MotoMatters.com 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.
Is MotoGP’s tail wagging the dog?
Should the riders have raced on Sunday? Do they have too much say in their own safety?
MotoGP has always existed on a knife edge, which is why we love it. And despite safer tracks, better riding gear and everything else, the riders exist on that knife edge more now than in many a year, because getting them and their 220mph motorcycles around a racetrack with no major injuries or fatalities is quite a feat, even on a sunny day. This miracle occurs almost every race, which fools some people into thinking that MotoGP can’t be that dangerous. But believe me, Race Direction leaves the track most Sunday evenings with a huge sigh of relief: we got away with it again!
However, sometimes things do go wrong.
Sunday’s British Grand Prix was a disaster for everyone, especially for the fans who had made the pilgrimage and spent the day soaking and shivering, hoping to see some action at one of the championship’s fastest, scariest racetracks.
Everyone went home disappointed: the fans, the riders and the teams. Some fans went home feeling angry that they were kept waiting so long, for nothing. And they have every right to feel hard done by. But, at the end of the day, all that really matters is that no one died.
This is important to remember, because riders still do die in MotoGP, currently at the rate of one every three seasons.
No one died at Silverstone, but Tito Rabat remains in hospital in Coventry, nursing a broken right femur, tibia and fibula, after he came off worst in Saturday afternoon’s pile-up at Stowe corner. The Spaniard’s shattered leg was bleeding so badly that medics assumed he had severed a femoral artery – a very quick and easy way to die.
Rabat wasn’t injured when he aquaplaned on a small lake of standing rainwater and fell at the end of Hangar Straight, he was injured when another fallen machine smashed into him while he lay stranded in the gravel trap. Shoya Tomizawa died at Misano in 2010 when he was hit by a rival’s bike. And a similar fate befell Marco Simoncelli at Sepang in 2011. It is impossible to fully protect a rider once he’s on the ground, with machines moving at speed all around him.
Alex Rins was the first to crash at Stowe near the end of FP4, bravely jumping off at high speed when he felt his Suzuki GSX-RR aquaplane.
“I felt the water, cut the throttle at 290 [180mph], tried to brake, but the front was aquaplaning and locked,” he said. “I saw the wall coming at me fast, so I jumped off the bike. Then I was waving, trying to tell Tito that [Franco] Morbidelli’s bike was coming. He turned and saw the bike, but couldn’t move in time and he flew 10 metres.”
At a guess, Morbidelli’s bike was travelling at close to 100mph when it hit Rabat, who was incredibly lucky that the bike broke his leg and not his head.
Stowe was a scary mess: three riders on the ground and several more losing control and hurtling through the gravel trap, lucky to stay onboard. It could have been much worse. From that moment the Grand Prix was in jeopardy.
On Sunday, riders, teams and Race Direction waited hours for the weather to clear, but it never quite happened. Shortly before 4pm the riders had a final safety commission meeting and, because there was a possibility of yet more rain, the majority decided it was too risky to race, so at the event was abandoned.
This would not have happened in the old days.
In the old days the promoters would’ve told the riders to race and the event would have gone ahead, no matter what.
Read the rest of Mat Oxley's blog on the Motor Sport Magazine website.