Barcelona MotoGP Race Subscriber Notes: A Forensic Analysis Of Quartararo's Open Leathers, The Collapse Of the MSMA, And Will Honda Rise Again

It would be nice to sit down at the end of a MotoGP weekend and just write about the race. But it seems increasingly, the first thing a journalist has to do after a MotoGP race is go back and read the FIM Grand Prix World Championship Regulations, also known as the yellow book, back when books were a thing, and rules didn't change every couple of weeks rendering paper books unusable. We have had a stream of rule infractions, both large and small, infringements of rules which few new existed, and the application of penalties which have inevitably needed clarification.

The need to go back and reread the rulebook has sometimes been due to inexperience in particular situations – for example, Fabio Quartararo parking his bike in the wrong spot during the flag-to-flag race at Le Mans – or cunning use of the rules – see Marc Márquez crossing the white lines on pit lane entry at the same race. Sometimes, it has because we needed clarification of very specific situations, such as Miguel Oliveira and Joan Mir exceeding track limits on the last lap in Mugello.

And sometimes, we have had to consult the rules because something so outrageous and unusual has happened that nobody is quite sure whether something is actually legal, and if not, what the punishment is. Engineers refers to these situations as edge cases: a new and unexpected situation that nobody realized was possible, because it hasn't happened before, and requires a very specific and unusual set of circumstances. Such as a rider finishing a race with their leathers unzipped for the last four laps, as happened to Fabio Quartararo on Sunday.

It is a shame that we have to spend so much time on the rulebook, because these instances overshadow some impressive performances and superb racing action. Barcelona threw up a veritable roller-coaster of emotions and spectacle, in both the positive and negative sense. We should be talking about Miguel Oliveira's impressive ride to victory, Johann Zarco's quiet championship assault, Yamaha's curious up and down weekend, whether Marc Márquez' crash means he is getting more competitive or losing ground, and just where Honda stand now:

In these subscriber notes:

  • Why Fabio Quartararo unzipped his leathers, and whether the punishment fit the crime
  • How the collapse of the MSMA is affecting MotoGP
  • Miguel Oliveira and KTM's revival
  • Is Johann Zarco the new Joan Mir?
  • Is Marc Márquez back? And will he be any time soon?
  • Honda in a hole

But first, one of the most bizarre incidents we have seen in world championship racing for a while: Fabio Quartararo's open leathers. The Frenchman raced for 20 laps with his leathers closed – all clearly visible on the video feed – and somewhere between Turn 1 at the start of lap 21 and Turn 4 on the same lap, Quartararo's leathers were open.

Examining the evidence

There is a lot to address here, but first, let's walk through the timeline, on the basis of screenshots from the video feed. The video pass has the advantage of watching the entire race from multiple onboard camera views, as well as the broadcast feed with and without commentary, and the overhead shot from the helicopter camera. With a bit of dedication and a lot of time, we can reconstruct exactly what happened to Fabio Quartararo.

First, here is what Quartararo himself said about the incident: "What happened? I don’t know. I just know that I had the leathers completely open in the first corner, I think 5 laps to go, and I just tried to put [the zip] in a normal position again. I couldn't do it. So yeah, it was difficult to ride but unfortunately it happens. It happened today, so Alpinestars are looking how it's possible because at the end of the race it was possible again to close it."

Is that really the case? 5 laps to go would be the start of lap 20. However, the screenshot below, taken at the end of lap 20, you can just about see that Quartararo's leathers are still closed, no chest is exposed.

Did Fabio Quartararo mistake which lap his leathers were open? Here's a shot of Miguel Oliveira and Quartararo entering Turn 1 at the start of lap 21. Once again, it appears that his leathers are closed.

20 seconds later, however, the cameras show Oliveira and Quartararo approaching Turn 4, and the Frenchman's leathers are open, his chest clearly visible. So what happened in the intervening period?

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I don't follow exactly what Yokoyama-san and Kokubu-san would be at loggerheads over. Aren't the SBK and MotoGP projects fairly separate? Is it about budgets/money? About who gets promoted? Are HRC considering replacing Yokoyama-san perhaps?

Agreed on the lack of a liner suit to absorb sweat. I've been wondering about that every time Quartararo is on the grid. The penalties both seemed excessive: he gained nothing by running wide and the open suit wasn't an advantage either. Seems rather arbitrary to me. Great Moto 2 race. Total ding ding in Moto 3 though! You gotta wonder what some of those riders have for brain cells they way they were weaving across each other into turn one. 

Penalties don't just exist to redress the precise amount of advantage that my have been gained in a misdemeanour, they also serve to remind the offender not to do it again. A little excess helps in this regard.

If the penalty was always the exact amount of time gained then everyone would take every shortcut possible and hope the stewards miss a few ;)

For the suit, the penalty is for contravening safety measures, not for any advantage gained. As David writes in the article FQ should've been black flagged really, rather than a time penalty. 

