Ukraine a factor in MotoGP freight delay, 'wait and see' for Saturday

As of Thursday evening, a plane full of MotoGP freight travelling from the previous Indonesian round to this weekend's Argentine event remained parked 11,000km away in Mombasa, Kenya.
Gigi Dall'Igna, Carmelo Ezpeleta, Argentinian MotoGP, 31 March 2022
Gigi Dall'Igna, Carmelo Ezpeleta, Argentinian MotoGP, 31 March 2022

Friday's track action has already been cancelled as a result but the lengthy freight journey remaining, requiring stops in Lagos and Brazil, means the clock is ticking on whether the revised two-day schedule can begin on Saturday morning.

Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta said that if the plane - grounded due to a technical fault - can be repaired and take off by around 8pm (Argentina) on Thursday, the freight should arrive at the Termas de Rio Hondo circuit late on Friday.

That would allow mechanics just enough time to work through the night preparing bikes and constructing pit boxes for the new Saturday morning start.

Carmelo Ezpeleta Dorna CEO, MotoGP, Argentinian MotoGP 31 March 2022
Carmelo Ezpeleta Dorna CEO, MotoGP, Argentinian MotoGP 31 March 2022

"Last Wednesday, we sent [five] different flights from Lombok to Argentina, and one of the flights had a problem in Mombasa," Ezpeleta said. "Then we took the decision to send back another flight, that had already arrived in Argentina, to Lombok, to bring the last of the freight here to Argentina.

"We did that, but unfortunately this flight also had a technical problem, in Mombasa again, and has not been able to take off.

"It was supposed to leave yesterday to arrive today, but the problem was bigger. Then we were obliged to ask the company to send parts, apparently the problem is do with valves in one of the four engines.

"Theoretically these valves should be arriving soon and if everything goes well, around 8:30pm this evening the flight will depart in time to start the new schedule prepared for Saturday."

But many in the paddock have serious doubts about whether the missing plane will be able to meet that deadline.

"First of all we have to wait to see if we can ride on Saturday, because still we don’t know for sure if the flight will arrive tomorrow night," said Ducati's Francesco Bagnaia. "We have to understand if we can ride or not."

If the plane is significantly delayed beyond the 8pm target time then it's likely that the revised track schedule, currently only missing FP4, will be further reduced. But the race cannot be postponed from Sunday to Monday, for example, due to the US round taking place next weekend.

Ukraine crisis means lack of alternative flights

Ezpeleta added that MotoGP's freight problem has been compounded by the lack of alternative flights due to the war in Ukraine.

"Many of the flights for freight are from Russian companies. All these flights are forbidden right now [due to sanctions], then we lose almost 20% of flights available in the world," Ezpeleta said.

"The problem is that there are not other flights available to use in this moment. We've been trying to solve the problem since last Wednesday. So we don't have any other solution than to wait for the valves to arrive to repair the flight in Mombasa and be lucky to arrive here [in time]."

'Something we need to accept. It's part of the game'

The freight issue has prompted some to question how the MotoGP calendar is arranged, with the journey from Lombok to Termas de Rio Hondo the longest of the season.

Ezpeleta believes the weekend off in-between should have been sufficient.

"Maybe we need to reconsider and think more when it's a back-to-back race. But this time it was not, there was a week gap in the middle. Then unfortunately we cannot solve the situation to avoid this problem," he said.

"This will be the 499th Grand Prix we organised, and thank God it's the first time we have had this problem. And to be honest, considered overall, it's not good but we need to be prepared to accept these kind of things.

"Our main objective today is to make a race in Argentina, and to continue making a race in Austin next week.

"The only thing we can do is to make the best possible efforts to try to solve the situation. But this is something we need to accept, exactly the same as the weather or other things. It's part of the game.

"But I always say, making the calendar is always one of the more difficult duties we have due to the number of races, because the interest in MotoGP is very big, and the number of races Formula 1 has, trying to not be on the same weekend."

Empty Pit box, Argentinian MotoGP, 31 March 2022
Empty Pit box, Argentinian MotoGP, 31 March 2022

'Just one is enough to postpone things'

Not all teams have been affected equally by the delayed freight. Some have nearly all of their bikes and equipment in place while others have next to nothing.

"There are some tyres, some things for Gresini and VR46, some things for Ducati. There are different things [missing]," Ezpeleta said. "But it is clear, we need to provide everybody with the same conditions. Just one [team missing freight] is enough to postpone things."

Marco Bezzecchi, MotoGP, Indonesian MotoGP, 17 March 2022
Marco Bezzecchi, MotoGP, Indonesian MotoGP, 17 March 2022

'We have nothing, the work is massive' - one bike per rider?

Riders from two of the worst affected teams, Gresini and VR46, don’t even have helmets or leathers, let alone bikes. And when the machinery does finally arrive, the new-look teams face the added hurdle of being relatively unfamiliar with working on the Desmosedici.

"Nothing. We have zero flight cases. Unfortunately, we are one of the five or six teams that doesn't have anything," confirmed VR46 rookie Marco Bezzecchi.

"It will be very hard also for the mechanics because the amount of work is massive. Especially with the Ducati that is a complicated bike and also we are a rookie team.

"So all the mechanics need a little bit more time, it's normal. For them it will be very hard. I hope they can have maybe the possibility to make just one bike."

Jack Miller expects his factory Ducati mechanics to lend a hand.

"We've been rather fortunate, we're just missing basically the [pit] box itself, the panels," Miller said. "We've received both motorcycles and enough tools to work on the bikes and get them prepared.

"When the other teams like VR and Gresini receive their material, I think our mechanics should be able to go over and give those guys a bit of a hand.

"It's not like you just pull the bike out of the crate and go. There's a lot of work that goes into preparing these machines every weekend. It would be a big job for those guys to do. So I think our mechanics should be able to lend them a hand."

Should time still prove too tight in terms of preparing both bikes for each rider, Bezzecchi hopes that MotoGP will step in and restrict all competitors to one machine each.

"I would like to be equal with all the other teams. Maybe if one team decides they have two bikes I hope they give us a bit more time to prepare, or if they decide one bike for everyone," he said.

Even so, the revised schedule will still hit rookies the hardest.

"For sure for a rookie to make all [free practice and qualifying] in one day will be a little bit more difficult compared to an experienced rider," said Bezzecchi. "But we can't complain because it's like this for everyone."

Track, Argentinian MotoGP, 31 March 2022
Track, Argentinian MotoGP, 31 March 2022

'Less laps, more dirt'

The reduced running will also mean the 'dirty' Termas track won't be as clean as it would have been by the race.

"I made a track walk yesterday and it's really dirty," said Pramac Ducati's Jorge Martin. "Less time and less laps means it will be difficult to clean. So the times will be slower. But it will be the same for everybody.

"I don't think it'll be like Indonesia. I think it will be better than that, but anyway this track is always really dirty and it will be difficult to overtake for sure."

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