Keith Huewen: ‘Good guy’ Freddie Spencer’s position has become untenable

Yamaha’s statement criticising the FIM Stewards, Marc Marquez’s recovery, Ducati’s MotoE machine and listener questions dominate this week’s MotoGP podcast featuring Keith Huewen.
Loros Capirossi, Freddie Spencer, German MotoGP, 16 June
Loros Capirossi, Freddie Spencer, German MotoGP, 16 June

After discussing the huge 400,000-strong crowd for the Silverstone F1 race, and what would help MotoGP reach that kind of level, podcast host Harry Benjamin asks Huewen and MotoGP editor Pete McLaren about the ‘official statement’ from Yamaha heavily criticising Fabio Quartararo’s Long Lap penalty.

The MotoGP champion and title leader must serve the penalty at next month’s Silverstone round, after the FIM Stewards judged Quartararo had been ‘overly ambitious’ in causing the collision with Aleix Espargaro at Assen, when he ‘was not been in a position to successfully complete the move and subsequently crashed’.

Espargaro was forced off track, costing the Aprilia rider the chance of a podium. But he still fought back to fourth place and thus took 13 points out of Quartararo’s title lead after the Frenchman, already at the back of the field due to bike damage, fell for a second and final time.

While there had already been a chorus of rider criticism over penalty decisions this season, Assen was different in that Yamaha team management also became publicly involved.

Team manager Massimo Meregalli called Quartararo’s penalty ‘harsh’ and ‘inconsistent’ before an official statement on the matter was released by Yamaha Racing managing director Lin Jarvis on the Tuesday.

“We are disappointed to see the inequality with which penalties are applied by the FIM MotoGP Stewards panel,” Jarvis was quoted as saying.

The statement added that the team 'feel the FIM MotoGP Stewards panel is measuring the severity of race incidents with inconsistent, subjective standards… [which] damages the fairness of MotoGP and the faith in the Stewards‘ jurisdiction.

‘There have been at least three more serious race incidents in the MotoGP Class (resulting in riders retiring from the race and/or causing injuries) that were left unpunished.’

Jarvis added that Yamaha “wanted to raise the issue, as a matter of principle, with CAS (Court of Arbitration of Sport), but such a matter is not open to appeal. It is precisely for these reasons that correct, balanced, and consistent decisions should be taken by the Stewards in the first place and executed within the correct, reasonable time frame.”

Aleix Espargaro, Fabio Quartararo crash, Dutch MotoGP race, 26 June
Aleix Espargaro, Fabio Quartararo crash, Dutch MotoGP race, 26 June

'Dirty laundry in public is never a nice thing'

Former grand prix rider and British champion Huewen defended Spencer, as head of the three-strong FIM Stewards panel, but nonetheless feels that the level of sustained criticism means Spencer’s position has become untenable.

"Dirty laundry in public is never a nice thing, and we've got to a situation now where Lin Jarvis is getting involved in this manner,” Huewen said.

“We're dealing with high-powered smart people. And here we are having a mudslinging session in public, blaming the scapegoat that is Freddie Spencer, who is a legend and I will never disrespect Freddie Spencer.

“Freddie’s opinion is as valid as anybody else, even if he might err slightly more on the cause of an accident rather than the consequences of it, as you put it last week Pete.

“The cause of the accident - was that great enough to deserve a penalty? If you look at the consequences of the accident, no it wasn't. But the cause of it was that Quartararo was in hotter than Nakagami in Barcelona.

“But why do we need to be washing our laundry in public anyway? If they're not happy with the way that the FIM Stewards are operating, why are they not dealing with that behind the scenes in the correct manner?

“If they [the Stewards] are not good enough, they should get shot of them. Michael Masi made that call that cost Lewis Hamilton an F1 championship, or gave Verstappen a championship. Whatever you want to say about his decision, the fact was that quietly and behind the scenes they dealt with it, moved him to one side and it was sorted.

Fabio Quartararo, Dutch MotoGP race, 26 June
Fabio Quartararo, Dutch MotoGP race, 26 June

‘Someone will always have to make a decision’

“Something like that needs sorting here, but then you get back to the fundamental problem. Racing is racing. Do you turn around and say ‘OK you can ram it up the inside and knock people about and barge into people without any penalty? ‘

“There will always have to be a penalty. Someone will always have to make a judgement. It's not like the green paint [track limits] situation where you’ve got a sensor and if you go over it you get a warning.

“It's a situation where it's an opinion and it's always going to be an opinion. We can't get it covered clearly, from all angles, to scientifically analyse the data from the bike compared with the pictures we're seeing, we'd be there for a month trying to work it all out.