I wondered about that, too. The replay showed it collapsing on impact after flipping over, though. So not the cause of the crash, merely an effect.

Thank you David for yet another enlightening piece. And thank you for spending a lot of time rewatching the footage to give us a better understanding of what happened. This starts sounding like doing forensics on the crime scene.

If your findings are true ( they are corroborated by many Italian commentators), that is to say that Fabio willingly opened his leathers to readjust the chest protector (and this because contrary to the rest of the grid he is barechested under the leathers) then it is even worse. And rather stupid. I do understand in the course of the action it is difficult to have clear reasoning unlike us on our couch. And Fabio is young and impetuous. Still. He should have at least owned it and admit it was his doing, it was far from smart and got away with it with very little damage. Instead his first post on social media was rather unbecoming.

And I won't go into throwing chest protector in the wind... 

The long lap penalty was fair. This shows that Fabio is still young and not thinking strategically. If he had let Miller through he wouldn't have been sanctioned... He'll learn for next time. 

In all this sad matter RD and Stewart's Panel come out so poorly and shamefully... I have no words. 

Honda black hole... Well, they spent seven years tailoring a bike around one person only who, to make things even more difficult, has an unparalleled way of riding  it. To add insult to injury they got rid of Pedrosa who could have helped steer development toward more human directions. KTM is having a great laugh and Dani too. 

Pity you did not have time to go into the Yamaha mistery of lost pace... But thank you for all your work. 


... Fabio and the considerable might of Yamaha was a stunning feat that I haven't seen in a long time - a real standout moment in MotoGP and a tremendous sign of how capable KTM continues to be. To turn their season around in such a swift and dramatic manner can not be understated.

Great write-up David! 

Excellent analysis as usual David - thank-you. KTM 'synthetic fuel' - perhaps a topic for 'another day' ? Most fuels are 'blends' of synthetic additives into a base stock, so what is the 'synthetic' part of the KTM 'fuel' ? Audi is also referencing the development of 'synthetic fuels' in some of their recent model realeases - I wonder if Ducati (in part owned/sponsored by Audi) are also investigating this if they have not already, because as you mention, they are usually ahead of the curve when it comes to technical innovation. Keep up the fine work.

Might refer to hydrocarbon chains built from single-carbon molecules such as methane. I've seen some synthetic oils already referencing this technology.

What's so great about this damn fuel and why isn't everybody using it? Sounds like a smokescreen to detract from something else that has been developed and KTM hope might slip under the radar if they say " Hey look what's that over there??".

Also why is Leather gate such a speculative? Why haven't the journos hounded FQ for what actually happened and get a quote? Until then it's just fodder for beefing up  the article and serves as talking points a la "kickgate" 2015 which I must add that I rather like!! This is one spot where comments seem to have as much credibility for the most part as Krop's musings!

Fingers crossed for 93 @ Marquezring! Cmon champion!

On ya Dave. ;)

What the tragedy at Mugello brought to the forefront is that riders are human beings that process emotions, each one in their own way. Same goes for the fellows in race direction who are tasked with a thankless job that includes protecting the riders from themselves when they compartmentalize self-preservation in the heat of the battle. Being an ex-world champ can enable a guy to get into the mindset of a rider. It's possible that Mr. Spencer has too much empathy to be effective in his current position. It's not bad or wrong to have a lot of empathy, it's just that naturally having a lot of empathy can cause one to identify with another so deeply that one loses themselves imagining another's thoughts, emotions and situation. Like becoming so absorbed in the characters of a story that a guy loses situational awareness of having a body that is sitting in a chair and watching a movie or reading a book. Then doubt can creep in about what to do about the situation (or who the heck am I) from the collision of two worlds - being a race director that oversees the racing from an analytical viewpoint based on the moral good for all involved and being inside the mindset of a racer that engages with subconscious primal forces to battle in a deathly game where the winner gets the glory.

I could be completely mistaken about what's going on inside the black box of race direction. Just a fan in front of the screen that loses himself in the racing. 

Thanks for the great read, David.

That makes a lot of sense, Peter. Freddie was so talented it may be difficult for him to understand when a rider needs overseeing. Fabio made a couple of boneheaded decisions and actions that put him and others at immediate risk. A dispassionate observer would say an immediate decision had to be made to mitigate the dangers, while a former champion (and the most amazing rider I've seen live) would say if the pilot is willing to take risks it's his decision. Maybe Freddie understands too well the sacrifices that must be made to win championships and is too willing to allow others to take reckless risks that used to be taken for granted but are now unacceptable. As in other sports, sometimes the greatest are not good in other positions within the sport as they are too talented to understand that not everyone is as blessed. Also, RD and the stewards never having to face questions about their decisions invites the sort of vitriol we're seeing leveled at Freddie at almost every race. If they had to justify to us their rulings we and they would be a lot happier.

