MotoGP Race Director Mike Webb has explained the reasoning behind Freddie Spencer’s appointment as the Chairman of the FIM Stewards Panel for 2019, stating the respect commanded by the American will compliment the experience and understanding of racing incidents that he brings to the role.

During the Japanese Grand Prix it was announced that Spencer will head the three-man Panel from the start of next year, replacing Webb, who has had to juggle his duties there along with his role as Race Director since the Panel was created at the start of 2016.

The Stewards Panel is responsible for the penalties handed out to riders for incidents during practice, qualifying and racing. The FIM rules state "...issues requiring further analysis of actions, including any incidences of dangerous riding, will be reviewed by the Stewards who will exclusively be responsible for issuing any sanctions and penalities on those matters."

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As Webb put it, the role now requires more work due to the sheer number of incidents that need reviewing across a race weekend.

This is a consequence of the current high level of competition across all three classes. “Everyone is fighting for every millimetre of track and so the discipline side becomes more and more,” said Webb. “The workload is enormous.” The Panel’s decisions came under great scrutiny from the MotoGP field after the Grand Prix of Argentina, when Marc Marquez was handed a thirty second penalty for various misdemeanours across a drama-packed race.

Riders have welcomed Spencer’s appointment. Aleix Espargaro described it as a “brilliant move” and said, “There was almost an applause in the Safety Commission when they told us” about the two-time 500cc world champion’s new role. Many have wished to see an ex-rider on the three-man panel for some time, so they can relate to an incident, or better understand a rider’s point of view.

Bradley Smith went even further. In his eyes the current Stewards Panel does “not look at any racing incident or anything with any understanding of what a rider thinks, or where a rider would position themselves, what they’re doing, what the situation is.”

The Englishman was critical of its decision not to penalise Stefan Bradl after a first-lap incident at the Czech Grand Prix, which saw the German take him and Maverick Viñales out of the race with a rash move.

Webb, the rest of the panel, IRTA and Dorna has been aware of the need to have an ex-rider among the stewards for some time. “We’ve been trying to be consistent and fair, logical and reasoned,” said Webb. “That’s a big part of it. But if you can have all of that and some star status that helps.”

Crash.net spoke to Webb on Thursday to discuss the appointment further. 

Crash.net:
So Spencer’s appointment was to ease your workload as you’ve been juggling your job as Race Director and member of the Stewards Panel…

Mike Webb:
“It’s like everything: over the years it becomes more and more complex. As time goes on and there are more regulations… Honestly the real root cause of it is the competition, and how close it all is.

“Everyone is fighting for every millimetre of track and so the discipline side becomes more and more plus the race direction side becomes more and more. It used to be possible to do both roles reasonably well and it’s getting to the point when you can’t do both properly. We had to split the roles to allow me to continue focussing only on Race Direction.

Crash.net:
What will Freddie’s role be?

Mike Webb:
“The way the regulation is, in writing it says the Chairman has a casting vote in case of a tie. But there are three members of the panel so that basically doesn’t happen. In reality it comes down to a group discussion, a unanimous decision and then that decision is presented. Officially, according to the rules, he could have a casting vote if there are only two people, which they can do. Most often, or the vast majority of the time, it will be a group opinion.

“The thing with Freddie is we were specifically looking for an ex-rider, if that was possible. And a certain level of common sense, and all that goes along with it. One of the things we look for in that role is someone that has GP racing experience, someone who can understand what’s going on out on track and see it from the point of view of a professional. That helps a lot with the decisions.”

Crash.net:
Did the fact Freddie is still closely involved in the sport help your decision to appoint him?

Mike Webb:
“That helps a lot. We go through quite a list of riders and of the ones that are what we consider suited to the job and available, some of them are long retired… There are a number of factors and one of them is that Freddie is still involved. His analysis and things he’s been doing recently, he’s clearly up to date and on the ball as far as that goes. Part of it is he’s so recognised that one of the things that will be a big plus if Freddie is there telling a rider something is wrong, it will be quite different to me standing there telling a rider. So that’s a big plus.”

“Me and the stewards do the job and I’m proud of how we’ve been doing it. We’ve been trying to be consistent and fair, logical and reasoned. That’s a big part of it. But if you can have all of that and some star status that helps.”

