A Modest Proposal: Prevent Towing In Moto3 By Paying, Not Punishing Riders

The problem of waiting on the racing line for a tow in Moto3 is an intractable one. Race Direction have tried just about everything to stop them. First, they tried issuing warnings. Then they started handing out penalty points. When that made no difference, they brought everyone in for a stiff talk.

That had little impact, so they brought them in for another talk, and a new kind of penalty. Anyone guilty of going slowly (110% of their fastest sector time) through three consecutive sectors would be punished by dropping three places on the grid. The aim was to take away the benefit they gained from looking for a tow. In some cases, Race Direction also forced the Moto3 riders in question to sit out the first ten minutes of warm up on Sunday morning.

It didn't help. At Sepang, there were once again gaggles of Moto3 riders waiting on the racing line, looking for a two along the Malaysian circuit's two massive straights. At Valencia, it will be much the same, given the amount of time which can be gained down the front straight at the track.

Fans and pundits are left frustrated by the lack of effect the punishments imposed have had. So instead, they come up with their own ideas at solving the issue. Putting riders to the back of the grid. Banning them completely for one race. Splitting qualifying into two groups. Even, dumping the current qualifying format and using the old World Superbike one-rider-at-a-time Superpole system.

Unintended consequences

All of those suggestions are fatally flawed in one aspect or another. If you punish riders for towing by putting them to the back of the grid, you have to figure out a way to handle multiple transgressors. If one rider hangs around for a tow, then the punishment makes sense. If five riders wait for a tow, you have to figure out a way of determining which order those five will line up in. If you order that by qualifying times, then you reward those who are successful at getting a tow, and merely encourage them.

If you do it by the order in which they committed the offense, then you encourage riders to game the system. If the first rider to be punished for getting a two goes to the back of the grid, and the second rider to be punished goes behind him, then it pays to be the first rider to break the rules and look for a tow. And of course, how do you handle it at circuits like Sepang, where twenty or more riders are looking for a tow? Riders may actually stand to gain even more from the punishment than they did from the tow.

Splitting qualifying into separate groups means you merely formalize what happens now, where there are a couple of large groups going for a tow. Sending riders out one at a time is fine if you have 20-odd riders and plenty of time, but if you have a grid of 32 Moto3 riders all on 2'15 laps, sending them out one at a time could take well over an hour. Handing out race bans is exceptionally harsh, and would be likely to be overturned on appeal as excessive.

Reverse your perspective

But perhaps Race Direction, fans and pundits are all looking at this from the wrong direction. Perhaps, instead of punishing bad behavior, they should be rewarding good behavior. Instead of fining riders for looking for a tow, how about trying to pay them not to hang around on the racing line looking for a tow?

The system would be simple. Every rider in Moto3 would be given a relatively small sum – perhaps €50 or €100 – paid for out of Dorna's funds after each weekend they were not found to have held anyone up waiting for a tow. Should they at any point be seen loitering on the racing line, or riding too slowly, according to the current criteria (110% of their best time in a sector), then they will forfeit that payment, and go home empty handed.

Would a relatively small sum make such a difference to a professional motorcycle racer? In MotoGP, the sums involved would not make an impression on many riders' salaries, but it is a very different situation in Moto3. Most riders in Moto3 are paying to ride, usually through bringing in personal sponsors. That sponsorship also pays their salaries, or at least their costs for travel and accommodation.

Moto3 riders are barely scratching a living, and so money could be a prime incentive. Taking home €100 a weekend for not looking for a tow won't make anyone rich, but it might be the difference between just scraping through financially, and ending up in debt. It would pay for a night or two in a hotel, a flight with a budget airline to the race. Though it would be a small sum, it might be enough to convert the worse offenders.

A fair price to pay

Though the scheme would cost money, it won't make that much of a dent in Dorna's finances. If a full grid of 32 Moto3 riders behaved perfectly for all 18 races, and each earned €100 every race, it would still only cost Dorna €57,600 that year. Doubling the premium to €200 a race would double the total cost to €115,200. Given that there will still be some offenders, the total cost is likely to be somewhat lower over the course of a season.

