Bradley Smith paid a high price for only his third fall of the year, when he suffered finger injuries at June's Catalunya MotoGP.

The Red Bull KTM rider's left hand was trapped under the handlebar during his free practice fall, making a gruesome mess of his little finger.

Although a skin graft was ultimately ruled out, the Englishman missed both the remainder of the Barcelona weekend and post-race test, before a comeback three-weeks later at Assen.

But by the eve of the summer break, at the Sachsenring, his fingers were far from fully recovered:

Smith, who rates his comeback from leg injuries at last year's Japanese MotoGP as the worst condition he has ridden in, admits knowing when to return is a difficult call to make for rider and team.

"What do you deem fit or unfit? Where do you set the line of what you can do? There are very few studies in terms of g-force and [strength] that needs to be applied on riders," he explained.

"Within football it's easy to see. They know the levels of what they need to be able to do, so until the player comes back to those levels they won't even put them in. Also that's because they've got ten other guys in the background that can do the job.

"So what is fit, what's unfit? If the rider is out there, riding around and being competitive, scoring some points then you might as well continue to ride. There isn't a whole bunch of people that can do what we do, so if you are 5-10% off your best, that's still maybe a lot better than someone else can do."

Nevertheless, Smith is pleased to see a tougher line being taken in terms of preventing riders making an early return from serious injuries and/or surgery.

"The nice and sensible thing is that more and more manufacturers are actually taking it upon themselves to make the decision over the rider [fitness] situation. Within the medical team as well I believe they are making stronger decisions, which is also important," he said.

"I really like the idea of what Suzuki did with Rins. They only brought him back when he was really ready to do so. I believe he could have got on a bike maybe two-three weekends earlier, but he only came back later and at a test, no pressure and so on.

"It seems that the stupid-ness has kind of gone out of it a little bit. Because especially someone like Jorge, those years ago, coming back and riding [a few days] after having his collarbone plated set a precedent for everyone.

"It set a precedent within teams, within journos, within riders; 'riders can come back straight away'. Injuries suck! They hurt. And riding these bikes is not easy.

"You are not yourself. You are always compensating for something," Smith added. "You think you can ride, but there is always something missing when you are injured.

"It feels good because you are out there, but in the grand scheme of things I've never seen anyone really injured actually come away with anything of benefit. That's why we made a decision like we did, as a team, in Barcelona and why we were unsure about Assen as well."

Smith has scored eight points for KTM, during the first half of their first MotoGP season.


By Peter McLaren



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