2018 Austin MotoGP Thursday Round Up: Handling Shenanigans

The announcement that the official MotoGP.com website were to stream the Thursday media debriefs of Marc Márquez and Valentino Rossi live raised some hackles in the paddock. The objections to the move differed with the interests of those complaining. The print media complained that there was no point in flying half the way around the world to cover the series if everything was going to be streamed live anyway. Rival factories complained that the media debriefs of their riders were not being streamed live. Some fans and journalists complained that by showing the debriefs, Dorna were merely fanning the flames, where they should be trying to calm the situation down.

In the end, there wasn't much of a situation to calm down. Sure, the media debriefs of Márquez and Rossi were streamed live. But both men went out of their way not to say anything of interest. The feud lives on, but we didn't notice because we lost interest in what the protagonists were saying about halfway through. There is much to be said for trite media speak.

To an extent, this is probably a good thing. Aleix Espargaro, whose media debrief really should have been streamed live, as it was a great deal more entertaining than all the other rider press conferences put together, pointed out the irony of the situation. "Everybody is talking about the Argentina clash and nobody is talking about the tarmac of America, which is more important!" the factory Aprilia rider complained.

Tire troubles

Espargaro has a point. There are serious concerns about the way the circuit has attempted to remove the bumps. The approach taken had been to try to smooth the bumps by grading off a large section of the surface. That may have created more problems than it solved. For a start, the work had done nothing to remove the bumps, Espargaro said. "I did a lot of laps with the bicycle and for me [they did] nothing. It was one of the worst tracks for the bumps. Sincerely, I did laps with the bicycle and for me there is no difference, but we will see tomorrow in FP1, which is important."

What is worse is that the removal process appears to have created a lot of fine grooves on the track surface. The big fear is that the track will cause excessive wear on the tires. If the surface is as abrasive as Michelin and Dunlop fear, it is hard to see how three normal races can be run at the Circuit of the Americas. Extraordinary measures may be needed. We could see compulsory pit stops once again. If the wear is really bad, even compulsory pit stops won't be enough to save the race. The work having been done only in the first week of April, neither Michelin nor Dunlop have had an opportunity to actually test what effect the new surface will have.

All that is speculation, at the moment. As Espargaro said, we will see tomorrow in FP1. Only once bikes are on track will we see how they are affected. The Moto3 bikes, with their narrow tires, may have problems with the grooves making the bikes harder to turn. The fatter tires on the Moto2 and MotoGP bikes are likely to get ripped up quite quickly as they roll across the grain through the turns. Or it may all turn out just fine, the tires more than capable of handling the conditions.

The Safety Commission and Race Direction will have to make a decision fairly quickly on Friday evening. Heavy rain is expected to fall on Saturday, making figuring out how much the slick tires will wear rather difficult. The Austin race is shrouded in uncertainty even before the riders have turned a wheel.


But back to the post-Argentina shenanigans, or perhaps the Argentina shenanigans. The events of that race had thrown up a lot of talking points, and despite having had ten days away to try to forget about the whole affair, the start procedure and Marc Márquez' wild ride through the field. First, there was the strange start after everyone bar Jack Miller went into the pits to swap wets for slicks. Then there was Marc Márquez stalling on the grid and then jumping off and restarting.

HRC had identified the problem which had caused him to stall his RC213V, Márquez said. "It was like something on the gearbox with the dashboard, something electronic there," he told his press conference. "It happened to Cal in practice but they didn't consider, they thought it was just a mistake."

Did he know that the rules said that he had to raise his hand and wait if he stalled his bike on the grid? "I know that you to raise your hand," Márquez explained. "But when you are there on the grid and raise your hand for two seconds more or less, for a rider it's like four seconds. And I didn’t see anybody coming. So then I start to run to be as quick as possible to the pits."

