2014 Magny-Cours World Superbike Sunday Round Up: Team Suggestions

The rain made for a challenging set of races today, with attrition and setup playing a large part in today's races, but mostly, they'll be remembered for one symbol:

Team orders are motorsport's ugly secret and World Superbike has survived without any real scandals. There was shock when Michel Fabrizio didn't let his teammate Noriyuki Haga win the second race in the 2009 round at Imola, with only two rounds to go. Fabrizio also won the last race while Haga was second in both and lost the title to Ben Spies by six points. There was then Eugene Laverty allegedly conceding a place to Max Biaggi in 2012, a move that some thought preposterous because of the reputation of World Superbike. And then, there was today. 

Marco Melandri rode a typical Melandri race, gaining speed as the race went on and his bike got lighter, catching and passing Sylvain Guintoli, who always seems stronger in the earlier parts of a race. With Guintoli in with a chance at the title, Aprilia suggested to their rider that he drop back a place. Then, the lap after, the angry face was added as the suggestion was a little stronger. Melandri eventually conceded the lead, and the victory, to Guintoli, who was able to close the gap to Tom Sykes in the title chase. This was not a subtle losing of a position like Laverty's in 2012; this was a blatant “team order”. Kawasaki followed this, whether inspired by Aprilia or off their own back, by suggesting to Loris Baz that he drop back to give Sykes his fourth place. 

In race two, the same opportunity arose, with Melandri being asked politely four laps from the end, with the angry face coming out a lap later, but this is where he demonstrated that “team orders” are “team suggestions” and he refused their request, much to the obvious displeasure of his team. To concede one win was acceptable to Melandri, but two was not. He stated that he worked for Aprilia, after the first race, and knew what his job was, but after the second, he said that he couldn't give away another victory as he had the pride of his personal sponsors to think of. Aprilia's racing manager Romano Albesiano, who said “we do not like team orders” earlier this year, comically hit Melandri over the head with a cap when he returned to Parc Fermé. 

Team orders are very much a part of motorsport, but today demonstrated that the ultimate choice comes down to the rider. If Melandri had let Guintoli past in both races, with pit boards telling him to do so, the question would still be open as to whether or not a rider is obligated to follow the orders, but there was no doubt today. The team made the request and Melandri saw the signs. He didn't pretend he didn't see the signs or know what he was doing, and he knew that the team wouldn't be happy with his actions. And yet, Melandri left Magny-Cours with a second place and a win. A lesser rider, with fewer job prospects, might not be in as strong a position to refuse, but today, Melandri demonstrated that maybe the term “team orders” is too strong a term for what they are. The genie is out of the bottle, but nothing has really changed.

Tom Sykes still leads the championship, but with the weather being as bad as it was, two fourth places were better than DNFs. Sykes stated that he was at his limit and that he just wasn't able to take the fight to Sylvain Guintoli. What looked like a certainly, winning the championship, will now come down to the last round and it's at Losail International Circuit, a track where the Aprilia has been tested on and one where Guintoli has raced in MotoGP while Sykes has never raced there. For the first time this year, Guintoli is staring down the barrels of a world title, with a proper chance to beat Sykes to the championship, but only, ironically, if Marco Melandri helps him. 

Jonathan Rea lost both a race win and third place in the championship today, and even then, he had a good day. In race one, he finished on the podium, in third place, and in the second race, he was leading the race when he triggered the engine braking, something the team has been working hard on all year, by closing the throttle a little too much. This locked the rear wheel and sent him to the wet tarmac. His teammate Leon Haslam finished third in the second race, beating out Tom Sykes for the podium in a calculated outside manoeuvre at the 180 corner. This was his highest finish all year.

Davide Giugliano crashed in both races, but in race one, he was able to recover in fourteenth place and fight through to finish seventh. In the second race, he had no such luck, crashing out from the lead on the second lap. Giugliano is a very fast rider but his lack of consistency has consigned him to eighth place in the championship, two places behind his teammade Chaz Davies. Davies also crashed today, but only in the first race, and his performance keeps him in sixth place, having crashed out three fewer times than Giugliano this year.

Suzuki had a day to forget, leaving with no points scored. Eugene Laverty crashed in both races, but was able to nurse his bike to the pits for a technical finish in nineteenth place in the first race. Alex Lowes had two early DNFs. 

The wild cards from the IDM German Superbike series, all three members of the 3C Racing team, supported by Ducati Corse, took part, but the quicker of the three, IDM champion Xavi Fores, crashed out of both races, while Max Neukirchner and Lorenzo Lanzi scored points in both races. Lanzi finished eighth and fifth while Neukirchner finished ninth and sixth. 

In World Supersport, Michael van der Mark finished second, continuing his run of first or second places since his DNF in race one at Phillip Island. Jules Cluzel took second place in the championship, taking the fight for second to the last round, the first night time race for World Superbike and World Supersport. Kenan Sofuoglu's bad luck continued with him crashing out from a dominant lead.

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Sure looked like him, but I could very easily be wrong. Ideas on who it was?

That sure looked like one of Marco's mechanics. He is the one who picked up the bike when Marco almost dropped it coming into Parc Ferme. Not sure who he is but then Romano is unmistakable due to his height....

We need more "bad boys" in motorcycle racing.
I think Corser nailed it by saying if he (Guintoli) can't win straight up, he didn't deserve the championship anyway.

He also benefited from Baz waving him through. That could make the difference in the end.

Both Aprilia and Kawasaki don't come out of this looking good.

