Carmelo Ezpeleta Interview: On Vaccination, Satellite Teams, The UN Report On Mandalika, And Saudi Arabia

The world of sports, along with the rest of the world are still suffering through the Covid-19 pandemic. As things stand now, it looks like the (now misnamed) 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games will take place this summer without international spectators. As for the athletes and teams, being vaccinated against Covid-19 will not be compulsory.

Nor is it in MotoGP, where most of the paddock got vaccinated in the period between the winter test and the first two rounds of the 2021 season thanks to the Qatari Government.

The F1 paddock was offered the same option by Bahrain, but Stefano Domenicali, the President & CEO of Formula 1, turned down the offer saying they don’t want to jump in the queue. “But we need to be prudent and see and respect, of course, what is the situation with all the vulnerable people. We don’t want to be seen as the ones that are taking away that, for sure,” he told the website. Some teams and individuals accepted the possibility anyway.

In MotoGP Carmelo Ezpeleta and Dorna welcomed the offer when it was first presented, also believing that it can help to make a full season possible, complete with oversea races.

"When we decided to move the test from Malaysia and Jerez to Qatar, it gave us the opportunity to stay for a long time in Qatar," the Dorna CEO said. "Then the Qatari Government offered us this opportunity. Obviously, we said we would be extremely happy to do it. It is something that has helped a lot for the championship. It is very important for us and we will remember to this always. The vaccination is helping a lot for the Asian races and the GPs there, but also for the European ones."


And what about the MotoE teams? They were not in Qatar, so they didn’t have the chance to get the vaccine. Was there a possibility to help them as well? "No, not now," according to Ezpeleta. "Also, it was not possible to add them to the list who traveled to Qatar as the list was created before the offer of vaccination."

There were some riders, such as Johann Zarco and Takaaki Nakagami, who refused the vaccination. Did Carmelo Ezpeleta believe it should mandatory for everyone in the paddock to be vaccinated before they were granted entry? "My feeling is that we can’t oblige anybody," the Dorna CEO said. "But that’s another thing, if you are not vaccinated, maybe a country won't allow you to enter." There were precedents for this from history, Ezpeleta pointed out. "This is exactly the same, I remember when I went to the Safari Rally in 1979, they told me if I wanted to enter Kenya, I had to get the malaria vaccination." But Dorna would not make a vaccine compulsory. "We, as Dorna don't have the right to oblige anyone to take anything."

Too fast

Turning to the action on track, top speeds have made a leap this year. Johann Zarco broke the all-time top speed record during FP4 at the 2021 Qatar GP, breaking the 360 km/h barrier. But not only him, Jorge Martin and Jack Miller also entered the top 10 list of recorded top speeds. Until now, all of the records were set at Mugello, now 70% are from Qatar. Was Carmelo Ezpeleta worried by rising top speeds? "It’s one of the things we are studying, but it’s complicated. The only way to resolve these type of questions is as we always do, in cooperation with MSMA. To introduce any kind of limitation is complicated," the Dorna boss explained.

He would like to see a restriction, he said, but finding a workable solution was the problem. "My personal opinion is that it is better to not continue increasing the speed, but talking with different engineers from different manufacturers, I don’t know how it's possible to stop that without creating a big problem. I’m sure this is a question we need to talk about with the MSMA and the FIM to try to solve the situation," he said.

Ensuring the future

What about the future of MotoGP in terms of the factories and the independent teams? The new 5 year contract period starts in 2022. Will it be possible to reach the goal of having four bikes from each factory during that period? That was not Dorna's primary aim, Ezpeleta explained.

"We are creating endurance," he said, focusing on long-term sustainability, rather than a specific requirement. "We are more than happy to have 6 manufacturers, and we don’t want to have more than 6 independent teams. Because this creates an economic sustainability which is necessary for the teams."

Trying to force a situation where each factory had to supply a satellite team would remove bargaining power from the independent team, Ezpeleta pointed out. "At the end it’s the decision of any independent team to receive the best they can regarding the price and the performance of the bike." Having a strict allocation of 4 bikes, including 2 satellite machines, would make that difficult. "I’m not in favor. Theoretically it would be nice to have 4 bikes of each manufacturer, but we will not force anybody into any situation, and it is a possibility to have more than 4 bikes for some manufacturers. This is the choice of the independent teams."

Human rights vs sports

MotoGP is scheduled to go to Indonesia in 2022 at the latest, a long-held wish of the manufacturers, who sell huge quantities of bikes to the country. But in recent weeks, the Mandalika Street Circuit project, where the Indonesian Grand Prix is due to be held, has come under fire from the international community, with the UN Human Rights Council issuing a damning report on the Mandalika tourism complex in which the circuit sits, claiming that land owners had been forcibly evicted without compensation from the Indonesian Tourism Development Corporation, who are behind the project.

When asked about the report, Carmelo Ezpeleta declared his dissatisfaction with it. "I’m not especially happy with this report, especially because one of the paragraphs says that motorsport is old," the Dorna CEO said. "Well, this is the opinion of the United Nations, so we already sent a letter to explain our point of view. But it’s one opinion. We have many opinions about everything. I hope it’s not the opinion of the UN, but the opinion of one member of the commission. I don’t know the quality of him, but especially one paragraph saying that motorsport is old – I completely disagree. I don’t expect any reply from them, but we simply can’t accept these kinds of things, and we replied with our opinion." Ezpeleta said.