The wrong rules

Márquez revealed that he had been heading for the pits when his bike restarted, after which there had been some confusion with the IRTA officials who had leaped over the wall and in among the riders to try to shepherd Márquez off. "I was going on the pits because there we have the [starter] machine with the mechanic, but I tried and the engine ran," Márquez said. "And then was a big confusion with Race Direction, with IRTA, because also in the past it was possible to start the engine again and come to back to your grid position."

This was not the correct procedure. The rules are clear on what should have happened: Márquez should have put his hand up and waited for a marshal to see it and respond. I asked in the press conference if the riders knew what they were supposed to do in such a case. "You put your hand up and wait for someone to push you off the grid," Cal Crutchlow replied, before pointing out that practice is very different from what is supposed to happen in theory. "I know you have never sat on a MotoGP grid," Crutchlow continued, "but it's not as easy as that, because you want to be in that race, you will do what you do at that time, and nothing will stop you. It's difficult to get off the grid with your adrenaline going, with the lights about to go out."

There was a much stronger reaction to a question whether Race Direction were to blame for the mess which happened in Argentina, and whether a change was needed because of their mistake. Jack Miller piped up as spokesman for the riders. "For me, Race Direction did the best thing they could do under those circumstances," he said. "It was like dominoes, once one rider left, everybody left, and Race Direction were put under immense pressure."

Remember Simoncelli

There was less leniency as far as behavior on track was concerned. More clarity and more control was needed over what the limits of acceptable behavior was, was the general consensus in the press conference, but Jack Miller pointed out that Race Direction needed to get a grip on what was going on off track as well. "I think they need to control the fighting a little bit better inside the paddock. I mean we are here to race motorcycles and we're here to fight, but the fight should generally try to stay on track and not so much in the media," Miller told the press conference.

"There are a lot of people coming, especially journalists, trying to get you to say something and I think it's not the correct way," the Australian continued. "I understand everybody is looking for a great story, but sometimes it's not the right way and it's bending the truth and making other people look bad. The fighting I think should stay more on the track and of course, as riders, we need to be careful about what we say because words can be twisted as we’ve seen many times before and a lot of things that maybe have been said, maybe were not meant."

Johann Zarco was very blunt in his assessment of the situation. "We are touching two gods," Zarco pointed out. "We have Vale, who is the first god, and now Marc is becoming this other god because he is doing incredible things. So he got the penalty in Argentina and got no points. This is maybe the worst thing for him about the race, but if we remember in 2015 in Malaysia, for sure it was a strange race but Vale kicked Marc and what was the penalty?"

The penalty imposed on Rossi after Sepang 2015 had not matched the crime, Johann Zarco continued. "Casey Stoner said normally it would be a black flag but he finished the race I think on the podium and they say, like to have a political solution, 'okay you start from last in Valencia'. But knowing his speed for sure he will finish fourth." Trying to ensure equal punishment for equal crimes was hard, especially among such big names, Zarco said.

Jack Miller interjected to remind Zarco and the press conference just how badly such overhyped rivalries can end. "I'm seeing this situation unfolding with a lot of people picking sides and I just want to refresh people's memory of Marco Simoncelli and Dani Pedrosa and how that ended," Miller chided. "We are all here racing and risking our lives and I think for these fans to pick sides and fight against each other - and also riders to fight against each other - I think it's quite silly and immature. They are quite old and they have to remember that life is short and we are risking our lives here."

Meanwhile, further from the front

Aleix Espargaro was the most vocal about the entire situation, most of all because he felt that there was a lot of focus on the clash between Rossi and Márquez, but no attention being paid to the clashes and bashes further down the field. "In the Safety Commission, I will say everything," Espargaro said. "Actually I printed all the actions of Danilo Petrucci over the last three years because it's a disaster. Every race is like this. I talked also with Aspar mechanics and he hit very hard Abraham in corner one in Argentina and Abraham went out of the track. So every race he hits one or other rider. I've printed all the actions where he hit somebody and made him crash and I will ask why, never ever, has he not been penalized?"

