Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - Failed records and new rules is delighted to feature the work of iconic MotoGP writer Mat Oxley. Oxley is a former racer, TT winner and highly respected author of biographies of world champions Mick Doohan and Valentino Rossi, and currently writes for Motor Sport Magazine, where he is MotoGP correspondent. We are featuring sections from Oxley's blogs, which are posted in full on the Motor Sport Magazine website.

Failed records and new rules

Back in the heady days of Marlboro Team Roberts domination, King Kenny Roberts had a favourite saying, which he would shout at full volume during the team’s frequent and legendarily messy victory dinners. Full of wine, joy and relief, King Kenny’s voice would boom around the dining room: “Who got fourth?” In other words, who cares who got fourth when his crew had won the race?

Well, everyone at Brno knew who got fourth. During the top three press conference – Dani Pedrosa, Jorge Lorenzo and Valentino Rossi – one journalist was polite enough to apologise for asking so many questions about Marc Márquez who, for the first time in his short but uniquely wonderful MotoGP career, had ridden past the chequered flag and straight back into his pit, with no reason to stop in the parc fermé.

Journalists who had been ready to write him into the history books had to find something else to write about. But let’s pretend for a moment that he did win his 11th consecutive race, a feat only matched or bettered by three riders from the 1960s: John Surtees won 11 successive GPs during 1958, 1959 and 1960, Mike Hailwood won 12 on the trot in 1963 and 1964 and Giacomo Agostini went unbeaten at 20 races during 1968 and 1969; all of them riding mighty MV Agusta multis.

I have as much respect for racing history as anyone, but if Márquez had won his 11th successive race on Sunday, that statistic would have been a cornerstone in arguments suggesting that he’s the greatest of all time.

Read the rest of Mat Oxley's blog on the Motor Sport Magazine website.

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Or the Marquez rule which reversed it ;)

Repsol and Honda. I feel like, some times, it's their sport and they are just letting others play in it.

He who has the most money, wins!

Great article BUT Marquez was ALSO the only benefactor from another rule change that involved, guess who, repsol!

Yamaha wanted to put Spies on one of their factory bikes after he crushed his debut year in World Superbike. Repsol and Honda threw a fit and threatened to take their MotoGP bikes and go home, so Dorna rejiggered the rule book and made Spies go to Tech 3 for a year before he could get onto the Fiat Yamaha team. That's what triggered the rule change, keeping him off the factory team, thus the moniker, "Spies rule." It wasn't about getting rookies ONTO a team, it was about keeping them OFF a team.

Then, just a couple of years later, when Marquez was ready to leave Moto2, the team that wanted him got the recently invoked Spies rule dropped. And we all know who that team was. Now they're getting the next perceived phenom. Which is why some of us are pretty convinced Repsol and Honda basically just get whatever they want.

Just to keep the record straight: Which rider was Yamaha going to dump off of the factory team in 2010 to make room for Spies: Lorenzo, who had four wins, 12 podiums and was second in the 2009 championship, or Rossi, who had six wins, 13 podiums and won the title?

Here is the reality: Yamaha wanted Spies to spend another year in WSBK. Spies did not want to spend another year in WSBK (MotoGP riders can make more on their gear endorsement deals alone than most riders in the WSBK paddock make in salary). Tech III was the only way to keep Spies in the Yamaha fold, and rookie rule or not, Tech III was the place that Spies was going to wind up if he went to MotoGP with Yamaha.

You could argue that Spies was prevented by the Rookie Rule from moving to the factory Ducati squad (in which case, you could argue that the Rookie Rule saved his bacon) or the Repsol team (where Dovi was underperforming, yet still a race winner).

But saying "Yamaha wanted to put Spies on one of their factory bikes ..." is simply and factually wrong.

Yer right. Really doesn't change my basic point--the rule wasn't to get him onto a factory team, but to keep him off, while keeping him in the Yamaha family--but I did forget it was one of the times Honda didn't initiate a rule change. Thanks for the clarification.

