The Moto2 Championship doesn’t often make the headlines in the motorcycle racing sphere, but I bet you are hearing all about this weekend’s Moto2 race at the San Marino GP. For those who are late to the story, much is being said about an incident where Romano Fenati grabbed Stefano Manzi’s front brake lever, as the pair hurled down the Misano circuit at over 200 km/h.
Caught on camera, the incident in just one of several between the two riders during the Moto2 race this weekend, as Fenati and Manzi traded paint and hand gestures at several points of the competition, but the focus of the attention remains on the shocking act that Fenati took down the back straight of the circuit.
For the fans in attendance, and for those watching at home, you were witness to one of the most irresponsible events that can take place on a race track – an act that I would argue is tantamount to attempted murder on a motorcycle.
It therefore boggles the mind that at this point in time, Romano Fenati still has a license to race with the FIM, once his two-race suspension is completed.
Just A Two-Race Suspension?
Cal Crutchlow summed it up best in the MotoGP post-race press conference, when MCN’s Simon Patterson asked the MotoGP riders what they thought of the incident. Always apt to speak his mind, Crutchlow said flatly, “I think he should never race a motorcycle again.”
“He should have walked into his garage, and his team should have kicked him straight out the back. You can’t do think to another motorcycle racer,” Crutchlow said, to applause in the room. “We are risking our lives enough.”
Though more diplomatic in his approach, Marc Marquez helped to frame the severity of Fenati’s actions, saying that Race Direction “need to do some penalty, that the other guys will never do,” meaning that the punishment for grabbing another rider’s brake lever should be a penalty so high, no rider would ever consider grabbing another’s front brake lever while at speed.
So, I ask the question again: why does Romano Fenati still have a motorcycle racing license? As it stands right now, the 22-year-old Italian rider will sit-out the next two Moto2 Championship rounds – a punishment on par with modest technical violations of the rulebook.
FIM MotoGP Stewards 📋
— MotoGP™🇸🇲🏁 (@MotoGP) September 9, 2018
A Bad Actor
This incident doesn’t occur in a vacuum, of course, both with what happened that day at the Misano World Circuit, and with what has happened over time with Romano Fenati.
What transpired today though goes beyond the utterance of labels like “hot-headed” or “immature” that often follow Fenati around the MotoGP paddock. I would offer the word criminal, but I will get to that point in a minute.
It is a bit of irony that moments before the brake lever incident was shown on the world feed, presenters Steve Day and Matthew Birt opined on the reason why Fenati was being black-flagged from the Moto2 race. Day offered that Fenati possibly came into the pits to yell at his team, and then leave again – an obvious rule violation, and an act not without precedent by the young Italian.
Fenati’s “temper” and “outbursts” are well-known in the GP paddock, it is those very qualities that saw him removed from the Sky VR|46 squad almost exactly two years ago. At the time, we wrote that “Fenati was released for behavioral issues. The Italian had been abusive towards members of the team, and had not behaved in a professional manner.”
Little has changed, few are surprised, and this author’s own experiences with Fenati off the track leave him wondering why the Moto2 rider hasn’t found himself the subject of frequent Italian gossip columns, a jail cell, or both.
Gone is the young Moto3 rider that gained the adoration of fans around the world when he finished 2nd at his first-ever GP race (Qatar GP – 2012 ). Instead, he has been replaced by the worst impulses that lure young riders when they taste the quasi-stardom that comes from the lower levels of Grand Prix racing.
Set to join the Forward Racing team, as part of the MV Agusta Moto2 project, Fenati and Manzi are actually set to be teammates next year, for an added twist to the story. Even then, we opined in our coverage about the “gamble” MV Agusta was taking with its pick of Fenati for this important project.
Evaluating the on-track actions, there can be no mistaking Romano Fenati’s deliberate intention of striking Stefano Manzi’s front brake lever. Fenati sights Manzi’s bike, reaches out, and slams the lever. Reports from Italy say almost 300 psi of pressure were applied to the lever – more than double the normal amount.
There can be only one intention for such an act when a motorcycle is traveling over 200 km/h down a race track, and that is to cause a crash, and to cause harm. We are lucky that we witnessed the best-possible outcome of that situation, as Manzi’s bike only suffered a quick headshake before righting itself. It could have been much worse.
And if it had, we would be having a very serious conversation. It is only the lucky outcome of this incident that makes calling it “attempted murder” sound like hyperbole. Today there was a very real possibility that another motorcycle racer could have caused intentional harm to another, while on the race track. That is called an assault.
That the act was so heinous and reckless though, that Fenati’s actions could have potentially killed Manzi in the process, that makes it an attempted murder.
This isn’t grandstanding. This isn’t sensationalizing a story. If we remove the veil of danger that comes with racing motorcycles, and exam the acts alone, we can see that a very real crime took place on live TV. No one can mistake that Fenati meant to grab Manzi’s front brake lever, that he grabbed it with the intent of causing the other rider harm, and that at those speeds on a motorcycle, a crash could be life-threatening.
We too often forget in sport that the rules of the outside world still apply. Yes, an event taking place on a race track augments the conversation some (I will save you from a detailed legal analysis of criminal law in sport), and suffice to say simply that the law doesn’t stop with the waiving of a green flag.
For instance, in a 2000 NHL hockey game between the Vancouver Canucks and the Boston Bruins, after a series of escalating events throughout the match, Marty McSorley deliberately struck Donald Brashear on his head with a two-handed swing. The incident left Brashear with a seizure, memory loss, and a grade-three concussion. It also left McSorley with a criminal conviction for assault with a weapon.
For its part too, the NHL suspended McSorley for one year from playing hockey, but the reality is that he never played again.
It is of course up to the Italian legal system to determine what Fenati’s legal exposure should be after today’s race in Misano.
I agree with Marc Marquez, Fenati’s punishment should ensure that no rider ever again commits this type of act. And, I echo the words of Cal Crutchlow though – Fenati should never be allowed to race again.
Meanwhile, all the evidence before us shows a young and talented rider who is consistently escalating his inability to govern his most base instincts. Fenati’s “temper” and “outbursts” are only getting worse with time.
Now too is perhaps the moment where we should also stop using reductionist phrases like “hot-headed” to describe this young man. It could have cost another young man his life today.
For the Naysayers
How can we expect other motorcycle racers to lineup alongside Fenati when we all know the ticking bomb that resides underneath his leathers and helmet?
For anyone who thinks that Fenati should be allowed to keep his race license and to compete in future motorcycle racing events, I will ask you only one simple question.
Can you say with 100% confidence that Romano Fenati will never make such a dangerous action against another rider ever again?
If you answer in the affirmative, you do so in the face of a mounting evidence to the contrary, and if you answer in the negative, then this young man shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near a race course ever again.