It is hard to sit down after a MotoGP weekend to write about the racing after a young rider has lost their lives. I have had to do it four times now, and it doesn't get any easier. It merely raises the uncomfortable questions we all know surround motorcycle racing: how do you enjoy a sport which is fundamentally dangerous? A sport in which a mistake risks not just injury, but death?
I have no ready answer to this question. It remains as uncomfortable now as it did the first time I had to address it, after Shoya Tomizawa's tragic accident at Misano in 2010. I feel just as ambiguous about it now as I did eleven years ago. It remains as clear as mud.
If anything, the manner of Jason Dupasquier's passing made the situation even more complicated. The Swiss rider fell right at the end of the Q2 session for Moto3, and was struck by following riders. The minimum combined weight for rider and bike for Moto3 is 152kg. The physics of speed differential and minimum weight meant Dupasquier sustained massive injuries in the incident.
The FIM medical team stabilized Dupasquier, before evacuating him to the Careggi University Hospital for further treatment. That proved fruitless; in a statement issued on Dupasquier's Instagram page, the family announced that the young Swiss rider was declared brain dead in the early hours of Sunday morning, and that the doctors waited to switch off life support until the family had gathered to say their farewells on Sunday evening.
The news that Dupasquier had died was broken to the world shortly after noon on Sunday, just as the Moto2 riders were making their way to the grid. Moto2 started with none of them aware of Dupasquier's death, the riders only being told when they returned to the pits after the race. A minute's silence was held 15 minutes before the start of the MotoGP race, and then the MotoGP race went ahead as scheduled.
Should MotoGP have raced on Sunday at Mugello? For that matter, should Moto2 have raced? There are no easy answers to these questions. On the one hand, it would be good for the riders to have some time to digest the shock of what happened to Dupasquier; on the other, nothing they do will change the fact that Dupasquier has died, the situation remains the same whether they race or not. Would Dupasquier have wanted the show to go on? Would his family? Should his family have been asked?
These are all difficult questions, and the range of opinions was just as wide among the riders as they were among the fans. They went from "we shouldn't be racing", to "it makes no difference", all the way to "it's what Jason would have wanted".
Pecco Bagnaia and Danilo Petrucci were the most fervent opponents of racing. Competing in the race had left Petrucci with a very bad taste in his mouth. "First of all today was a really, really difficult race," the Tech3 KTM rider said. "But not for the sporting side. On the human side I don’t feel really, really clean. I just think that we are racing on the same track that almost 24 hours ago someone like us died. For me it’s not a great thing. We are not in the position to say we can stop for a day, at least. I was always feeling a little bit dirty thinking about a person like you, a rider like me is not any more with us."
Petrucci couldn't help but feel that things might have been different if it had been a MotoGP rider who had died, rather than a Moto3 rider. "We understood the situation was very, very heavy since yesterday. It was clear nobody wants to tell the truth. But we understood the situation. In this case I always think if it happens with a MotoGP rider, if we’d continue doing like this? I mean, it’s a different life because it’s a Moto3 rider or let’s say, he’s more or less important? I don’t think so."
Sunday had been hard, but Saturday had been harder. "Yesterday we had the suit on when we saw these images. The helicopter left track and in three minutes we put the suit and we went out like nobody crash, like nobody knows, nothing happened."
"You see a body on the track, you got the same suit and after 3 minutes the pitlane opens and you pass the point where a rider is dead," Petrucci confessed. "I mean, we talk a lot about safety, about everything, but we passed there after 3 minutes. There was even the flag with red and yellow stripes because maybe there were things they need to use to recover the body. We pass through them like always. It’s difficult to understand when you have the suit on and put the bike and go at 350 km/h thinking that next time (will it be me?) Today was his time. Why cannot it be mine one day? Having just a moment for thinking was better."
No appetite for racing
If Danilo Petrucci had managed to race despite not wanting to, Pecco Bagnaia had not handled the situation nearly as well. He lined up, despite not wanting to race. "After the news I said to my team, to Davide [Tardozzi] that I was preferring to not race today," the factory Ducati rider told us. But he knew he had no option. "This is our work. We have to do it. In conditions like this it’s really difficult I think."
The whole affair had cast Bagnaia back to Barcelona in 2016, when Luis Salom had been killed during practice after crashing and hitting a barrier during Friday practice. Those memories had hit hard, he said. "Already in 2016 when we lose Luis I was in the same situation. Before the race we did 1 minute of silence and I was in the same situation. Today it was very difficult during the minute of silence to not let the tears come down so it was very difficult today."
Standing for the minute's silence, 15 minutes before lining up for the race, had been too much for Bagnaia. He had tried to compartmentalize, to close his mind to the tragedy and just concentrate on racing, but had found it impossible.
"If yesterday was already difficult, today was impossible," Bagnaia said. "I’ve seen the news of Jason during the final part of the Moto3 race, before the start of Moto2. From then I started thinking just about the race. But it was impossible. I was close to being concentrated but then during the 1 minute of silence… Nothing. It was impossible to be concentrated."
