Trackside Tuesday: Great Expectations

07/16/2013 @ 5:47 pm, by Scott Jones11 COMMENTS


After Jorge Lorenzo’s heroic ride at Assen, where he’d broken his left collarbone only two days before, the German GP had many of us asking “how much is too much?” in terms of riding with injuries.

Two weeks after Lorenzo had risked, perhaps not ‘everything’ but certainly ‘a lot,’ to limit his injury’s effect on the championship standings (he finished 5th, one place behind a struggling Dani Pedrosa), the topic came up in Thursday’s Press Conference at the German GP. Cal Crutchlow remarked that Lorenzo’s decision at Assen had raised the bar for all riders facing the question: Should I race with this injury?

Ironically, or perhaps not, Crutchlow himself had raised this bar at Silverstone last season when he slipped past the medical exam process to turn in his own amazing ride through the pack with a broken ankle. He pointed out that now more riders would be using Lorenzo’s Assen ride as a precedent: if he was allowed to ride at Assen, why can’t I?

Lorenzo didn’t like the sound of that, saying other riders should not use him as an example and instead listen to their own bodies to determine if they should sit out or compete while injured.

All weekend I heard different responses to the situation, from respect for athletes who push through pain, to scorn for the willingness to put others at risk by competing at well below 100% fitness.

One paddock insider expressed the opinion that riding a MotoGP bike is difficult enough at full fitness–any physical or mental weakness is a liability that increases the risk of crashing, and thus increases the chances of a crash involving other riders.

The risk to other riders is one side of the issue that doesn’t seem to get much discussion in the paddock.

We admire the riders when they show us their toughness, but when, after Pedrosa’s huge highside Saturday morning, the championship leader reported dizziness and vision problems, more and more whispers of he’s unfit to race moved through the paddock.

And Unfit to Race isn’t a decision the medical staff makes solely to protect the injured rider. It is also intended to protect those with whom that rider shares the track.

Consider the amount of criticism Casey Stoner received in 2009 for skipping three races when he just wasn’t feeling well. Changing his diet allowed him to return to fitness and winning, but declaring himself unfit to race, when he was not merely unable to do his best but also a danger to other riders, received more scorn than praise.

Saturday night I saw Dani Pedrosa come into the Honda hospitality after a long afternoon of medical tests. Though his collarbone fracture had not been detected on site, it was discovered at the hospital where he had undergone MRI and CT scans.

He was clearly in discomfort, as he moved cautiously to a seat in the corner of the hospitality, but my own expectation was that that he would be on the grid the next day.

This was, after all, a golden opportunity to take points away from Lorenzo, who had left the track for another surgery in Barcelona. Until earlier that day, Pedrosa had enjoyed a rare thing indeed: a season without a major injury.

Yet here he was, another collarbone broken, but this time perhaps not badly enough to keep him off the grid, especially after Lorenzo’s performance at Assen. After all, if Lorenzo was willing to take the risk to claim another world title, what would it say about Pedrosa’s character if he didn’t do the same thing?

When I heard that Pedrosa was not going to race, I was relieved and impressed with what must have been a very difficult decision. I suspect he could have decided not to report that he was dizzy, and to say his vision was fine, and thus put his fellow riders at risk by entering a race when he was unfit to ride.

My respect for Pedrosa has only increased after this weekend, because of how he did the right thing rather than give in to expectations. Ironically, or perhaps not, he did just what in Thursday’s press conference Lorenzo has said other riders should do.

Expectations, both internal (in the riders’ minds) and external (in the minds of the riders’ peers, friends, media and fans), make sensible answers to the question Do I race with this injury? difficult, indeed.

When you add to those expectations the complication of a world championship fight, and the status and fiscal benefits that go along with winning a title, sensible decisions are even harder to come by.

Though we love motorcycle racing and are inspired when riders like Crutchlow and Lorenzo (among others) battle through pain and difficulty to succeed, we also regret the injuries of Wayne Rainey and Joan Lascorz (among others), and we mourn the loss of Marco SImoncelli and Shoya Tomizawa (again, among others).

I think we’d all prefer to see our heroes in the paddock the way we often see Giacomo Agostini, enjoying their later years in at least fairly good shape.

While the names mentioned above accepted the risks of motorcycle racing, and fortunately were not injured or killed due to incidents with other riders who were unfit to race, I bring them up as examples of why we should do everything we can to make our beloved sport as safe as possible.

We make changes to circuits to improve safety, but we expect riders to compete when they are injured, at the expense of their safety and that of the riders, who share small sections of tarmac at high speeds.