Of course, giving riders a financial incentive would not prevent them from looking for a tow – a widely accepted tactic in Moto3 – but it might persuade them to take a different approach. Instead of loitering on the racing line, doing 70 km/h where the fast guys are doing 190 km/h, they may try to ride a little more tactically, trying to find the right time to exit the pits. They might make more use of some of the short cuts many circuits offer to get from the rear of the circuit back to the pits. They may still wait for other riders, but instead of riding very slowly, they ride at closer to normal pace. Or they may wait much further off the racing line, instead of right in the way.

That, in itself, would be an achievement. The reason waiting for a tow on the racing line is so dangerous is because of the speed differential, with slow riders getting in the way of much faster riders and causing them to take drastic evasive action. By persuading riders to either stay completely off the racing line, or if they are going to use the racing line, to ensure they have enough speed, that would drastically reduce the number of dangerous situations during practice and qualifying. Paying riders who behave well may force riders to make subtle but important changes in their behavior.

Incentives work

The idea may well seem insane at first glance, but there is some solid behavioral research behind it. The most interesting parallel is in tackling traffic congestion: several pilot projects in the Netherlands have turned up very positive results, when drivers were paid small amounts (a few euros per trip) not to use specific roads during peak periods. In one project around the Dutch city of Eindhoven, the number of peak-period trips was cut in half, and drivers had learned to avoid peak congestion periods, even after the project period came to an end.

If it can work for something as intractable as traffic congestion, where drivers believe they have to leave at a particular period to be somewhere at a particular time, why might it not work to stop towing in Moto3? Race Direction have nothing to lose by trying. It can't be any less effective than the system we have at the moment.

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I like the idea, possibly paying the team...then it's not just the rider themselves that gets done out of a little (much needed) extra cash, if found loitering. A small price to pay on dorna's part. If let go on, the cost could be a lot than money if someone gets seriously injured.

Interesting idea, David, but coming back to superpole, which incidentally I thoroughly dislike, they could always go at 10 second intervals or something like that.

That would allow a quick process and if it was a single hotlap it'd never be worth hanging around for a tow from the next rider along.

Another thought is to use the fastest laps in the previous race. That'd be tough in some ways but would probably mix the front up a bit more from race to race.

Can't see a superpole set up working, even if riders were let out at 10sec intervals by the time you let 10 riders out the 1st will be lapping on a hot lap... Then start splitting them up and going out at different times could cause problems if weather changes halfway through a session. You would surely get complaints of an unfair advantage. Have they tried or can they punish riders or teams with a fine for bad behaviour rather than reward good behaviour?

I like that in theory, very fair.
Three problems though. One is that the Saturday race goers get cheated out of one Q session, often the most exciting one.
The second is where do you place riders who missed the last race? (late in the season, that could be championship contenders).
Third, what about the first race of the year?

To me, the solution is solo qualifying. I feel it's better for the fans (including the TV audience), and completely eliminates the current problem.

I believe the argument about how much time it would take is wrong. To use the current example, 3 riders at a time could easily be fit on a 2:15 lap, which knocks down the amount of time by a huge amount. All it takes is a single person at the pit exit who is talking to race direction, and has a good "picture" of who is where on the track. The result is a constant flow of riders starting and finishing qualifying, with riders typically 1/3 of a lap apart (or whatever "gap" shows itself as working well). As soon as a rider is near finishing up his "in" lap, the next qualifier is already leaving on his "out" lap.

As a matter of fact, I feel Moto2 and MotoGP should go to it as well -- I've personally always loved seeing one rider/bike (or driver/car) against the clock in a single, all-out lap.

A number of motorsports do this, with no problems at all. Qualifying order could be a random draw at every race.

Exactly as you said. If getting tow is really such a problem, solo qualifying would solve it once and for all, and I agree even the entertainment value doesn't need to suffer, although to be honest I never watch qualifying rounds anyway.