Peter and Brian, I think that the suggestion that a former racer is too sympatheic in his assessments is as good an explanation as anyone has come up with in this whole bonkers affair. The problem now is that an absolutely terrible precedent has been set. When something happens which exposes a immediate safety issue, race direction need to act, immediately. It's not that hard really is it? The fact that we can also remember the Jack seat unit incident makes it clear that these situations are not that terribly unlikely and race direction should have already had a clear idea of how to handle such a situation. More to the point with the likely extra points earned by a penalty as opposed to a black flag might become pretty uncomfortable later in the season. David's commentary seems very balanced and reasonable on race direction decisions, and even he called this situation incomprehensible. And that's the most charitable assessment I can think of.

My understanding of this is that it is defined as a purely non-fossil or as a renewable organic fuel that can be manufactured with low or zero carbon impact, unlike the standard road, air, or race fuels. Porsche have developed one for their engines to permit use after standard type fuels are banned. The current cost is about $300 a tank full, so I understand. The KTM one is presumably 110 octane or higher to give the power boost. F1 engines at one time used their lube oil (as thin as water / petrol if race bike oil is anything to go by) as fuel to supplement the restricted  fuel allowance. Do MotoGP rules outlaw that?

I doubt it could be manufactured with less carbon impact than refined crude oil based gasoline. Burning would be the same carbon impact. I suppose if all the heat and raw materials were manufactured using solar, wind or water, the manufacturing claim might hold. But the larger number of steps (and hidden C footprint of building needs of non FF infrastructure) could hide a lot of carbon release. 

Thank you for your detailed Leathergate analysis and for delving into other race and rider happenings (or non-happenings), too, David. I always learn a lot from your race posts (and, I'm learning from comments here, too.)

Any reference (direct or indirect) to Jimi Hendrix merits a deep thanks, too.

When FQ discarded his chest protector i thought this would immediatly call for a black flag, for FQ, as it would endanger other riders. A major assumption on my part as i have never read the rulebook and common sense is historically not driving the rules. Running over the protector with a wheel while turning could easily cause a crash. My two cents.

Probably less potential harm than when Jack Miller tossed his seat pad onto the track a couple of seasons back, as I recall in the middle of a group. No action taken against him, although he did retire later, finding the bike unrideable. I'm always surprised to see the number of tear-offs those guys drop every race; I've run over one on track when leaned over, and they're slippy little buggers. And great air-box restrictors, as Miller found out last year (Misano?).

Good point, about Miller with the seat pad incident and i recall wondering the same thing then. Its a team sport and these moments really point that out as easily as when an engine gives up. If only we had access to all of the post race discussion and protests within the paddock. Great race overall, looking forward to Germany.

Last year exposed Honda's weaknesses, and somehow they've slipped back even further this year! AM73 had what I considered to be a decent rookie year, and Taka barely missed out on some podiums. This year they both seem like fish out of water. Pol is having his Lorenzo moment, not realizing how hard the RC213V is to ride fast. As Mr. Emmett pointed out during Q1, the most advanced machine the mighty HRC can build is sitting around waiting for a tow from a Ducati. I know Puig isn't their technical lead, but every interview I see/hear with him he gets so defensive over how bad their bike is. I don't think he needs much more convincing after the last 7 disasters races.

Randy Depuniet used to race with no undersuit as well.I find having a layer of wicking material much more comfortable after a track session on a hot day. And it's easier to get out of the suit too...

These are so informative, feel I totaly understand what happened over the weekend!

Fabio made an error in judgment unzipping his suit (if that's what he did) and tossing his chest protector. I was called out last week when I criticized Rins for texting while riding; I think in the heat of battle, Fabio's mistake seems far more understandable. Though the officials' lack of action, and then their delayed action, is less forgivable. But let's forget about all that. Kudos to Oliveira and to KTM for confirming they're both winners.  Too bad that's getting brushed aside by the wardrobe malfunction and second-guessing Fast Freddie.

I think Oliveira's ride was amazing. That guys a weapon when he has the bike. He seems totally at ease being near the sharp end. I hope to see more as the season goes on. It would also be nice to see Brad up there too. Lets hope this win isn't a blip for KTM

Totally agree. The "unseen" comments by Oliveira after the Mugello race were also very interesting. He spoke of the end of the race when he focused on his lines and going as fast as possible. His opinion of Mir being all over his rear wheel was something like, "If he was faster than me, then pass me. I was doing the best that I could."

Great seeing KTM back on the top step. Would love to see Binder also get another win. And a podium for A. Espargaro and the Arpilia team would be awesome. Sachenring?  

....he unzipped his suit. Period. I've been wearing Dianese race leathers forever, street & during my track days, and those zippers don't just unzip. I understand why he did it if his chest protector was choking him, but come on Fabio....just come clean. Do understand him doing it? Hell Yes! Do I understand him continuing to race? Hell Yes! But....RD has to step in, immediately. Consequences to crashing like that are horrific. 

most likely unzippedit  a little bit just to toss out the chest protector, but then of course with the wind, him moving around on the bike, it fully opened up.