Thanks to Dani’s not riding while dizzy and with impaired vision, the list of riders not in the hospital because he caused an accident includes Rossi, Marquez, Hayden, and every other rider. My hat’s off to Dani and the medical team that helped him stay off the grid on Sunday.

Scott Jones is a professional photographer who covers MotoGP and WSBK for racing industry clients as well as racing websites and publications in the U.S. and Europe. His online archive is available at Photo.GP, and you can find him on his blogTwitter, & Facebook.

All images posted, shared, or sent for editorial use or review are registered for full copyright protection at the Library of Congress.

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

  • TexusTim

    A+ article !

  • Well when you lock on the Championship like Lorenzo do there is no question to ride or not, he just do it. I think its wrong but that’s Lorenzo- he put everything now he is with nothing – what a waist.

  • Norm G.

    re: “One paddock insider expressed the opinion that riding a MotoGP bike is difficult enough at full fitness–any physical or mental weakness is a liability that increases the risk of crashing, and thus increases the chances of a crash involving other riders.”

    and there it is… “safety 1st”, not “safety 2nd”.

    embrace this as a mantra, and one NEVER has to question whether or not they are making the right choice. erring on the side caution is ALWAYS the right choice. so powerful and yet so simple.

  • L2C

    That was truly exceptional, Scott. Gratitude.

    And thank you for being observant. Thank you for your clarity of focus and attention to detail. Thank you for being consciously aware of your surroundings. Thank you for handling this topic with the sensitivity that it deserves, and for composing such an outstanding and respectful piece. Thank you!

    Best regards,

  • A Very sensible article.

    Hat’s off Scott for the great eye to detail.

  • Chaz Michael Michaels

    Ya, (comments above) that was the first thing that crossed my mind: great article! (forgot to mention Colin Edward’s 3rd place with broken collarbone).

    This sport needs “the bad cop.” The decision to race absolutely must not be in the hands of the riders.

    Every other sport has their bad cop. How many times in football, baseball, basketball, etc do you hear teams, coaches, etc… defer to the bad cop “…we’d love to have him but doctors say…” That’s how it must be in motoGP.

    When injury/health is involved the doctors should be taking the fall not the riders.

  • Definitely a thumbs up to Dani for sitting out. And a thumbs up to Scott for an excellent article. Well written, sir.

  • Philip James

    I love racing. It’s certainly interesting to watch. Could part of the problem be the underlying attitude that it’s “ok to crash”? I understand stuff happens when your riding out at the edge but a lot of this could be avoided with a better attitude towards crashing to begin with. All of this aggression and willing to win no matter even if it kills you will eventually do just that. Perhaps points penalties for crashing could inspire racers that want to win to have a better attitude towards stuffing bikes to prevent these accidents before they happen? It might even make the racing more interesting as well.

  • ” Could part of the problem be the underlying attitude that it’s “ok to crash”?”

    I don’t think so. While crashes happen, everybody realizes that you can’t win a championship by crashing out of a race. At the top of the heap, it might only take one DNF to trash your chances at the title. And at the other end of the spectrum, all it takes is sliding over a kerb just the wrong way to end up as Wayne Rainey did. Nobody wants to crash.

    Ultimately, the issue is that when you’re going as fast as you possibly can without crashing, you’re close enough to that edge of uncertainty that you’re going to get caught out once in a while. If you impose penalties for crashes, you’ll wind up with a sport that mimics racing on the surface, but amounts to nothing more than fast parade laps. Not my cuppa.

  • John Morris

    The DNF’s and broken bones don’t seem to be enough incentive for them to stay on the right side of the edge. It’s just a matter of time before there’s yet another death. But that’s what the fans want anyway. The danger and death are a huge attraction for the fan base despite what they say. MotoGP is like the Roman arena fights where “someone” had the possibility of loosing their lives.

  • Grant Madden

    No rider wants to crash.that’s just silly.You crash that’s points lost and championships are all about points.Crash and score no points and that in itself is penalty enough.How could you think about fining riders for crashing?Silly silly silly.If a rider feels he is fit enough to ride then that is his decision.Why is every one talking about riders causing accidents when they are not fit enough to ride?This sort of thing is such a rare event that it’s hardly worth considering, although, when Carl Foggerty crashed in Australia then announced his retirement it wasn’t till much later we found out he had some vision problems with his right eye,the side he hit the other rider with.But this is such a rare event it’s not worth making difficult laws to stop it happening.If the rider passes a fitness test then it is his or her choice whether to race or not and it seems to me,no one else would be in a better position to decide.More power to them for making such a difficult decision but as we can see,the riders have their stuff together and none of them want to crash or get injured ever,simple really.