In theory I would agree, giving everybody equal opportunities, but as it's been said before, weather often changes during qualifying sessions and it would be unfair for certain riders to end up in rainy conditions while others have had a perfectly dry course. Besides weather, there's also the changing track conditions. The first one to go out always has the disadvantage that there's less rubber on the track, which translates to slower laptimes.

Anyone guilty of going slowly (110% of their fastest sector time) through three consecutive sectors would be punished by dropping three places on the grid having 0.5 seconds added to their best laptime.

Doesn't have to be particularly a time added, maybe best laptime multiplied by a 1.03 penalty factor.

Multiple infractions would compound, so the 2nd infraction would result in a penalty factor of 1.032.

Perhaps for the third infraction , the penalty factor of 1.033, *and* the rider has to wear a fluorescent orange vest with a black tricycle logo during the race.

I don't think incentives will work. Driving around Eindhoven doesn't MEAN anything, whereas the Moto3 guys are racing for their careers. Sure, most have little money but some have lots and ¢100 might be a small price to pay to get them higher up the grid.

Something definitely has to be done though. My idea's would be:

1. Harsh punishments such has getting a one race ban, or having their fastest qualifying times discounted, whether that time was after getting a tow or not. No warnings or points or anything. Do the crime, do the time.

2. After qualy every offender goes to the back of the grid and their starting position is determined by random draw.

3. Or most radically, not have an official QP at all. On the Saturday evening use the best times from the combined practice sessions to determine a provisional grid . Then the provisional grid gets divided into sections of every 2 rows (or whatever) and each of these sections have its own random draw to determine the starting position within that section. Because, let's face it, it's Moto3 and grid position is over rated anyway, as long as they are in the general area to latch onto the group that they have the pace to race the ridiculous amounts of overtaking means that starting position is irrelevant anyway. It's common for riders to lose 3 or 4 places down the straight and into a corner. As long as the riders start in the correct 'general area' I don't think it really matters which particular position they start.

Scratch all that. My new idea would be that after every qualy session each offender goes to the back of the grid and their positions are determined by random draw, with offences been cumulative. IE (majority of the grid determined by QP pace), then (1st time offenders determined by random draw), then (2nd time offenders determined by random draw), then (3rd time offenders determined by random draw) etc.

In fact, why don't determine all grid positions by random draw? That is the way it was done in the old days. It would eliminate the very root of the problem. Riders' relative luck would even out through the course of a season. And it would certainly add an extra element of excitement to the races. I understand the idea is not without flaws (for instance, what if the championship was to be decided at the last race and one of the contenders got to start first and other one got the last row? etc.) but maybe it merits some consideration?
Here's another idea: sending the offenders to the back of the grid but in the opposite order of which the offense was committed: no one would want to be the first to wait for a tow. I know, there are flaws to this as well ...

The fact that waving a few bills around would be seen as a major incentive speaks to something I've always found a bit depressing...namely, the fact that Moto3 riders--some of the most talented riders in the world, competing in the world's foremost road racing series--risk life and limb for little or no financial compensation.

Sure, they're young. No doubt many come from well-to-do families. Yeah, there are plenty of riders who'd walk over hot coals to take their places. And sure, MotoGP is where the money and attention is. But jeez...would it really put that much of a dent in Dorna's financials to guarantee some kind of minimum salary?

1st Offence: +5 sec on QP time
2nd Offence: + 5 more sec on QP time(total 10sec) plus +5 sec on race time
3th Offence: Race Ban

NO one can afford it

Perhaps the best way of cleaning up Moto3 is to eliminate the need for drafting.
• Replace it with 250 two-strokes
• Replace it with single cylinder 350
• Replace it with 375-400 commercially available engines.
• Etc.

As these events questions safety, why not make the teams accountable???. If a rider from a team is found guilty reduce the team championship points... I guess then this towing will be taken seriously by everyone...