“It was clear that Quartararo came in hot, was a little wide, took out Espargaro. Should he have got a penalty for that? Probably, is my opinion. But my opinion is absolutely worthless, just like everybody else who is commentating on this at the moment.

“It's a situation where the call was made by the FIM Stewards. If you don't like the Stewards’ call then you need to change the system - if that's not seen as working for the teams, the riders and everybody else.

Lin Jarvis, Valencia MotoGP, 12 November
Lin Jarvis, Valencia MotoGP, 12 November

‘Freddie Spencer's position has become untenable’

“I agree that Freddie Spencer's position has become untenable now. And if I was Freddie Spencer I would resign, just on principle, given the fact that I don't appear to have the trust of the riders or the teams now,” Huewen continued.

“Once the big guns come out like Lin Jarvis and start lobbing great big grenades into it, you're done for, really.

“Let me add one more thing; nobody wants that job. When they got Freddie Spencer, I knew who the candidates were before and nobody wanted to do it. Nobody still wants to do it.

“It’s all very well using Freddie Spencer as a scapegoat. It's kind of like, he's the guy that we all love to hate for a decision that's been made by three men. And, widen it out, also by Dorna and IRTA, by giving the Stewards the powers that they have to make that decision.

“It’s a greater thing than Freddie Spencer, and that's what annoys me when people fire off at Freddie. Freddie is analytical. He's a good guy. He's not biased in any way shape or form. He's doing the job as best he can, given the situation that he finds himself in, and he makes a call.

“His call was that Quartararo overstepped the mark by enough to deserve a Long Lap penalty. He made the call that Nakagami made up lots of space off the grid by a good launch, but when he came into the corner he was braking in the same place as everyone else but still lost the front.

“Clearly still a mistake, but there was no overstretch if you like by Nakagami when he was at the corner. Anyone could have lost the front at that particular point in that particular circumstance, is how Freddie read it.

“It’s an impossible task [facing the FIM Stewards], a poison chalice - have a sip if you fancy it!

“If they paid me 20 times what Freddie is getting, I wouldn't be doing that job.”

Spencer on 1984 NSR500, Japanese MotoGP
Spencer on 1984 NSR500, Japanese MotoGP

‘Imagine the sleepless nights he's having’

“I think it’ll probably be Freddie’s last year as a Steward and, to be frank, I think he'd be bloody happy to be out of there.

“I mean, you can imagine the flak he's getting and the sleepless nights he's having over the whole thing. Personal insults to a guy that's used to adulation in the past. It's horrendous, absolutely horrendous, and unjustified in my view.

“Freddie Spencer is doing a job to the best of his ability. Clearly, some riders are unhappy with him. Some of the calls he's made they don't like - riders are never happy!

“But it's a situation that once it becomes inflamed and turns viral, especially with social media, you get a kind of campaign against an individual.

“Freddie Spencer wouldn't want to look at his Twitter feed or whatever it is for the amount of insults and stuff he's getting at the moment. It's like a big bully situation.

“Yes, if there is a problem with the Stewards let’s correct it, but it's bigger than three blokes sitting in an office at a racetrack.

“The question now is, what the sport is going to do to either replace the Stewards they've got or replace the system of penalties that they've got?

“You need consistency. That’s the main argument. I agree, the current system is not great, but how are we going to fix it? How are Dorna, IRTA and the teams going to come up with a better system?” MotoGP podcast with Keith Huewen MotoGP podcast with Keith Huewen

‘The problem is the Long Lap being dragged over to Silverstone’

Pete McLaren felt the Quartararo situation has been amplified by the fact the Long Lap penalty wasn’t given during the race itself and will instead be dragged over to Silverstone:

“One of the aims of splitting Race Direction away from the penalty side of things, by creating the FIM Stewards panel, was so that penalty decisions could be taken more quickly, ideally during the races where the incident occurred.

“That way, everything would be done and dusted and you could draw a line under it, rather than having a penalty carried over to the following event, as famously happened [under the old penalty points system] at Sepang 2015.

“But here we are still in that situation, where the Quartararo penalty was given two hours after the incident happened and so the punishment is now dragging over to the next race, in a month’s time.

“Quartararo retired 15 minutes after the Espargaro incident so maybe there simply wasn’t time during the race. But if Quartararo had been given the Long Lap to serve at Assen, the Stewards would have made their point that it was something they felt should be punished, while in reality, Quartararo was already so far back it wouldn’t have really mattered.

“Now, it almost feels like a double punishment, because Quartararo has already lost a load of points at Assen and now he’s going to have to do the Long Lap penalty at Silverstone on top of that as well.”

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