Last week, the Grand Prix Commission changed the red flag rules for all three grand prix classes. Previously, the result of a race that was red flagged was taken from the last lap on which all riders had crossed the finish line before the red flag was shown. But in response to the perceived injustice of that situation, the GPC has changed to bring the result closer to the actual standing at the time the red flag was actually shown.
In the new situation, the final lap before the red flag was shown will determine the outcome. All of the riders on the same lap as the leader will be classified in the order they crossed the line. Any riders not on the same lap as the leader will be classified in the order they crossed the line on the penultimate lap before the red flag.
In effect, the change being made ensures that all riders will be classified in the order they crossed the finish line for the last time prior to the red flag being shown, whether that be on the same lap as the leader, one lap back, or several laps back.
The change was made in response to a number of situations in the past couple of years, with the Moto3 races at Austin a particularly unfortunate example. The race was red flagged twice, and the second running of the race saw a massive smash with two and a half laps remaining, when Deniz Öncü clipped the front wheel of Jeremy Alcoba as they raced along the back straight at the Circuit of The Americas, causing Alcoba to crash in front of the charging pack. Andrea Migno and Pedro Acosta had huge crashes as well, leaving the track littered with debris leaving Race Direction no choice but to red flag the race.
Under normal circumstances, the result would have gone back one lap, but as the pack entered Turn 11, race leader at the time Izan Guevara suffered a technical issue, and had to pull into the pits, leaving John McPhee, Jaume Masia, and Darryn Binder to cross the line as the top three.
However, because Guevara had pulled into the pits, the entire field had not crossed the line at the end of the lap before the red flag was shown. So under the old rules, Race Direction was forced to go back two laps. That made Izan Guevara the winner, putting Dennis Foggia into second and dropping McPhee down to third.
Under the new rules, Race Direction would have gone back one lap for the podium, putting McPhee, Masia, and Binder onto the podium.
New solutions, new problems
Although this is a fairer reflection of the state of the race when the red flag is shown, Twitter user Pablo Thuillier pointed out a possible problem. If, for example, a rider is leading the race with two laps to go before a red flag, but runs wide on the lap before the red flag, and drops down to, say 20th, behind a group that did not cross the line before the red flag was shown, then the former leader, now in 20th, will be classified in his position with 2 laps to go, along with the group that also didn't cross the line before the red flag.
However, the former race leader can't be given the win – they were not leading the race the last time riders crossed the finish line before the red flag. And they can't be classified in 20th – they were in first position the penultimate time the rides crossed the line before the red flag.
The solution, then, is for the riders who finished on the same lap as the leader to be classified in order, and the former race leader on the penultimate lap to be classified as the leader of all the riders who did not cross the line before the red flag.
To give a concrete example:
- Rider A is leading a group of 10 riders on lap 14.
- At the start of lap 15, Rider A runs wide and into the gravel, and rejoins behind a second group of 10 riders. Rider A is now in 20th position.
- The lead group, now down to 9 riders and led by Rider B, crosses the line at the end of lap 15, to start lap 16.
- There is a crash behind the two groups, causing the race to be red flagged
- The second group, with Rider A still in 20th, does not cross the finish line at the end of lap 15.
How they would be classified:
- In this scenario, the lead group would be classified in the order they crossed the line at the end of lap 15.
- The second group, including Rider A, would be classified in the order they crossed the line at the end of lap 14.
- BUT: Rider A was the first rider of the second group to complete lap 14, and so will be promoted to 10th.
I checked this scenario via email with Race Director Mike Webb. He said it was accurate. "All riders that haven’t crossed the finish line on the same lap as the leader are classified in the order they crossed the finish line on the previous lap, but behind the first classification of riders who did cross the line on the lead lap. So Rider A would be 10th," Webb wrote in an email.
Improvement one step at a time
When I pointed out that there were situations such as this where the new rules might seem unfair, Webb pointed out that any current solution will have some inherent unfairness in very specific scenarios, but that this solution was felt to be a big improvement and much fairer than the previous rules.
"There are possible anomalies such as this in any classification system, however it is much less unfair than the previous system where if any one rider did not cross the line on that lap, then all riders were classified based on their previous completed lap. All incidents and passes on that last lap were rendered moot for the whole field, meaning in your scenario Rider A would be the declared the winner," Webb wrote. That is precisely the scenario which occurred at Austin in the Moto3 race.
The WorldSBK series uses a different method of dealing with red flags, taking the last sector timing loop crossed by each rider as a virtual finish line. Webb pointed out that even in this scenario, there are some sectors which are so long that it is possible for a similar scenario as described above to occur, where a rider leads through one sector, runs wide and loses a lot of time, and then gets promoted or demoted to a position which, on the face of it, does not reflect their position in the race when the red flag was shown.
Webb also pointed out that technical failures were possible, such as transponder failures, which made it difficult to verify positions through each sector. Though rare, this is known to happen: several times a year a rider will disappear off the timing screens, only to reappear in exactly the same position we last saw them, a glitch in the transponder causing them to become invisible to timekeeping.
Future technological fixes
But a side benefit of MotoGP's push for safety, which involves much better information on the precise location of each rider, to allow them to be warned when a dangerous situation occurs, such as when a bike or rider falls and is left on track, means that in the future, such technology could also be used to improve race results in red-flagged races. In theory, Race Direction would know the precise location of each bike at the time the red flag is shown, and can set the race classification accordingly.
That technology is not yet ready to be used in practice and race situations, however. "Soon the technology will allow us to provide definitive positions of all bikes at all times to give the best and fairest classification, but it’s not ready yet," Webb told me. "Look at these new rules as a significant step fairer than the previous, on the way to an even better system."
Making a fair and accurate assessment of the classification of a race which is red flagged is always difficult, if not currently impossible. These new rules will remove some of the unfairness of the former system, though it is unable to address the question completely. But it is progress, and that is a good thing.
The press release from the FIM appears below:
FIM Grand Prix World Championship
Decision of the Grand Prix Commission
The Grand Prix Commission, composed of Messrs. Carmelo Ezpeleta (Dorna, Chairman), Paul Duparc (FIM), Herve Poncharal (IRTA), and Biense Bierma (MSMA), in an electronic meeting held on 4 February 2022 made the following decision:
Race Classification in an Interrupted Race
Previously, if a race was red flagged and a final result declared, the result was taken from the lap on which all riders had last crossed the finish line. If a rider or several riders were half a lap or more behind the race leader, this caused the race classification to be taken from the previous lap, even when the race leader and the majority of the field had completed the next lap. In these cases, any position changes or crashes on the race leader’s final lap were rendered moot.
Effective immediately, the result of a red flagged race will now be taken from the last time the race leader crosses the finish line before the red flag is shown. All riders who cross the finish line on the same lap as the leader before the red flag will be classified in that order, as a partial classification.
Any riders who do not cross the finish line on the same lap as the leader before the red flag is shown will be classified based on where they crossed the finish line on the previous lap.
These two partial classifications will be combined to provide the final race result.
This system previously applied to races that were red flagged after the race leader had taken the chequered flag, and will now apply to all red flagged races for which a final result is declared.
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