First offense: Start the race from pit lane. Ride the next race weekend the rider/team combo attend without any sponsors logos, etc (blank riding gear and bike). In the event that the rider is replaced the penalty applies to the replacement rider.
Each subsequent offense is another weekend without sponsors logos.

rewarding them with money isn't a good solution. In any society (and Moto3 is a tiny society) there are people/riders with lots of money, and people/riders with no money. fines/rewards always punish the poor harder than the rich.
and then there are rich teams and poor teams. Rich teams can easily pay their riders the reward themselves meaning rich teams can look for towes all year long.

it's like fines for traffic-offences : if the fines are fixed numbers, rich people are hardly affected and will commit more offences while poor people hardly can risk having a fine for ilegal parking.
to me : bad idea. punishments/rewards need to be the same for everyone, so it hurts/rewards everybody in the same way, like grid positions, championship points,...

in fact writing this now : why not give each rider that does not wait for a tow 1 extra championship-point ! Rich teams/riders are affected in the same way as the poor and each team will put eough presure on there riders not to wait for a tow. after all : there are 18 points to be gained over the year.

Exactly! If you make it monetary then you're essentially telling riders that they can break a safety rule for a price - EU100 or so in this case. Most countries have a points system and punishment for driving offences as well as monetary punishments. The money might not seem much to a rich person, but when their licence is suspended and they can't drive anymore they will pay attention.

I don't like the idea of bad behavior being rewarded.

Just disqualify the lap AFTER the one where they waited for a tow. Problem solved.

Where there are two races at meetings in BSB, grid positions for the second race are determined by lap times in the first. Could this be applied to Moto3, but with grid positions determined by lap times at the previous circuit? Qualifying would be about race pace, there would be no point in risking everything for a single lap or dawdling while looking for a tow. And it would reward those who race fast.

Just have the grid be first come first serve - but have the riders push their bikes to the grid. Or have everyone line up in one big line motocross style. Or have them run one lap in full gear and they line up in the order the finish the foot race.

The only real solution to the tow problem in Moto3 is superpole - 1 rider at a time. It is a nice thought to reward those who don't do it, but is anyone going to take that bet? The Moto3 guys are either A) racing for a championship or B) racing to impress to move up to a better funded team with better equipment, move up to Moto2, etc. You can't do any of that from the back of the grid.

If the chance to improve their position on the grid is there, they will take it. Covering your week's hotel bill to stay in the back doesn't really seem a trade-off that young, fast, hungry for success kids are going to take.

when you consider Danny Kent is now getting penalised for trying to avoid giving a tow.

Paying some riders for good behaviour would't address the fastest riders slowing down to stop serial offenders bunching up behind them.

The rules need to distinguish between the 'tower' and the 'towee'

Another aspect is team formation riding, if you want to ban towing do you stop three Ajo riders going out together as a mini peloton? Or should other teams follow there lead? Imagine if Leopard had worked together in Sepang qualifying...

Lots of grey shades here

Teams heading out together, and even tows themselves really, aren't really the issue. When the Ajo or Leopard guys go out together, they head out of the pits together and are on pace together. They're not lurking around waiting for a tow, which is the real issue.

problem with grid positions taken from finishing-order or fastest lap-times from the previous race are many :
* finishing order : what about riders who did not finish through no fault of their own (like taken out by somebody else). they'd have to start from the back and be punished again for something they were already victim off.
* fastest laptimes : what with riders who didn't complete a full lap or only the first one, because they were taken out by someone else ? again a hard punishment.
* what with the first race of the year, rookies obliged to start from the back ?
* it would turn each race in a qualifying-effort to, with lot's of legal tow's. I can imagine riders outside the points working together towing each other just for grid-positions for the next race. even if they ruin their tires complete in the effort because the reward is bigger than racing normaly outside the points.

