The announcement that the official MotoGP.com website were to stream the Thursday media debriefs of Marc Márquez and Valentino Rossi live raised some hackles in the paddock. The objections to the move differed with the interests of those complaining. The print media complained that there was no point in flying half the way around the world to cover the series if everything was going to be streamed live anyway. Rival factories complained that the media debriefs of their riders were not being streamed live. Some fans and journalists complained that by showing the debriefs, Dorna were merely fanning the flames, where they should be trying to calm the situation down.
In the end, there wasn't much of a situation to calm down. Sure, the media debriefs of Márquez and Rossi were streamed live. But both men went out of their way not to say anything of interest. The feud lives on, but we didn't notice because we lost interest in what the protagonists were saying about halfway through. There is much to be said for trite media speak.
To an extent, this is probably a good thing. Aleix Espargaro, whose media debrief really should have been streamed live, as it was a great deal more entertaining than all the other rider press conferences put together, pointed out the irony of the situation. "Everybody is talking about the Argentina clash and nobody is talking about the tarmac of America, which is more important!" the factory Aprilia rider complained.
Espargaro has a point. There are serious concerns about the way the circuit has attempted to remove the bumps. The approach taken had been to try to smooth the bumps by grading off a large section of the surface. That may have created more problems than it solved. For a start, the work had done nothing to remove the bumps, Espargaro said. "I did a lot of laps with the bicycle and for me [they did] nothing. It was one of the worst tracks for the bumps. Sincerely, I did laps with the bicycle and for me there is no difference, but we will see tomorrow in FP1, which is important."
What is worse is that the removal process appears to have created a lot of fine grooves on the track surface. The big fear is that the track will cause excessive wear on the tires. If the surface is as abrasive as Michelin and Dunlop fear, it is hard to see how three normal races can be run at the Circuit of the Americas. Extraordinary measures may be needed. We could see compulsory pit stops once again. If the wear is really bad, even compulsory pit stops won't be enough to save the race. The work having been done only in the first week of April, neither Michelin nor Dunlop have had an opportunity to actually test what effect the new surface will have.
All that is speculation, at the moment. As Espargaro said, we will see tomorrow in FP1. Only once bikes are on track will we see how they are affected. The Moto3 bikes, with their narrow tires, may have problems with the grooves making the bikes harder to turn. The fatter tires on the Moto2 and MotoGP bikes are likely to get ripped up quite quickly as they roll across the grain through the turns. Or it may all turn out just fine, the tires more than capable of handling the conditions.
The Safety Commission and Race Direction will have to make a decision fairly quickly on Friday evening. Heavy rain is expected to fall on Saturday, making figuring out how much the slick tires will wear rather difficult. The Austin race is shrouded in uncertainty even before the riders have turned a wheel.
But back to the post-Argentina shenanigans, or perhaps the Argentina shenanigans. The events of that race had thrown up a lot of talking points, and despite having had ten days away to try to forget about the whole affair, the start procedure and Marc Márquez' wild ride through the field. First, there was the strange start after everyone bar Jack Miller went into the pits to swap wets for slicks. Then there was Marc Márquez stalling on the grid and then jumping off and restarting.
HRC had identified the problem which had caused him to stall his RC213V, Márquez said. "It was like something on the gearbox with the dashboard, something electronic there," he told his press conference. "It happened to Cal in practice but they didn't consider, they thought it was just a mistake."
Did he know that the rules said that he had to raise his hand and wait if he stalled his bike on the grid? "I know that you to raise your hand," Márquez explained. "But when you are there on the grid and raise your hand for two seconds more or less, for a rider it's like four seconds. And I didn’t see anybody coming. So then I start to run to be as quick as possible to the pits."
The wrong rules
Márquez revealed that he had been heading for the pits when his bike restarted, after which there had been some confusion with the IRTA officials who had leaped over the wall and in among the riders to try to shepherd Márquez off. "I was going on the pits because there we have the [starter] machine with the mechanic, but I tried and the engine ran," Márquez said. "And then was a big confusion with Race Direction, with IRTA, because also in the past it was possible to start the engine again and come to back to your grid position."
This was not the correct procedure. The rules are clear on what should have happened: Márquez should have put his hand up and waited for a marshal to see it and respond. I asked in the press conference if the riders knew what they were supposed to do in such a case. "You put your hand up and wait for someone to push you off the grid," Cal Crutchlow replied, before pointing out that practice is very different from what is supposed to happen in theory. "I know you have never sat on a MotoGP grid," Crutchlow continued, "but it's not as easy as that, because you want to be in that race, you will do what you do at that time, and nothing will stop you. It's difficult to get off the grid with your adrenaline going, with the lights about to go out."