Who is to say Yamaha didn't attempt to get a 3rd factory bike on the grid? Honda did it the very next year after rossi went to ducati and Spies joined the factory team.

Honda was forced to run that bike by an existing contract with Dovi. And Honda didn't want to miss the opportunity to sign Stoner.

Spies was no Stoner - not a guy you break the bank for, not when you've got Rossi and Lorenzo on your team already.

Was something the satellite teams wanted in Marquez' case. Whether Gresini or LCR took him, they'd have to fire a bunch of their established staff and crew as Marquez brought his Monlau guys with along, then try and hire them back and or get all new crew when he inevitably moved up to the Repsol team the year after, totally distrupting the team. No one was sad to see the rookie rule go.

Great article, makes rather harrowing reading!

The deal with BT Sport did reak of putting short term profits ahead of long term growth. It's not doing the sport any favours here in the UK - the coverage is fantastic, but what good if viewing figures are less than a fifth of what they were?

"Britain has lost its bike racing shop window but the BT fee has fattened Dorna’s balance sheet to raise the company’s apparent value for the day when private-equity owners Bridgepoint sell the company and have a nice time in the Maldives with the profits."

Exactly who has heavily invested in MotoGP? Canada Pension Plan Investment Board (CPPIB). Like it or not at the end of the day when these retirees come calling for their pension cheques they are going to want a healthy return on their investment. Mat Oxley that is how these things work businesses are not here to operate in the Black or Red. They want to have healthy fat portfolio's that people are willing to invest with.

And as for having a nice time in the Maldives I wonder if Mr. Oxley questions the vacation locals and habits of the private owners of Motor Sport Magazine, because I'm sure they don't own the business purely for the 'fun' of owning a publication.

Such a great article! I am even more dismayed with Dorna and all the other clowns that run the sport. Get rid off Ezpeleta and all the Spanish powers running the sport. People wonder why stoner left? Things like this put it into perspective

Mr Oxley, why not open up and let us know what you REALLY think?
I am personally ok w this rule change now. Opening up previous restrictions like this are consistent w policy I endorse. Not such a contentious rule area. Process-wise I agree with you, and particularly about the history of one or two manufacturers railroading MotoGP via self interest, and short term poorly considered cash grabs outpacing mid to long term development by MotoGP execs.
Matters, at risk of paying attn to your comment and encouraging you, are you under the impression that you are aware of something that the author, me, Minininja just above you, at al are not? Might want to skip an 'economics lesson' if you are wondering about doing so next time.

Thanks for the frank article.
And let's also hold in consideration the political tide shift that this wee rules change occurred upon...throwing Honda/Repsol et al a bone right now MIGHT also be considered in a context of potential wisdom on Espleta's part IF it keeps their jaws busy rather than risk snapping when the rev limit and electronics rollout takes place.

Dorna is a business, its investors expect returns. Beating them down because they are operating like a business is ludicrous. We may not like their policies but its what the people who invest financially in the company want. Comments about where the portfolio managers take vacations? Exactly how is that even relevant reporting?

BTW I whole heartedly agree with your initial point(s).


Totally agree that businesses need to be run for profit. I run a business myself and I ain't a charity or a workers co-operative.

Matt's point concerns the tendency and evidence to short term-ism here. What possible long term benefit to the sport was it to reduce viewing in the UK from 1 - 2 million to 200,000? Except to secure the short - medium term fee. If and when the owners sell up, they won't give a monkeys that a sport which has been popular in the UK (with the viewing figures built up by the BBC over the years) is tanked in the process?

And if we end up with no MotoGP round in the UK from next year, explain to me how that is done with view to a long term investment? Especially in the light of the good attendances at Silverstone?

I'm all for the free market but sport should be nurtured for reasonable returns over the long term not treated like a disposable commodity.

Didn't mean to rant...

