5 February 2016
MotoGP makes changes to Race Direction role
“We want to let [Race Direction] be free to manage the race but not to involve them anymore with the task of penalising riders”
The first regulation changes in response to last year's end-of-season MotoGP controversy have been agreed.
At a meeting of the Grand Prix Commission - comprising FIM, Dorna, MSMA and IRTA - it was decided that a new panel of stewards will be set up to rule on any rider punishments.
This panel will not contain any members from Dorna, which is seeking to remove itself from the process.
“After the incident of last year, we as Dorna decide not to be involved in the committee who put the penalties on the riders for any infringement of the sporting code during the race,” Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta told MotoGP.com.
Instead the new panel will comprise of Race Director Mike Webb, plus two more stewards from the FIM.
“We decided to separate the duties and tasks of Race Direction and the judges, the panel of stewards,” said FIM president Vito Ippolito. “We want to let Race Direction focus on managing the races because there are a lot of responsibilities and delicate matters to do.
“We want to let them be free to manage the race but not to involve them anymore with the task of penalising riders. It needs more time and special dedication.
“We will have the panel of stewards with three stewards, one will be the Race Director themselves because they will be there throughout the season and Grands Prix. It will be the current Race Director who is Mike Webb and two more stewards from the FIM.
“One of them possibly also a permanent steward as we think with this structure, with this panel of stewards completely dedicated to judge the behaviour of riders during the races and practice, we can achieve a very high level of decisions.”
MotoGP Race Direction is comprised of Mike Webb (IRTA), Franco Uncini (FIM) and Javier Alonso (Dorna), with Loris Capirossi as the riders' representative and expert advisor.
Although Ippolito's comment that penalising riders "needs more time and special dedication" could be taken as suggesting mistakes have been made, sources within Race Direction are certain that the correct procedure and punishment was given following the Sepang incident between Valentino Rossi and Marc Marquez.
However, Dorna appears to have been stung by the insinuation that as a Spanish company, with one member inside Race Direction, they were in a position to influence the process for nationalistic reasons.
Marc Marquez and Jorge Lorenzo are indeed Spanish, but it is hard to see from a pure business perspective - Dorna holds the commercial rights to MotoGP - why Dorna would not prefer Valentino Rossi, the most famous motorcycle racer of all time, as world champion.
Either way, those that work with Alonso insist he has never shown any sign of favouritism and adopts a calm, pragmatic approach inside Race Direction.
The issue of perception aside, the new panel should increase the chances of a quick decision on any infringements and therefore more riders are likley to be punished during the actual race. The fact that Rossi's punishment was served at the next (and final) grand prix is felt to have been a significant factor in the uproar.
But it is a double-edged sword, since there is no chance to appeal a punishment once it has been served during a race, such as a ride-through or disqualification.
The only time a regulation was judged to have been broken by Rossi or Marquez during the last three rounds of 2015 was when Rossi deliberately forced Marquez wide at Sepang. The incident ended with Marquez on the ground, but after a thorough post-race examination of the TV footage, plus interviews with both riders, Race Direction found no evidence to prove Rossi had kicked Marquez.
However the relentless series of passes between the pair prior to the incident (and obvious tension following Rossi's Thursday allegations that Marquez was assisting Lorenzo) was seen as unusual and taken into account in determining Rossi's punishment.
Race Direction's decision was unanimous: Rossi was handed three penalty points, which resulted in a back of the grid start at the Valencia finale. The decision was later upheld by the FIM Stewards after Rossi's Yamaha team lodged an appeal.
Rossi went on to lose the title to team-mate Lorenzo. The whole saga, regardless of who was to blame, brought a bitter end to what had been a thrilling season, with Dorna and the FIM declaring that 'changes would be made' even before Valencia.
In terms of Rossi's allegation that Marquez was assisting Lorenzo in the closing rounds, those we have asked said the only way such a scenario would lead to a punishment is if it broke the same article 1.21.2 rule ("Riders must ride in a responsible manner which does not cause danger to other competitors or participants") that Rossi was charged with. The same applies to the frequent scenario of a rider trying to help a team-mate.
In terms of the type of punishments to be handed out by the new panel, Ippolito stated that continued use of the penalty points system (under which all punishments occur at the following round) is “under discussion”.
In other news, the Grand Prix Commission also decided to make tyre pressure sensors compulsory following the frightening accident for Loris Baz at Tuesday's Sepang test, possibly caused by low tyre pressure.
“From the first grand prix of this year, we'll have tyre pressure sensors in the tyre. The system to do this will be proposed by the MSMA members in Phillip Island and this issue is something to resolve immediately,” Ezpeleta said.
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