Last Sunday's Argentina MotoGP saw a scary accident in pit lane, during the mandatory mid-race bike swaps.
Alvaro Bautista lost control of his Aprilia as he headed towards the team members holding his second bike, the Spaniard's sliding RS-GP then striking one of his mechanics (see video below):
“I was braking and went from the asphalt to the damp cement and there was nothing I could do to keep from hitting the mechanic that was waiting to take my bike,” Bautista said.
Asked in Texas on Thursday what could be done to help avoid such situations, race winner Marc Marquez explained: “For me yeah it's dangerous but it's like in Formula 1, in the past many incidents but they improve. And obviously on the bike the flag-to-flag is a special case, if it starts to rain or like in Argentina [due to tyres].
“Maybe reducing the [pit lane] speed can be a good option. But then riders will complain that we are losing too much time. If in the end it is for the safety, I think one [option] is this.”
As Marquez highlighted, the problem with reducing the pit lane speed limit (currently 60km/h) is that in the case of a normal flag-to-flag race - where it is purely up to the rider to decide if they want to pit due to the weather conditions - the time lost during a bike change will be greater.
That in turn mean riders are more likely to stay out, for example, while using slick tyres in the rain.
"And another thing is to have less people in pit lane would be better, because sometimes you come in and there are many people. That can be dangerous too,” Marquez added.
Valentino Rossi, runner-up to Marquez last Sunday, said of the Bautista incident:
“For sure when you stay in the pit it is always dangerous, also in Formula 1 a lot of times this happens; the driver makes some mistake and takes out a mechanic unfortunately.
“I saw the video and I don't know if Bautista braked too deep, or maybe in front of his box was wet... maybe he arrived a little bit too fast. I think going slower in the pit lane can be an idea, to be more safe.”
World champion Jorge Lorenzo has never been a fan of flag-to-flag racing, which was introduced to solve the chaos to live TV schedules caused by stopping and restarting races due to changing weather.
“Personally I'm not a big fan of flag-to-flag. I prefer the rules from before. But you know in terms of television and this kind of thigs it's the best [option], so we have to find the compromise and solutions to get down the risk. In this case not only for the riders but also the mechanics,” he said.
“Especially also the riders don't know what the rider behind you is going to do. Which speed they are going, where in pit lane they will be stopping and changing the bike. We need to work to reduce the risk because it looks like this rule will stay in future.”
Marquez was embroiled in a close battle with Rossi until Sunday's bike swap, after which the Italian struggled to get the same feeling from his second bike. Rossi dropped 7.7s behind the Honda rider and would have been left off the podium had Ducati team-mates Andrea Iannone and Andrea Dovizioso not collided at the penultimate turn.
Given his issues with the second bike, would Rossi prefer to change wheels instead?
“Can have some good, some bad. First of all it is quite expensive I think to change tyres, but you can take the technology from the Suzuka 8 Hours. For sure the bikes would be a bit different with all the systems to change the wheels in a fast way. But you can have a problem anyway and I think this way [now] is not so bad.”
Marquez also feels that swapping the entire bike is safer:
“Flag-to-flag is really difficult to understand for the riders, but for me it will be more dangerous to change the tyres. Because if there is some technical problem like we see with the wheels [coming loose] sometimes in Formula 1, I cannot imagine… For me this flag-to-flag system is the best one. We discussed it last year. Just we must manage the safety in the pits.”
Argentina was only the second time that bike swaps have been compulsory during a MotoGP race. The first occasion was at Phillip Island in 2013, also due to safety concerns with the then Bridgestone tyres.
By Peter McLaren
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