You have a valid point, but unfortunately the world that Dorna operates in is the same world where Target has a quarterly $30 million dollar profit but misses financial expectations by 2 cents and as a result drops in share price by 5%. Those types of volatile short term investor behaviour forces companies like Dorna to make these aggressive short term choices such as risk market share but secure short term growth (the TV deal), risk market share by increasing race sanctioning fees to the point race tracks are only able to secure funds last minute (Bruno). I don't think its right for Mr. Oxley to lay all the blame on Dorna's lap without also facing up to the fact they are under extreme pressure to perform fiscally. Carmelo isn't sitting on his high chair just scheming on way to get more money into his private coffers (or pay for his vacation to the Maldives).

As for the feasibility of this short sightedness, it can't last. For some reasons people seem to forget the last disaster and think the Bull Market will last forever. It will not and there are always repercussions for short term planing.

I think we are on the same page.....

Yes, the Canadian pensioners want to know they'll keep getting their checks. But why is that important to Dorna? Could it be because Dorna sold something for far more than it was worth? Because they misled the Canadian group--and because the Canadian group did a crappy job of researching Dorna's claims?

Dorna could have opted for the long-term approach. Lots of companies do. Dorna opted for the short-term approach. Lots of companies do. But to excuse the failings of either approach by saying the companies are just doing what the market is telling them to do is wrong on every level.

Dorna should have known--and the Canadian group should have discovered--the limitations of their product. It's a niche market. A huge proportion of that market is rabid, but a huge proportion of what really isn't that big a number is an even smaller number.

If Dorna were ruining some long-storied niche market I didn't care about, like knitting, that would be one thing. But their myopic approach is threatening the very existence of prototype motorcycle racing. That bugs me deeply.

Dorna isn't operating in a vacuum. If they committed fraud, someone should be held accountable.

And where is the FIM in all this? Aren't they responsible for the sport's integrity? Doesn't their seal of approval have the ultimate leverage?

Dorna has to perform or Canadian pension fund will sell and invest in something else. So Dorna/Bridgepoint MUST make that fund happy, short-term. Dorna actually borrowed hundreds of millions of dollars earlier this year to make payments to its investors. Dorna is a couple of pesos short of a billion dollars in debt.

Dorna can no more think and act long-term than someone on fire can rationally consider what they are going to have for dinner on Sunday.

The FIM has given/sold Dorna the exclusive rights to organize MotoGP however Dorna sees fit until 2036. I would not bet on MotoGP being around that long under the current management.

The worst thing about the pay-per-view deals can be seen in what has happened to the sport here in the U.S. AMA Superbike - and WSBK - went from free TV to cheap cable to expensive/obscure cable packages, losing raw audience numbers with each step. Now the AMA's potential TV audience is so small that the organizers literally cannot give the show away. The YouTube video of the last Superbike race at Mid-Ohio has had less than 12,000 views.

The economic function of any sport is to gather an audience. Dorna's decision to pursue pay-per-view deals will help its bottom line in the short term, but ultimately damages the ability of teams to gather sponsors - because fewer and fewer people see the logos. This is especially true for the non-industry sponsors; Go & Fun, for example, now reaches a fraction of the viewers in Britain than it did before the pay-TV deal.

"Dorna can no more think and act long-term than someone on fire can rationally consider what they are going to have for dinner on Sunday."

Exactly my point. Dorna is being forced to produce returns they had no business promising. To my mind, that constitutes fraud. The Canadian group must also bear some responsibility for not doing proper due diligence.

Either way, we, the stakeholders, get screwed while they, the publicly traded company, scramble to provide them, the stockholders, with returns.

Racing and monetary gain are not always in synch. A common enough dichotomy. Contrary to popular belief, greed is not always a good thing. Certainly greed serves a purpose. But, as Aristotle said, nothing in excess.

Life will go on. And, if we learn from our experiences, life will be better.

So what if the Canadians leave as a financial entity? Do you really think Marquez won't still try for his third straight championship, in whatever prototype motorcycle racing series rises from the ashes? Do you think Alvaro Bautista wouldn't take whatever ride was offered him in the same series?

