The Repsol Honda team has issued a press release stating that they intend to protest the change made to the penalty imposed on Marc Marquez after the incident at Portimão in which he hit Miguel Oliveira.
The original Notification of Sanction from the FIM Stewards stated that Marc Marquez was to serve a Double Long Lap Penalty at the Argentina Grand Prix at Termas de Rio Hondo. When it became clear that Marquez would miss the Argentina round of MotoGP, the FIM Stewards amended the penalty to add a clause stating that if Marquez was absent from Argentina, he would have to serve the penalty at the next race in which he participated.
The Repsol Honda statement made it very clear that what they are protesting is the change to the original penalty, rather than the penalty itself. The statement says that the original penalty issued was final and definitive, and the FIM Stewards have no grounds to change it at a later date.
It's a fair cop
Marc Marquez made clear on Sunday night after the race that he acknowledged his error and would accept any penalty imposed. "I have been penalized for that mistake with a Double Long Lap Penalty, that I completely, completely agree with," the Repsol Honda rider told us.
"In the rules briefing on Thursday, by the rules which they explained, it’s a Double Long Lap Penalty," Marquez said. "But if the rules say a heavier penalty, I will accept it because it was my mistake. But the rules say that the penalty is this."
The path ahead
The Repsol Honda team have lodged their protest with the FIM Appeal Stewards, the body which is the first port of call in an appeal against a penalty issued by the FIM Stewards Panel, who respond to infractions of the rules at the event itself. The next step would be the MotoGP Court of Appeal, but the grand prix regulations say that if the FIM Appeal Stewards uphold the decision of the FIM Stewards Panel, then no appeal can be made to the MotoGP Court of Appeal. In that case, the Repsol Honda team could still appeal to the CAS, the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
The basis for the protest
Whether Repsol Honda's protest will have any chance of success is a completely open question. They are, after all, not appealing the penalty, but the change to the penalty. There is very little in the rules concerning the finality of penalties issued by the FIM Stewards Panel.
The only section in the rules covering judgments is section 3.5.5 - Notification of judgments. This states the following:
The decisions of the FIM MotoGP Stewards Panel and of the FIM Appeal Stewards must be notified directly at the event venue, or failing that, addressed by registered letter with acknowledgement of receipt or by electronic mail.
The crud of history
Repsol Honda's protest at the change of sanction is timely, and necessary. The FIM Grand Prix Regulations have grown as a process of accretion over the 75 years the championship has existed, and been amended to reflect changes to the series and the world in which MotoGP operates. However, there are still glaring holes in the regulations, which are only exposed when circumstances not covered in the rules arise.
That appears to be the case here. The Grand Prix Regulations state nothing about when notifications issued by the FIM Stewards is to be considered final, and whether it can be amended. It says nothing about how and when penalties are to be applied, and what happens if a rider is absent through injury.
There are plenty of other questions raised by this case. What happens if a rider is given a Long Lap Penalty, starts the race in which it is to be served, but crashes in the first corner and can't serve the penalty? Does that clear the penalty or not? What if they are injured during qualifying or the Sprint Race and can't continue?
Whatever you think of Marc Marquez' actions (and it was clear that his mistake caused another rider to crash and injure themselves), the Repsol Honda Team's protest at the revised penalty is an opportunity to test the current system in a legal setting. The application of penalties has been inconsistent to the point of seeming arbitrary in recent years, and with the financial and commercial stakes being raised every year, the current system is long overdue a thorough examination and overhaul.
The FIM and Dorna should seize this opportunity to take the current rulebook and examine and address any ambiguities or holes in the rules. It is a chance to completely overhaul the penalty framework to make it much clearer to riders and teams how it will apply, and when they can expect certainty.
That will also require an examination of the intention of the rules. If a rider gets a penalty for riding dangerously, but injures themselves as a result, is that sufficient punishment? Or should the penalty be served at the next race in which they participate?
These are fundamental philosophical questions which are often treated as unspoken rules, understood among current and former races. But we no longer live in a world where a rider's or a steward's word is good enough assurance. This is a legalistic world, and it needs a legalistic approach.
The Repsol Honda Team press release on appealing the penalty appears below:
Repsol Honda Team Statement on FIM penalty modification
In relation to the sanction imposed by the FIM on Marc Marquez for the race incident that occurred at the Portuguese Grand Prix, the Repsol Honda Team considers that the modification of the penalty consisted of a change of criteria on when the penalty should be applied, and that this modification was issued by the FIM two days after the initial sanction was final and definitive, is not in line with the current regulations of the FIM for the MotoGP World Championship. For this reason, the Repsol Honda Team intends to use all the means of recourse offered by the regulations in force to defend its rights and legitimate interests, which it considers violated as a result of the latest resolution adopted, and in particular has duly submitted an Appeal before the FIM Appeal Stewards.