He paid the price, crashing out of the lead on the second lap, his concentration lapsing at the Arrabbiatas, a section of the track that was especially tricky thanks to the wind blowing there. But the crash hadn't mattered for Bagnaia. "In any case to finish first or last today, it wouldn’t change anything," Bagnaia said. "It’s been one of the worst days of my life. I didn’t enjoy anything today."
He reiterated that he felt it was wrong to race. "For me, I have asked to not race today. It was not correct for me. If it happened to a MotoGP rider we wouldn’t race. I’m not happy about today, about the decision of someone to let us race after news like this. It doesn’t matter if I crashed. I’m just thinking of him, his family. We have lost a 19-year old rider. This is a very difficult to accept and difficult to accept the decision to let us race today."
The show must (probably) go on
Would the race have been canceled if it had been a MotoGP rider who had died? It's hard to say. There haven't been any comparable situations for a very long time. When Marco Simoncelli died in Sepang in 2011, he was killed at the start of the race, in a crash which brought out a red flag. When Daijiro Kato crashed in Suzuka 2003, the race continued, as Kato hit a barrier and was moved from the track.
Similarly, the two incidents with Moto2 riders were very different. When Luis Salom was killed in Barcelona, all activity was stopped on the same day, and the riders discussed in the medical center how to make the track safe before continuing. Practice resumed the next day, but with a revised layout.
And when Shoya Tomizawa crashed during the Moto2 race at Misano in 2010, and was struck by a following rider – an incident very similar to Dupasquier's crash – the Moto2 race continued as Tomizawa was removed from the gravel and taken to the medical center, then the hospital. And the MotoGP race started as normal, Tomizawa only being pronounced dead at 14:20, halfway through the race, the riders only told as they came into Parc Fermé by Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta.
Let us race
By contrast to Petrucci and Bagnaia, Jack Miller was adamant that the racing definitely should go ahead. "For me I felt like racing," the factory Ducati rider told us. "Jason was a racer at heart. I’m sure he’d have wanted the race to go on. It’s the one thing we love to do and it’s the one thing we’re good at. We have tragedies. We all know motorcycle racing is dangerous. You try not to believe it, or think about what can happen."
What made it more poignant for Miller was that he saw a lot of himself in Dupasquier. "I see a lot of similarities in myself and Jason. Finding your feet and just starting to get going. I think he had a really bright future ahead of him. It’s a ****ing tragedy."
Not that there was anything that could be done to change the situation. "But we can’t do so much for that. I speak for myself: When I get on the bike I try not to think too much, I just think about what my bike is doing, what I am doing and where I need to go. For sure, after, it hits home."
Miller was also happy there had been a minute of silence. "Also in the lead up, you don’t feel good. I want to celebrate with Remy or whatever but it’s impossible when you read this news five minutes before the start of Moto2. My instant thing was to go directly to [IRTA boss] Mike Trimby first of all when when they were on the grid for Moto2. He said there’ll be a minute of silence. I said perfect. Carlos [Ezpeleta] came to me and asked when we’d like to do the minute of silence. I said as soon as possible. It meant a lot. For the fans, for the team. It was emotional. I had some tears in my eyes sitting there, looking at the bike."
For Miller, the greater sin was the repeated showing of the crash on TV. "I don’t agree with what was happening last night. We had a dinner, we had SKY TV on in the hospitality. And I made everybody unplug all the TVs. At the end of the day I think I saw 10 ****ing replays of the crash. I think this is unacceptable. More than anything. You don’t know the situation, you don’t know what is happening. We were hoping and praying all of last night. And for them to just keep playing this **** shouldn’t happen. That they have access to, that footage shouldn’t be there. But that’s the world we live in at the moment. It’s all about media and getting views. It is what it is."
But for the vast majority of riders, they raced because the past could not be undone. Whether they raced or not, Jason Dupasquier lay dead, after sustaining massive injuries in a crash. Canceling the race would not change that, nor would going ahead as normal.
It makes no difference
"Today was very difficult because after what happened to Jason yesterday the question is why we race," Valentino Rossi reflected. "Everything loses sense. I think anyway it doesn’t have sense to not race because unfortunately, what we do today doesn’t change what happened to Jason yesterday. It was very bad. It was very tough."
Rossi has the most experience of the grid, including experience of death. He was racing when Daijiro Kato died at Suzuka in 2003, when Shoya Tomizawa died at Misano in 2010, when Marco Simoncelli was killed at Sepang in 2011, when Luis Salom died at Barcelona in 2016, when Peter Lenz died in a support race in Indianapolis in 2010. Only Marc Márquez, Pol Espargaro, and Johann Zarco were racing at the events where riders were killed in the previous decade. The rest of the grid have had less exposure to death.