So what if Honda leaves as a factory entity? Do you think Gresini (or whomever) will stop using Hondas to make money in whatever prototype motorcycle racing series rises from the ashes?

Dude, we have to stop cowtowing to the whims of Canadian pension funds (innocent as they may be) and septagenerian (sp?) owners of sanctioning bodies. I know it sounds simplistic, but let's get back to the roots of the sport: People trying to solve the problem of how to get around a track fastest on two wheels. That's how it started; that's what somebody saw and thought they could grow into a multi-billion-dollar business.

Sometimes ya just gotta pull a Nietzsche. The question is, who has the balls--and the influence--to do it?

'Course, the next question is, who will televise it so I can see it....

"'Course, the next question is, who will televise it so I can see it..."

Actually, the next question will be, what is "it?"

If a bankrupt business entity owns the rights to a racing series but is not operating said series, what becomes of GP racing? And it's not a comfortable question; history is littered with the remnants of failed racing series.

Or, to ask the question another way, what do Marquez and Bautista do if there is no entity actually staging GP races? Or, do Honda, Yamaha and Ducati sink millions into machines without a rulebook covering specs, race procedures, etc., all of which could vary dramatically if you just leave it to each race promoter to set its own rules.

Better hope that Dorna can play smoke and mirrors for a while longer with the Canadians' money ...

I don't think I've heard anyone actually unhappy with Donington park circuit itself, only the access and facilities. Some road widening and a few dunnies, not beyond the realms of possibility is it?
Instead they want to build a complete facility from scratch on wet and windswept land they don't own, with money they don't have, no doubt have to overcome an army of local noise wingers and enviro nazis, design and create an exciting and safe circuit, AND BUILD SOME DUNNIES AND ACCESS ROADS TOO!

I so don't get it.

"I can’t help but see the whole venture as some cynical ploy that Dorna can use to play games with Silverstone and Donington, rather as Bernie Ecclestone used to play games with the BRDC and Silverstone". I don't think Mat will be getting a 'Feliz Navidad' card from Dorna this year.

There seems to be a lot of doubt surrounding the viability of this track. I hope COW will be a profitable venture long term (if/when its built). I wonder given the exorbitant sanctioning fees charged by Dorna what a weekend pass will cost in 2016? £140-£160? Is that reasonable to UK fans? If (when) COW loses MotoGP how does that affect its financial viability going forward?

If it happens it will be cool to see another new facility, but Silverstone is such a great track (on TV anyway) and it actually exists, which is a bonus.

A COW for Crows

As evidenced by the arguments, I think it is difficult to say anyone is ‘the greatest’; probably the best you can do is identify the ‘greatest of their time’. MV was so dominant technically in their time that it was a significant factor in who could win.
I think that mixing a sports persons age up with their education and relating that to another era is also a bit illogical. Many people in the 1950’s and 60’s had upbringings that just wouldn’t happen today. I don’t know who the MGP rider is that he is referring to, but I struggle to think that any of the current or recent crop, who have spent a lot of their time as teenagers attending race schools etc., have much trouble with the basics of modern life. Marquez had a very similar upbringing, and it is what is necessary if you want to reach the top in today’s world of sport, whether it’s golf or snooker.
With a 17 year old going up to F1 we are probably approaching the practical age limits of skills development and other learning, but all records are there for breaking.
Of course circuit of Wales is a risk. Of course others have tried and failed. The ‘build a factory and create jobs’ approach has been tried. It usually failed after technology etc moved on faster than the coal and steel industries had. Are factory jobs the aspiration of today? I don't think so. A learning and R&D facility makes a lot more sense in the present times, and it gives the option for other manufacturing–related facilities to grow from it. Similar to Silverstone, for example. Building a factory will not bring R&D and a circuit.
Donington has all sorts of logistical/infrastructure problems, and is constrained by other things like an airport next door. It can survive, I hope, as a circuit and perhaps up to WSB level as it is today, but it doesn’t seem to have the ability to grow beyond that. It is a good circuit, but it’s the other facilities that cannot cope with big crowds, or diversify, it seems.
South Africa has all sorts of other problems that have prevented motorsports growing. In the bad old days the government would have got behind it and built it, then waited for the races to come, and it would be great. Some lovely and accessible circuits like Kayalami have more value for housing nowadays though. It may be that Phakisa can be completed and accredited for WSB. I hope so. Perhaps Matt knows something I don’t, but I do hope it happens next year.