If the theory is that rewarding good behavior works better than punishing bad behavior, I guess I can see that. But I think actual cash is about the worst incentive in an international racing league. For starters, the numbers just don't add up. Teams spend tens of thousands of dollars to make very small improvements to bikes that already cost six figures just to gain a fraction of a second out on track. And they wouldn't if it weren't worth it. From a rider's perspective, most of those guys are probably running that series with the dream of moving up the food chain to a point where they can make serious coin racing. None of these kids have had a free ride to even get into the series, and anything that can help their competitive odds to increase their chances of winning and raise their profile for upper teams has to be seen as a simple investment that's worth it.

So you have a kid whose family has spent tens and tens of thousands of dollars/euros/whatever to bring their kid up to world championship level, so now the kid has a chance to ride a $100,000 bike in hopes of some day winning a million dollar factory contract... and he/she's gonna give up ten grid places for €100?...

Also, as pointed out above by another commenter, small monetary rewards create a non-level playing field for competitors, considering some riders would find that bonus meaningful and others would consider it a day's allowance. It's a way for a rider to essentially buy an advantage.

There are other ways to reward good behavior, though. This is racing, so time is everything. How about subtracting a tenth of a second from the qualifying time of every racer that doesn't wait on the line for a tow? Or maybe FP1 at the following race is only open to those racers not found guilty of dangerous waiting on the line a the previous round? The richest/poorest/best-sponsored/worst-sponsored/etc. riders all appreciate qualifying time or practice time, so it would be fair.

Paying for performance is an effective way to achieve social and economic change. Companies pay their workers to cause a behavioral response. Regulatory agencies should do the same when feasible, particularly for anti-pollution policy.

However, MotoGP is not really a market-based economic environment. Sport is a zero sum game with one victor and lots of losers. The oversimplified competitive environment is entertaining because it elicits eccentric behavior and outlandish risk-taking. Paying the riders a few euros will not reverse a government-sponsored systemic characteristic.

Furthermore, the flaw pervades the entire MotoGP hierarchy, thus, the flaw cannot be isolated in Moto3. A rider who doesn't tow will not end up on the front row. A rider who doesn't end up on the front row may not have a chance to win. If the rider doesn't win, he will not be promoted to Moto2 or MotoGP. For the rider to gain €100, he must risk millions of future income and risk his career ambitions. Not going to happen.

Superpole is the best probably option, despite its flaws. Control the competitive environment directly. It won't harm the integrity of the competition. Fans/Teams will eventually grow accustomed to the unpredictable nature of shifting weather conditions and superpole crashes. The riders and teams will probably benefit from one lap of dedicated media exposure.

If time is an issue would taking out a practice session work? Less time to set up the bike can sometimes spice things up. Friday practice 1/2. Saturday qualifying and sunday warm up/race.

...in all things faster than a man sprinting. Weight matters more at slower speeds, of course where the aero component is small. If you've ever ridden a bicycle in a bunch you know that part of the key to winning the town-line sprint (or race!) is saving your power while following other riders, especially those foolish enough to go early. Even a marginally fit amateur could follow Tony Martin (really!) in a TT on a bicycle if they just drafted close enough.

The only way to solve this problem is to make qualifying much longer (to make timing departure from the pits reasonable) or only allow one bike on the track at a reasonable interval. I think the "short" qualifying sessions - in all three classes - are immensely stupid, and never understood the need for a frenetic fifteen minutes, because it encourages bad behavior all around.

I think it's interesting that Kent is letting himself get caught up in all the towing nonsense and getting hit with penalties, since early on in the season I remember him crediting a big part of his speed this season was that he wasn't bothering with waiting for tows, and was just heading out on his own and concentrating on improving his own pace.

Everyone is trying to follow him and you could argue that he should just ignore it, but race control seem to unwilling to differentiate between the victim and the guilty. Let's see if Quartararo, Bastianini and Co enjoy it they get it next year or if race control finally take action.

Towing exists because of Moto3 large grids and inherent dynamics. A good tow could be worth over half a second and catapult a less talented rider a dozen places up the grid or more. In all honesty is is a substitute for talent or, at least, the easiest and least expensive way to gain time. It's just part of the game.