Aleix Espargaro saw things from a similar perspective. "Nothing changes," he said, when asked if he would have liked to have been asked whether he wanted to race or not. "If I say yes or no it would be the same." Like brother Pol, Aleix Espargaro wears his heart on his sleeve. "I was very sad sincerely. There are other riders that are maybe affected less by these things, which is not to say they are not good humans as I feel I am, I'm not saying this. But other ones can forget this better and for me, maybe because I'm a father and have a brother racing here, I don’t know but sincerely for me every time this happens it's very difficult for me."
But when the lights went out, they had no choice but to focus on racing. "Again, I don’t know from where we found the strength to forget and as soon as the red lights go to green your brain goes into race mode and you completely forget for the next 40 minutes," Espargaro said.
Franco Morbidelli had some sympathy for those who didn't want to race, but he saw things the same way that Rossi and Espargaro did. "I can understand why some riders don’t want to race," he said. "It's a feeling that every rider has for sure on the grid and it's a feeling you have to fight against when you actually have to race. Because finally not racing doesn't change anything."
The only consolation of racing was to entertain, to show the positive side of the sport after such a brutal reminder of the negative side, Morbidelli said. "At least you can put on some show for the people at home and make them enjoy their Sunday or make their Sunday a little bit more sweet, with showing them the good and the bad parts of our wonderful sport."
The podium men were also in the same camp, but after patiently answering question after question about racing after Dupasquier's death, they eventually grew tired. "First of all, I don't want to answer anymore about Jason because I think everyone said what is our emotion," winner Fabio Quartararo eventually said. "It’s our job. We know the difficult moments that can happen. It happens a few times in a long time, so I think that unfortunately sad to say, but it’s our job. We go at 350 km/h, so it’s not normal. I think it’s like this. I will not answer any more questions about Jason because he will not come back, so that’s it for me."
It is hard not to think about Japanese tennis player Naomi Osaka, the highest ranked women's tennis player in the world. Osaka withdrew from the French Open after announcing she would not do any press conferences because of the strain they placed on her mental health, and then being fined for being true to her word. By withdrawing, and foregoing the chance to earn €1.4 million by winning the tournament, or €750,000 for making it to the final, Osaka was willing to put her money where her mouth is.
As Jonathan Liew, writing in The Guardian, points out, the role of press conferences is vastly overrated. "All over the world, the free press is already under unprecedented assault from authoritarian governments, tech giants and online disinformation. In many countries journalists are literally being killed for doing their job. Meanwhile in Paris, tennis journalists are facing the prospect of having to construct an article entirely from their own words."
This has made me reconsider my initial reaction when we learned that Honda riders would not be speaking to the media after the race. At the time, it seemed like a cop out, a way of avoiding the media after a dismal race. In reality, there is little any rider could say to change the fact that a young man died in a crash.
The riders climbed off their bikes in a state of emotional turmoil, for the most part, after having gone through intense sadness during the minute of silence, then jumping on their bikes to risk their lives racing, all heading into San Donato trying to occupy the same piece of asphalt. Exactly the kind of situation in which a fall is likely, and in which if a rider falls, they are most at risk of being hit by another rider, and suffering a similar fate to Jason Dupasquier. Their mental health certainly wasn't served by speaking to the press, and I'm not sure our mental health, that of those of us in the media, was served very well either.
Age and culture
A few more thoughts on this. Firstly, there are generational and cultural factors at play. It is undeniably true that society has grown less tolerant of risk and danger in the past few decades. In the 1960s, riders would die in practice and their place on the starting grid would be taken by a funeral wreath, while the riders around them prepared to race. Officials had a nonchalant view of safety, an afterthought for a sport which they saw as fundamentally dangerous.
That has changed over the years. We no longer race at street circuits, and the tracks where we do race are subject to ever higher safety standards, riders having a very direct input into changes that need to be made to at circuits. Grand Prix racing no longer loses a few riders a year, the pace having slowed to one death every few years. So as new generations of riders come into the sport, their attitudes to the dangers changes. Incidents are no longer swept under the rug; riders are vocal about their need to take time to deal with tragedy when it strikes.
As for TV broadcasters showing repeats of a crash, that differs enormously by national and regional culture. Spanish and Italian TV is a lot less squeamish about showing lurid images of death and destruction than Northern European and Anglo-Saxon broadcasters. It is understandable that Jack Miller should be upset that Italian TV is showing endless repeats of Dupasquier's crash. But for Italians who have grown up with this kind of coverage, it is entirely unremarkable.
Perhaps the hardest thing of Dupasquier's death is that it is a rude reminder of the real-world consequences of motorcycle racing. As much as we like to pretend that sports really matter – Liverpool manager Bill Shankly's misinterpreted quote about football not being a matter of life and death, but far more important than that is often cited – but in the end, it is just entertainment. The world doesn't change if one rider wins rather than another. Dupasquier's death is reality intruding on the fiction that any of this matters very much.
Whether we like it or not, or agree or not, a race happened on Sunday. After spending over 3000 words on death – a consequence, perhaps, of how large death has loomed in my own life, with my father dying at the beginning of the year – a few thoughts on the MotoGP race at Mugello.
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