There was a much stronger reaction to a question whether Race Direction were to blame for the mess which happened in Argentina, and whether a change was needed because of their mistake. Jack Miller piped up as spokesman for the riders. "For me, Race Direction did the best thing they could do under those circumstances," he said. "It was like dominoes, once one rider left, everybody left, and Race Direction were put under immense pressure."
There was less leniency as far as behavior on track was concerned. More clarity and more control was needed over what the limits of acceptable behavior was, was the general consensus in the press conference, but Jack Miller pointed out that Race Direction needed to get a grip on what was going on off track as well. "I think they need to control the fighting a little bit better inside the paddock. I mean we are here to race motorcycles and we're here to fight, but the fight should generally try to stay on track and not so much in the media," Miller told the press conference.
"There are a lot of people coming, especially journalists, trying to get you to say something and I think it's not the correct way," the Australian continued. "I understand everybody is looking for a great story, but sometimes it's not the right way and it's bending the truth and making other people look bad. The fighting I think should stay more on the track and of course, as riders, we need to be careful about what we say because words can be twisted as we’ve seen many times before and a lot of things that maybe have been said, maybe were not meant."
Johann Zarco was very blunt in his assessment of the situation. "We are touching two gods," Zarco pointed out. "We have Vale, who is the first god, and now Marc is becoming this other god because he is doing incredible things. So he got the penalty in Argentina and got no points. This is maybe the worst thing for him about the race, but if we remember in 2015 in Malaysia, for sure it was a strange race but Vale kicked Marc and what was the penalty?"
The penalty imposed on Rossi after Sepang 2015 had not matched the crime, Johann Zarco continued. "Casey Stoner said normally it would be a black flag but he finished the race I think on the podium and they say, like to have a political solution, 'okay you start from last in Valencia'. But knowing his speed for sure he will finish fourth." Trying to ensure equal punishment for equal crimes was hard, especially among such big names, Zarco said.
Jack Miller interjected to remind Zarco and the press conference just how badly such overhyped rivalries can end. "I'm seeing this situation unfolding with a lot of people picking sides and I just want to refresh people's memory of Marco Simoncelli and Dani Pedrosa and how that ended," Miller chided. "We are all here racing and risking our lives and I think for these fans to pick sides and fight against each other - and also riders to fight against each other - I think it's quite silly and immature. They are quite old and they have to remember that life is short and we are risking our lives here."
Meanwhile, further from the front
Aleix Espargaro was the most vocal about the entire situation, most of all because he felt that there was a lot of focus on the clash between Rossi and Márquez, but no attention being paid to the clashes and bashes further down the field. "In the Safety Commission, I will say everything," Espargaro said. "Actually I printed all the actions of Danilo Petrucci over the last three years because it's a disaster. Every race is like this. I talked also with Aspar mechanics and he hit very hard Abraham in corner one in Argentina and Abraham went out of the track. So every race he hits one or other rider. I've printed all the actions where he hit somebody and made him crash and I will ask why, never ever, has he not been penalized?"
What was an even worse example was what happened with Aron Canet in Moto3, Espargaro point out. "I don't know who is putting the penalties," Espargaro proclaimed. "I don’t know how they penalize. I don't know why they penalize sometimes or not. Why was Canet not penalized on Friday in Argentina? He was fully going to crash this guy and got zero penalty. So I don’t understand the job of these Stewards."
Actually penalizing riders was a mark of respect for the other riders, Espargaro said. "The flags have to be there to be used. The blue flag they show when someone is faster than you, the yellow flag for the crash, the black flag for a really hard action. So if we have the black flag we have to use it. And Marc knows perfectly because I talked with him and he knows he did enough to get the black flag. So why 30-seconds penalty? If we have the black flag we have to use it, if not we remove. For the rest of the riders I think we deserve a bit more respect, so in my opinion the black flag is maybe more respectful to the rest of the grid."
Márquez had at least phoned Espargaro on three separate occasions to apologies for hitting him, the Gresini Aprilia rider said. "Marc called me immediately after the race and was ten minutes saying 'sorry, sorry, sorry'. I cannot kill him. I was angry with Marc, obviously very angry, and I said to him, 'mate, big, big mistake'. And he said to me three times, 'sorry. I'm very sorry. I made a very bad calculation. I think I was more aggressive with you than with Valentino. I'm very sorry.'"
Contrition is very nice, of course, but it has to be heartfelt enough to actually engender change in the protagonists. The proof of the pudding, of whether the FIM Panel of Stewards has administered a sufficiently strong penalty to Marc Márquez to change his way of going about racing will only be visible once the flag drops again, when Márquez has to fight his way to the front. Only then will we see if any of this makes any difference.
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