I don't mind it in practice because practice is about learning, fine tuning and identifying opportunities. Qualifying is a much more ragged and dangerous affair in which riders become as focused as possible on their times and are not ideally prepared to tackle the distractions of traffic and riders excessively slow in unusual places.

My idea would be to split qualifying in two sessions to eliminate the possibility of slow riders desperately trying to cling to the back of the top riders.

Quite simply, implement two 20 minute sessions. One with the top 15 riders among FP1 and FP2 and another for the other slower riders. And have it so the riders from the top 15 already have grid places 1 to 15 locked down for themselves based on their times (grid penalties do apply afterwards).

That way, the rider who should usually be between 15-20th will not trouble a rider who belongs between 1-5th and thus it will be safer for both and everyone else. There will still be towing, but the packs should naturally be smaller and more homogenous (sp?). And it might even allow for some riders to get more air time than they usually recieve, always a bonus for their sponsors.

These short 20 minute sessions would also provide some tension and drama as crashes become more costly and there is less time for them to idle around waiting for someone to give them a perfect tow.

Simple enough.

Lets not forget the reason why this all started in the first place, which was safety. With crazy speed differences between them racing and them waiting, it was clearly only a matter of time untill someone got seriously hurt. As it is now, and as far as i can remember up till here, this problem seemed to have been adressed with the 110% / splittime rule.
But not everybody who was slowing down while looking over his shoulder was looking for a tow in the past. The faster riders too did this but for a compleet other reason; they wanted a clear space of track to put down a fast lap, not hindered by slow riders on the racing line. And it's this group of riders (roughly the top 4 guys) that still struggles in Qualifying, they simply can't find a clear track without 10 other riders on there tail. The frustration of this got the better of Danny a couple of times and he broke the rules, slowing down more than allowed in an attempt to create space AND get rid of the 10 riders on his tail. It's a bitter pil to swallow because, yes he broke the rules, but no his behaviour didn't create potentially dangerous situations.
In my opinion, the rules solved one problem but created a new one at the same time. Choose your pick.

A rider either agrees to tow you , or not. This could be passive (I don't care), or active (a plan, as with a team).
If a rider intends to seek a tow from another during qualifying, or if the time set is effective qualifying (as with bad weather etc., or other events disrupting normal programmes) then HE has to seek agreement from the rider concerned. This would be team to team agreement, not individual to individual, to ease the bureaucracy and pressure on riders.

A rider/team can then protest the tow of another and have the time disqualified. RD can then set a penalty similar to the current ones.

ANYONE deemed by RD to be riding slowly without good reason or in an effectively dangerous manner would be subject to a loss of points for the team - better minds than mine can set that level but it could be graded from a wins-worth to a single point based on severity or persistency. Any team not accumulating points would lose travel/payment/tyre/testing benefits the following season (this would also discourage low-running teams from pressuring riders).

Thought this was a spoof story when I first read it!

How about slashing the grid size to a maximum of 24 riders (quality, not quantity) then limiting the number of laps they can do to 12.

to this problem that could cost nothing: How about eliminating the sector that contains the longest straight from the qualifying time? Or even if it comes down to just one sector on the track on which a rider wouldn't greatly benefit from a tow, so be it: I guess it's a 27 second qualifying "lap."

Before each race, Race Direction would look at the various sectors, decide which sectors to eliminate so that there would be minimal benefit from towing, and notify the teams.

Why not just adopt the same qualifying as the MotoGP class for all 3 classes. In moto 3 the top half(16) after the 3 practise sessions go through to Q2 with the bottom half (Q1) battling out for 2 spare places in Q2 Or why not try the F! style of qualifying - the only exciting part of F1 these days!! Starting with 36 riders, drop the bottom 12 after Q1 than the next bottom 12 after Q2 leaving the last 12 in Q3. these 2 different qualifying ways would take the same amount of time as you would shorten the Q1, Q2 & Q3 to fit in the allotted time - It may work. A 10 minute Q3 in Moto 3 would finish up looking like a mini race