What was an even worse example was what happened with Aron Canet in Moto3, Espargaro point out. "I don't know who is putting the penalties," Espargaro proclaimed. "I don’t know how they penalize. I don't know why they penalize sometimes or not. Why was Canet not penalized on Friday in Argentina? He was fully going to crash this guy and got zero penalty. So I don’t understand the job of these Stewards."

Actually penalizing riders was a mark of respect for the other riders, Espargaro said. "The flags have to be there to be used. The blue flag they show when someone is faster than you, the yellow flag for the crash, the black flag for a really hard action. So if we have the black flag we have to use it. And Marc knows perfectly because I talked with him and he knows he did enough to get the black flag. So why 30-seconds penalty? If we have the black flag we have to use it, if not we remove. For the rest of the riders I think we deserve a bit more respect, so in my opinion the black flag is maybe more respectful to the rest of the grid."

Márquez had at least phoned Espargaro on three separate occasions to apologies for hitting him, the Gresini Aprilia rider said. "Marc called me immediately after the race and was ten minutes saying 'sorry, sorry, sorry'. I cannot kill him. I was angry with Marc, obviously very angry, and I said to him, 'mate, big, big mistake'. And he said to me three times, 'sorry. I'm very sorry. I made a very bad calculation. I think I was more aggressive with you than with Valentino. I'm very sorry.'"

Contrition is very nice, of course, but it has to be heartfelt enough to actually engender change in the protagonists. The proof of the pudding, of whether the FIM Panel of Stewards has administered a sufficiently strong penalty to Marc Márquez to change his way of going about racing will only be visible once the flag drops again, when Márquez has to fight his way to the front. Only then will we see if any of this makes any difference.

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Dorna have been incredibly shameless in the handling of this conflict.  I’m a MotoGP subscriber and to be getting notifications on my iPad repeatedly bringing the clash up and promoting the press conferences of Valentino and Marquez is quite distasteful.

David, do you ever talk to any of the Dorna staff?  Could you tell them that many of your supporters find it distasteful?  I feel writing to them would get lost in the wash.

if anything can be done to tell DORNA that shamelessly bringing drama up is wrong, I'm in. And  A.Esparagaro is right. Nobody talked about the race or track conditions or whatever strictly related to the race we are waiting for. 

As I told David, the most interesting point for me was to see how are organized Riders media debrief. I was surprised to discover how short they are and how PR officers are controlling operations. 



furthuring the very situation he disparages.

Look, the circus is entertaining because it has three rings. There's the technical ring; there's the competitive ring; and there's the soap-opera ring.

The plain and simple fact is, you opened the MotoGP e-missives. Apparently, you were not alone, or email updates of the feud would have ceased after a certain point.

Here's the big question: If you received the same number of emails from MotoGP, but they'd all been about technical aspects of the bike, would you have opened and read them? C'mon, now, really? All of them? Okay, maybe you and the other commenters on this site would have, and loved it. But you do realize we comprise about 1% of what is already a pretty small slice of the the motorsports pie, right? And that the rest of the pie loves soap-opera stuff?

Dorna should do some tests, if it hasn't already. Send out email blasts about technical subjects, and see how much response they get versus the soap-opera stuff.

Bottom line: In order to keep us coming back to the Big Top, MotoGP sends us stories about what's happening in the three rings between stops on the tour. The thing is, the manufacturers keep a giant lid on information about the technical ring, so there's really nothing new to talk about there. And there's nothing new to talk about from the competitive ring until the actual competition takes place, and that only happens three out of every fourteen or twenty-one days, and even then only for a couple of hours each day. So, unless we want to keep rehashing, what, lap times? Sector times? Finishing order? Brilliant passes? Brilliant saves? there's nothing left to talk about there.

Therefore, MotoGP--and we fans--are left with only the soap opera ring to occupy the majority of our time. And guess what: whether you're avidly consuming it or rabidly fighting it, it is occupying your time. Which, after all, is the very point of professional sports--entertainment. (Do yourself a favor and look up the actual definition of "entertainment." Hint: "entertain" means, among other things, "to engage the attention of....")

