry yet another rider off to the trauma center, or have been carried off themselves are always excusing dangerous behavior on the track.

  • Conrice

    Spamtasticus – I love how you call everyone a couch jockie when you look at an arbitrary name in the comment’s section.

  • SBPilot

    @Spamtasticus: Actually I raced motorcycles and I have been subject of “aggressive” riding and fairing bashing. Honestly, being on the receiving end of some major stuffing is not fun, but it’s racing and frankly I handed the favour back. Everyone get’s stuffed, and everyone has to pick up the bike in racing. One thing I really don’t like on TV is commentators always seeing block passing as “unfair”, but it’s a strategy and everyone uses it at all levels.

    A race is like a song, it builds up to a finale. Usually the first few laps and middle laps riders don’t ride too too aggressive, but if you’re fighting for podium and it’s the last 3 laps, or the last lap, no one takes prisoners, not even 16 year olds.

    I never once thought the racing was getting too aggressive, if you can’t deal with a rider racing side by side with you, than it’s not the sport for you.

  • L2C

    Seems like Webb is trying to have it both ways. Not sure how effective those tactics are going to be in the long run.

    The Aragon Incident is a prime example. He penalized Honda 25 points for having a bike that passed scrutineering, and penalized Márquez one point for causing the accident. To my logical mind, Webb’s reasoning rings false. The inverse should have been applied with the requirement that HRC protect the TC cable for future races. How was it right that he penalized HRC for a design flaw when the RC213V had passed scrutineering? An oversight of safety is not necessarily equal to a design flaw. In fact, they are not the same. Not even similar.

    Webb probably eased his conscience a bit when he black-flagged Marc at Phillip Island, because to me it sounds like a deal was made somewhere in that decision-making process at Aragon — precedents and all of that.

  • crshnbrn


    From a previous post by David Emmett:

    “The penalty against Honda was an acknowledgement of the design flaw of Honda’s rear wheel speed sensor, Webb said. Most other manufacturers had dual rear wheel speed sensors just in case one failed, and Honda had been warned previously by some team engineers that the sensor was vulnerable.”

    I see your point about the bikes passing inspection, but the fact that personnel within the team recognized the vulnerability and it wasn’t addressed may have been what prompted the penalty. Hindsight is 20/20. All that really happened is HRC got a little bit of a black eye. Pedrosa wasn’t seriously injured and finished more than 25 points behind Lorenzo, so he didn’t end up losing a position in the final standings because of it. Marquez went on to win the championship. HRC went on to win the Manufacturer’s Championship.

    As I have stated before, for Marquez to be racing so aggressively barely 1/4 of the way into a race isn’t very smart. Lorenzo wasn’t pulling away from Pedrosa and Marquez. Marquez should have waited for things to sort out more or for Pedrosa to make a mistake. If the incident had happened in the last few laps, it probably would have been viewed as a racing incident and no penalty point would have been assessed.

  • H.L.

    What Marquez doesn’t understand yet is that he is actually causing Lorenzo to change is riding style a little bit and creating a monster that will give him more trouble than he thinks in the future. Lorenzo is now combining Marquez’s aggressive on the limit style with his own smooth “in the zone” style when he has to. I believe the first time we saw this was at Silverstone for the win. Marquez’s championship can be misleading to believe he will now dominate for the future but Race Direction is in for a busy 2014 because the racing style will get back to the Rainey days because Marquez on the better bike will dictate this from Lorenzo and maybe Pol Espargaro if he takes Rossi’s factory ride in 2015 and Redding if he takes Pedrosa’s factory bike or Bautista’s factory. In closing, the 2014, ’15, and ’16 season I personally believe will put MotoGP racing at levels and popularity it has never seen before.