There have been moves from another country currently entangled in controversy. Saudi Arabia has made a huge push into motorsport, hosting the Dakar Rally for the past two years, and due to host an F1 race later this year, near Jeddah. Dorna Safety Representative Loris Capirossi took part in the presentation of the Qiddiya Grand Prix, as the Saudi race is to be known.

It is an open secret that Saudi Arabia have also been pushing to host rounds of the MotoGP and WorldSBK championships as well. But Ezpeleta ruled out any possibility of a race in Saudi Arabia for the foreseeable future. "At the moment it’s not possible," he said. "We have an exclusive deal with Qatar for the Middle East, but we are discussing with them about other topics."

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Looks like the Saudi's will be entering Motogp via the VIP areas. Team VR46 has signed up for Motogp with Saudi Aramco as a partner through Tanal Entertainment Sport & Media.

Golly. When Rossi & Co. do something, they really go for it. At the moment, Saudi Aramco is one of the largest corporations when measured by revenue. Almost a trillion US dollars in 2019 alone. 

Wow. What a sponsor. If Aprilia could hook up with that... 

It's completely disingenuous and false for Carmelo to say he cannot oblige anyone. Of course he can. Vaccinations have been required for more than 50 years to do all sorts of things. When did this optioning out of vaccination become a thing? He can say if you aren't vaccinated you can't race. He can do that. And he certainly is not obliged to do business with anyone who is violating human rights. To feign helplessness about the human rights situation in Qatar and Indonesia is pathetic. If Carmelo can't do anything wtf is he being paid for? The racing is great but everything else about Dorna seems disjointed and vaguely unsavory. I won't stop watching but I don't like a lot of the behind-the-scenes stuff.

Does anybody know what Carmelo is talking about when he is complaining about the part of the report that says, "motorsport is old"? Of course, he dodged the important part of the report and focused on a minor detail. Classic deflection technique.

Thank you Niki for writing and posting this!

Refers to it being a long established but with short future sport re combustion engines. Focusing on that aspect, avoids dealing with the Human Rights question. Politicians slight of hand again.

I'm surprised, Carmelo must not be a progressive, he does not want to force people to do something. "We don't have the right" love it! Or, I respect that individuals can and should make up theit own minds. Maybe he will not opine we all must buy electric too?

for taking a stand against at least some wrongs in the world. i know that it is mainly just pissing in the wind, but if people in the west, who have so little to lose, are not at least raising an eyebrow when evil is brazenly and shamelessly parading itself in front of everyone, then how on earth can we expect things to get better?!? and even if you have no moral or ethical compass whatsoever, surely if you profess that you care about motorcycle racing (or also road cycling in my case), you would want it have an as solid financial foundation as possible and not lurch from one unstainable, never mind undesirable, sponsorship environment to another?! but i guess you can rely on motorcycle racing to pick them: tobaco to energy drinks to murderous regimes. wonder who will they latch on to next. makes my piss boil

I'm glad I read it as it cleared up a few things, but not sure what to make of the vaccination and Indonesia things. As suggested above, Ezpeleta seems to be ducking responsibility. Hopefully the vaccination part goes away soon leaving that part moot.

At the risk of attracting unwanted attention...

This is the world of opposites that contains both dark and light energies. Bringing this fact into one's awareness may be productive. But adding emotion power to dark energies just makes them more powerful. It's not clear if the destroyer has the best intentions or not. 

And just a perspective from a nothing guy reclining on the sofa cushion. 

Wasn't aware of a Malaria vaccine that early, think he's getting mixed up. I read there's a promising one coming and that will be straight in my arm.

Forced evictions occur worldwide and yes probably in your own country for some major infrastructure project. The issue here is the lack of compensation and the destruction of local culture....Club Med...really...go to Indonesia...Club Med wtf. To me the destruction of local culture is not a price worth paying for Club Med, an Accor hotel or a race track even if they asked nicely and paid huge compensation. On the plus side...if there is a plus's an island so you know where to avoid. I guess it does come under the heading of human rights but come on, lets not get all hysterical here. I mean, it's not like they are chopping heads off in the street or anything.

Thanks Niki Kovacs, David & Motomatters.

"There is more to life than racing" Miguel Olivera. More than money as well.

I cannot wait to see VR46's VIP supporters arrive at Qatar for testing or the first round in 2022. Won't those visitors get on well with their hosts? Will be awesome to see & hear interviews from the Jamal Khashoggi media centre in Sohail Doha.

Oh Valentino I think you could have done better.

Carmelo dodged the question like a pro! Only say what you want to say, stay on message. Don't mention the emperor's new suit!

In addition to the well-thought comments above, where does this mean we will see racing happen in the next 10 years? Will every venue eventually be like Qatar, with a few ex-pats and some wealthy local oil barrons in the otherwise empty stands?

If tracks like Mugello go away for speed/safety reasons, will we see them replaced by the Saudis of the world? A race date decided by the wealth and desired prestige of the hosting country rather than the passion of the local ticket-purchasing fans? I hope not.

(but at least we'll always have four or five Spanish rounds!)

Thank you for the interview and at least asking the questions even though the hard ones were obviously side stepped like a good politician but great effort for getting it out there and raising the awareness and rank hypocricy.  Keep up the good work.