Eskothomson, You misunderstand.  I get notifications, from the MotoGP ap, not email.  And I wasn’t clicking on them to check them out and thus alerting Dorna to my viewing preferences.  In fact I purposefully didn’t watch the Rossi/Marquez presser’s as I didn’t want to add to that statistic.  But I obviously open the MotoGP ap because that is the portal to the content.
As for your example of technical content.  I watch every episode of the feature “shows” they run in the video content section.  Tech-talk, After the flag, Off-Track (actually one of my Fav, Mat Dunn does a great job, they should use him more than just in Moto3/2 practice sessions). So, if they sent an ap notification that promoted one of those shows ready to watch, I most likely would click on it.

In fact it would be good if the tech videos were open to discussion as Dylan Gray got one of the core aspects of the brake adjuster completely wrong in one of his vids last year and it would have been great to ask questions.

,While he sits and pontificates about others, he got away really lightly for what he did for Pedrosa. It does not matter that there was water when Pedrosa accelerated, the fact was that he was pushed there by an idiotic move from Zarco trying to put his bike where there was no space. 

Yes Marc needs to be censured, but I think people like Zarco and Petrucci are no lesser gods when it comes to getting away with stupid moves.

thank you David for the report.

Dorna and its circus are incompetent at best and partners in crime at worse. The live streaming of the two riders press conference was a bad call, and proves that they are desperate for controversy rather than fairness. And you cannot have in the same week Ippolito playing the schoolteacher asking the "kids" to behave while the announcement of the live press conference is being promoted as if it were the Ali v. Foreman last combat. Funny how Ippolito did not spend one word on the blatant incompetence of Race Direction at the start of the race... It all looks like a very bad farcical B Movie... And you're right, some words of excuse once the damage is done - intentionally done I add, once it's a mistake, but many times in a row, it's not - don't mean anything if the behaviour on track doesn't change... we'll see.

I'm really curious to see what's gonna happen in a couple of hours on the track, given the different reports it seems that no Michelin will stand the abrasion, and that Dani will try to race : I do hope he'll be able to have an almost normal race weekend..... but who cares when we have so much drama off the track, right ?



— let’s not bring up the 2015 “Valentino kicked Marc” bull$hit again! 

It’s been regurgitated beyond belief from all sides! 

In an interview with the Brazilian press a couple days ago, Marc said he had no regrets about his behavior at Argentina (there was nothing he would do differently), and that he would not change his behavior on the track. So, it's hard to reconcile these statements with (1) his (reported) apologies to Espargaro and (failed) attempt to apologize to Rossi (i.e., personally, I regret behavior that I feel the need apologize for, so it's hard to believe that his apologies were sincere), and (2) hard to believe Marc's statement at his Austin scrum that he "has learned his lesson". Really sad behavior from such an amazing talent. 

Also, surprised not to see anything about Zarco's increadibly rude comments about Mamola's award, stating that Randy did not deserve it and it deminished the award for previous inductees. Wow. I had to rewatch his statement because I could not believe anyone could be so rude.

To me it looked like VR had the tougher questions and spent more time deflecting. Already his post Argentina strategy is costing him energy. I have raced on a scarified track, and grantd huge differences in talent and kit, wear was not the issue, the induced squirm was. Amazing how mature Miller was in the conference. A bit disappointed in Zarco's response about the Mamola induction into the legends, as if having won the title is a pre-requisite.

I was thinking the same thing during Professor Zarco's rather rambling bit on Mamola. Only season champions are allowed into the hall of fame? Then, does winning a season championship guarantee entry? Or are there further considerations? Granted, halls of fame should be exclusive, just a handful of a handful, but Z's hall would seem especially tiny.

I remember Mamola was about to conquer the world (on, what, the Suzuki? I can't recall...) until he switched to the fledgling Cagiva project. And earned it legitimacy very early on. Which paved the way for Ducati's return to SBK later.