I've never been there but I looked at Donnington on google maps and it's within 2km of the M1 (which I assume is a major road!) with 3 major interchanges within a couple of km of the track. How on earth are there congestion problems? Phillip Island does get congested just after a race but it all flows smoothly enough on tiny roads and everything has to go over a 2-lane bridge FFS! :) A couple of mil in targeted upgrades and temporary traffic management could surely solve the issues?

And as for dunnies, once again Phillip Island is probably more modest than many club circuits in Europe in terms of facilities, but it can handle a big crowd with tolerable inconvenience and reasonable comfort. There are only a couple of permanent toilet / showers spread around the track but a huge number of portable units are trucked in and kept in good order all weekend. Not rocket surgery.

... as I remember, Donington had absolutely no problem dealing with the sort of attendances they had the last time MotoGP was taken off mainstream TV... 18,000 on race day in 2000. They didn't even bother with extra traffic control in the village!... & the facilities (toilets etc) were perfectly adequate for those numbers.

Matt I'm cheering to the rafters, spot on about rule changes when it suits, dead right about Dorna selling up to BT Sport and torpedoing the viewing figures, and dead right about CoW and playing games with what is a world class Grand Prix circuit - Silverstone.

We're off to Silverstone next meeting, and it saddens me that this may be the last time we can spend three great days at a great facility - clean and plentiful toilets, covered stands, great screens and views of multiple bends from those stands.

Dorna are just constantly screwing it up in the UK and elsewhere with regard to this stuff, and it makes me wince.

Donington's big problem in my experience is that they make their arrangements on the basis that people arrive over a long period of time. What they overlook is that people are going to leave over a much shorter timeframe. If you want to get out in a reasonable time you basically have to leave before the main race has finished , I suspect (although I have never done that).
What happens is that they don't organise anything in the parking areas themselves, so you end up with multiple lines of traffic, people trying to push into queues, and it all leads to one lane of traffic trying to get out of a farm gate, over kerbs, and merge with another line of traffic from another field. It is this which causes the delays - the M1 may only be 2km's away (and other roads lead traffic away too) but it easily takes 2 hours in a car. It probably takes half an hour on a bike. It once took me nearly 4 hours to get home - a journey I did in a bit over an hour getting there.
The facilities are not too bad once you are in the circuit, but I'm glad I'm a bloke and not a woman with different toilet requirements.
We can all put up with this as fans, (even my wife doesn't complain as she knows what to expect) but attracting people who have a casual interest isn't going to happen, or only happens once. I know a lot of people have tried it once and said 'never again'. What does that lose the circuit and the sport?
In my opinion the BSB/FIA/Dorna should take all these circuit operators to Italy and see the catering. Then set minimum traffic and toilet standards, plus tell the operators where to put the big screens, what Wi-Fi capacity/speed they must have etc. It's all very well having a safe circuit and a lovely pit complex, but they have to recognise that the people paying the bills have minimum requirements too.
Silverstone is undoubtedly one of the best since all their works a few years ago, but its basically good, not fantastic. it shouldn't be something to aspire to, it should be the minimum standard for any national or international circuit.
I don't want to put down the Palmer circuits either, because he has done a lot for the circuits he owns and set better standards for others, but it still needs to be better if the audience for racing is to be grown.