Crash.net:
After the three-way crash at Jerez Dani Pedrosa criticised you for not attending his meeting with the Stewards Panel. You, however, were busy with your role as Race Director during the second Red Bull Rookies race. I suppose this appointment will ensure such incidents don’t reoccur…

Mike Webb:
“I’m Race Director. In that instance Dani was upset with me because I did not leave the race I was directing to go and talk to him. What I did do, just to be clear on that, was ask the stewards to please go and talk to Dani and tell them that I would be out at the conclusion of the race. By the time the race had finished he decided he didn’t want to talk to us anymore and that was that. I fully intended to see him, but he had to wait until the end of the race. That’s a situation that isn’t good. Moving to Freddie turning up and having the stewards available, that doesn’t have to happen anymore. A hearing can be held when it needs to be held. They can speak to riders when they need to regardless of what’s happening in race control.”

Crash.net:
Did rider feedback mainly inspire this appointment?

Mike Webb:
There’s been quite a long discussion specifically between the current group of stewards, IRTA that represent the teams, and Dorna as to what we wanted, who we wanted, and there’s a relatively small list of people to go through. It was presented to the riders’ Safety Commission and they were all in agreement. So we’re really happy with the decision.

Crash.net:
As you said earlier, this Panel and an authority within is necessary because there are more incidents nowadays due to the racing being so close…

Mike Webb:
That’s exactly it. The competition is so high. I always go back to when I started even getting an interest in racing. It was 70s Grand Prix racing when I was taking an interest. I was working for a guy, Ginger Malloy, a New Zealand rider who was second in the world championship in 1970. A guy who was second to Agostini in the world championship, and the race winning margins at that time were between two and three minutes. They were never fighting over the same piece of track, whereas now it’s quite different. It means there are a lot more incidents to judge. Everyone is after the last millimetre of track and the world we live in, it’s litigious. People are looking for rules on everything. The workload is enormous.

 

Rider Feedback

Aleix Espargaro:
“Very happy. Very, very happy. There was almost an applause in the Safety Commission when they told us. Everybody was very happy. I don’t know any rider that is happy this year with decisions of somebody of the FIM stewards. We were asking and pushing to improve that area and once again Dorna did a great move. He’s a rider with a lot of experience. Apart from this he’s like a legend. So also for Moto3 and the young guys, he’ll be really imposing. When he makes the meeting with, for example the Moto3 guys, to say they won’t stop on the track. It’s not the same than if I did it, or if some FIM steward did it. I think it’s a brilliant move.

“Sometimes this season, a couple of times at the Sachsenring and another track – I don’t remember where – we went for a meeting for some penalty for some reason and I was in shock. They were explaining something I couldn’t believe. I mean, showing me some videos and trying to explain some lines that were impossible to talk about with them. The last time I went there I just said, ‘OK, OK, OK,’ and I left…

“It’s very important to have an ex-rider who knows what happens when the bike moves, who knows what happens when somebody touches you from the side or from behind. It’s very important. We had the feeling they didn’t know what they were doing this year.”

Bradley Smith:
“I heard Freddie work and do some commentary and I don’t remember what it was…He’s still super switched on. Listening to his viewpoints, he still knows what’s going on in this world. He’s clearly been following it and has a good understanding.

“That’s one thing that is completely missing at the moment with any of the guys inside of that group of people making decisions. They do not look at any racing incident or anything with any understanding of what a rider thinks, or where a rider would position themselves, what they’re doing, what the situation is.

“I mean, 90% of riders could call a situation without even looking at data because they know body position, body language and position on track – that kind of thing. I believe they can call it. I don’t get that impression with the current guys. Anyone with any sort of racing knowledge is going to do a better job and I believe that after listening to Freddie and, everything he has done, and recently, his understanding of racing, is going to be a very good addition to the whole championship.

“Safety is always paramount in our world and making sure that riders are behaving in the right way and stewards make the right decisions on certain things is always crucial so it’s a topic that comes up not every weekend. It’s something that’s criticised, let’s say, and it’s just another step for Dorna to improve that.”

Andrea Dovizioso:
“I think [it’s a good move]. We will see. They tell us in the Safety Commission and everybody was happy. I hope so. It can help. It can help in some ways.”

 

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