I remember seeing a photo in one of the American magazines of Mamola and his new Cagiva leaving a big, fat black line out of some corner on some track. The article was effusive in its praise for Mamola's decision to ride the Cagiva, but lamented it would not do his career results tally any good.

We don't talk about many riders thirty years after they raced. Some we do, and they're usually remarkable for a reason.

is to be a promising talent but die before your full potential is realized. :(

As for Miller, one year on a RC1000V and then being "lost in the wilderness" on the Marc VDS RC213V for two years has done him a lot of good for growing as a human being.

I agree with the comments above regarding Dorna's handling of this whole drama, but has anyone else notice that their entire media department seems to be on holiday this season? I've almost never given a thought to the promo videos they show at the start of each season with all the riders, the promo they show for each race, the pitlane reporter... but this season it seems like it's all a joke. Just so poorly done it forces me to notice it and ask "what the hell am I watching?"

The commentating during sessions and races is fine, though I do miss Nick Harris enthusiaticly saying the wrong rider's name.

Is it just me?

This was a revelation for me: Is it a common practice to assess the surface (and more), or is Espargaro unique in this practice?  Is there a designated day and time for something like this race to race?

As far as I know (very little, which is often wrong) some riders will ride the track on their bicycles on Thursday. I assume it is mostly to stretch their legs and get a workout for the weekend, and it just happens to give them an idea about the current track conditions. 

Thank you for this information. 

I did not catch the live stream of MM93 or VR46 interviews; just no time for it.  But, based upon David's report here, and as a US citizen and huge fan of MotoGP, I am most ashamed about the apparent track conditions.  We have only one race in the US, now (I used to attend the Indy GP each year), and we moto fans in the US are presently a small minority of sports fans, unfortunately.  It would seem to me that we should try to at least have a decent track surface, and really try to put our best foot forward to accommodate the riders and to make the track as smooth as possible.  The layout at COTA has never been in question, and is quite entertaining, but to cut corners on cost in track repair and maintenance is a real embarrassment to me; not a good way to boost the appearance of the sport and gain the allegiance of world class riders.  If anything, we should have the best and most smooth track surface of all the tracks each year, not the most questionable.  I hope the track proves ridable without major changes in race formate required by Dorna and FM.  Again, really ashamed.

Zarco and Aleix are right, it's not about only about the clashes between the big names, race direction could and should do a better job of assessing incidents and controversial situations and decide on a fitting penalty where it's due, fairly, for each rider. 

First, Jack Miller is wise beyond his years  but I think it's easy to be that way when you're not comfortable competing for the championship  

Second  Espargaro still comes of a whiny  

Third, can Zarco explain the physics of how Rossi kicked Marquez of his motorcycle? Still trying to figure that one out. 

At PI 2011, Cal Crutchlow stalled it on the grid after the warm up lap.

Not only did he repeatedly attempt to bump start it himself, but multiple marshalls actually came over to help him try before ultimately his pit crew came out with the bike starter and he assumed his position on the grid.

This was all during the live holding awaiting the green light. Multiple riders were shaking their heads during the entire fiasco.

If we are talking consistency, here is another prime example. 

Is Dorna willing to put spectacle and drama ahead of rider safety? Their insatiable click greed and complete disregard for sportsmanship is obvious and seems to be the top priority. Rossi claims he is 'afraid to ride' and that the sport has been 'killed', and yet he continues to race and escalate the situation. Likewise Marquez has yet to receive any true punishment for his recklessness. He missed a mandatory pit at PI 2013 because Bridgestone, Dorna and PI goofed and gets a black flag there. But he crashes into several riders after violating racing rule 101 and he gets a 30 second hand slap.

Perhaps journalists whose careers are tied to media access cannot be as blunt as this but to me the situation seems obvious. Dorna has done a brilliant job reviving the series through technical equalizing, good financial management and good talent management. They seem positioned to throw all that progress out the window by being regulated by the riders rather than the other way round. Without rules and their enforcement there is no sport.