If the Canadians 'left' Dorna would be happy , because that would mean their debt would likely be written off. (I appreciate you can sell it on etc., but I'm keeping it simple).
Comparisons between Dorna and Bernie's show have often been made. It seems likely that Ezpelata has followed his strategy, the only problem being he didn't develop the demand before he conveted to pay-per-view. The social media thing is Bernie-alike too: If it doesn't pay, it doesn't view. That's dumb in a rapidly changing world of content and accessibility.
They have both moved the shop from a prime point in all the malls, where it's visible and anyone can walk on in, to an out-of-town sort of Las Vegas-in-the-desert, where the same stuff is all crowded together and only people who already find that stuff attractive will bother to look or discover it (with some exceptions of course).
Dorna moved to Las Vegas too soon, and it's looking like even the mighty ever-right Bernie may have made the wrong call too.
Morbidelli is right about Go & Fun - if they had that multi-million viewer exposure/potential they might have done better and stayed (if the rumours are true).
Which is better - a potential audience and product buyers of multi-millions or billions via free-to-air, or a few hundred thousand/ a few million who already like it enough to pay for the privilege and do not want to watch adverts?
Sustainability tends to make me think that free-to-air might be better (the US is not a good example of how to do it, I realise). We may have seen less slo-mo and less free-practice etc, but I could live without that.

What I miss are BSB, WSB, and MGP on basic 'telly' and as a fan I don't watch anything other than MGP now, plus the odd road racing event on free-to-air. I know about 50 people who would always watch MGP and probably WSB. Now they watch tennis and darts.

Perhaps Asian markets (where paying for TV is more natural) will provide an income, but with the sport moving to 'obscure' channels that require additional payments I also wonder if the same mistake is being made in a different way.
In the UK BT may tolerate the cost because it is building a brand and holding users who would otherwise go elsewhere. It will be interesting to see who bids and the price next time might even end up on the BBC again at some future time, if it survives,(a broadcaster with true global potential who might find a (lower) global fee is attractive to a lot of people as those once free markets mature and have access to disposable income).
Adapt to survive. Birds that are not free to fly, and evolve incorrectly for the rest of the world, become Dodo's.

Yeah, gotta be careful not to adapt the wrong way ...

What is interesting abut the U.S. example is that it happened slowly. As cable became more like network TV, with bigger channels and littler channels, roadracing got shuffled further and further down the order as more mainstream sports shifted to "big" cable networks.

By shifting down the order, in effect the visibility of the sport kept declining and the cost for viewers to get the broadcasts, in effect, kept climbing. But the powers that be - DMG, advertisers, manufacturers - kept going because they were "on TV" and they saw it as a binary equation. They either had TV exposure (good) or not (bad). Little thought about whether the TV was good or bad.

At one point, if I wanted to watch MotoGP, WSBK and AMA, I had to have three different TV channels!

Point is, by driving up the cost of watching and limiting the viewership, the AMA package has been so devalued, its audience so dispersed, that trying to go back now and give it away for free doesn't work. THAT is a bad place to be.

Nice analogy about Vegas. I just took a long ride out there last week. Near the hotel I stayed at is a long stretch of failed motels and hotels. Absolute dump. Part of the problem - just off the beaten path. Just like a town that got bypassed by the railroad. You have to wonder if MotoGP is heading down that route ...

Sadly, I see a similar route facibg motorcycle racing in the UK. By selling MotoGP from free to air on the biggest UK channel to pay per view on one of the smallest viewing figures uave dropped from in the millions to, maybe, 100k.

Other motorcycle sport, that has variously appeared on free to view channels are now on (different) pay per view channels.

All this means that the sport as a whole is almost assured to never attract the casual viewer, to make it difficult for potential new viewers to find then 'choose' and to anger the pre existing long term fans.

As a result all the motorcycle sports are chasing and ultimately competing for the same viewers and they are dwindling in numbers.

Although the UK has a great domestic series motorcycle sport is still vulnerable and getting more so as organizers seem to be wilfully chasing obscurity. The USA should be a salutary tale but instead there seems to be the prevailing view that it could not happen here. A dangerous gamble.