I suppose each sport has its conventions, but nobody seems to think achieving a Tour De France win is devalued by having 'domestiques' sacrificing themselves to support a team leader.
Some motorsport team members seem to know their place more clearly than others. For example, it's hard to imagine Colin Edwards not moving over, if #46 had needed to pass him for vital championship points - and I suspect this arrangement suited all parties.
Nowadays the MotoGP team hierarchy might not be so clear - I doubt either #26 or #46 see themselves as 'domestiques'.

Now THOSE were team orders, dammit!

Compare what happened here to the utter bulls**t about "team orders" that Laverty tried to spin after Moscow 2012. No one can still believe his crap, can they?

I'll bet Marco has win bonuses in the contracts with his personal sponsors, and that not giving up the win in Race Two was worth more than a few lira to him ...

I seem to remember Superglue letting Charpentier past once or twice in 2006 to help him out after he came back from injury and nobody batted an eyelid.

Given how much Aprilia have spent on the effort to win the title they have every right to issue instructions to the riders if there's a risk of losing everything otherwise. The riders are employees of the company, just like everybody else and with things being so close at the top of the standings, at this point of the season, the points Guintoli missed out on could very well end up deciding things.

If the situation on the points table was different and there were less points between the two, then yes, of course you'd let each have their fair shot at it as there'd still be a good chance of an Aprilia taking the title either way. With Marco being so far down in the standings, while he does have an arithmetic chance, it would take a complete disaster for both Guintoli and Sykes combined with Marco winning the remaining races for him to take it.

But as it stands now, if I was the team manager, I'd be less than impressed.

Although, I'd expect the riders to come to agreement themselves, simply because it makes sense, both for the team and the factory, I would have no hesitation in issuing instructions to them.

Ask yourself, Jared... If you were managing the team, what would you do?

But the thing is this is meant to be a race, and in sport you assume that all do their best. If a footballer is told to give way in a match (maybe deliberately let a goal in) I reckon the fraud squad would be called (all right, I doubt if there is large betting on WSBK). Or imagine these guys were boxers.

If this is meant to be manufacturers championship 1st and riders 2nd, then that should be made clear.

But yes, racing motorcycles costs a load of money and the factories have their sponsors to keep happy, but everyone knows he was told to throw both races, so where's the kudos in that ultimate win for Guintoli / Aprilia? I guess it should have been more disguised and then it wouldn't be an issue...

Guinters didn't look delighted with himself after race 1 and looked more miffed after Race 2. And now whoever takes the title, if it is close, we all know that both Kawasaki and Aprilia have manipulated race results; look how furious Baz was, he beat Sykes fair and square, everyone could see that, and then had to move over at the last bend.

Understandable commercially, but good sport? Dunno.

Comparing the throwing a football match to letting your teammate through is too strong I think. The analogy I'd use is letting your teammate take a penalty kick when you're the one who was fouled in the box. Same outcome, different stats.

It's not the same result - that's the point!

It is the same result.

If a football team manager insists on a player with a better penalty record taking the penalty to enhance the teams chance of success then that is good tactical policy. For a team in WSBK success is defined by winning both the manufactures championship & the riders championship. If out of the two on field players (aka riders) one player offers a significantly better chance of success for the team than the other then of course that player should be favoured.

For the match fixing analogy to hold water the team manager for Aprilia WSBK would need to a) instruct both riders to finish (or crash) behind Sykes and b) have an undisclosed financial interest in seeing his team fail to beat Kawasaki.

No doubt about it, I'd ask Melandri to let Guintoli win. Of course I would. 

Racing is an expensive business, and if I was financing a team, I'd expect my riders to co-operate. I'd be pretty sick if the selfishness of one of my own employees cost me the big prize after I'd expended large sums to achieve a certain goal. At the 2005 Qatar GP we saw Talmasci opportunistically drafting past KTM team-mate Kallio to the line. The 5 lost points cost Kallio the championship, and Talmasci his factory ride for the next year. I'd have fired him too.
OTOH I remember Honda treating Kenan pretty well after he sacrificed his top spot on the podium to give them the championship.

but to reiterate my comment from the race summary:
what we don't know is what was discussed between races. What if Marco asked to get his win bonus (and or be compensated his lost bonuses from sponsors) since he sacrificed his win for the "greater good" of the team. What if they said no? What if they said "no" on the proposition of it happening again? If that were the case I certainly wouldn't cede another spot again. That's a good deal of money on the line, especially when Marco is currently showing to be the stronger rider.

.. its the practice of riders having individual sponsorship. Marco sold his services (& his loyalty) to Aprilia when he signed his contract. The idea that he then enters into contracts with other parties with clauses that may not be in the interest of the team that has hired him is the root cause of this issue. If those contracts end up costing Aprilia the championship will those outraged over the "immorality" of team orders be as outraged over the issue of hidden paymasters & slippery loyalty?

One of the ways teams "cheap out" on paying their riders is to give the riders permission to negotiate helmet deals, boot deals, leathers deals, and sometimes even give the rider a small piece of the real estate on the fairings to sell to sponsors. In the court documents on Spies' dispute with his manager, the gear sponsorship deals for The Ben were estimated in the $1.1 million range per year in MotoGP.

So it's not really the riders' fault that he/she is gathering income from multiple sources. I'd bet Melandri and any other racer would be thrilled to have their team say, "We'll pay you this salary, plus what you would get from Shoei, Dainese, Sidi and anyone else you might get income from. In exchange, all of your gear is branded Aprilia and no other company names/logos appear on your body."

Problem is, of course, that the teams are happy to let someone else carry part of the financial burden of compensating the rider - until a conflict like this arises.

Giulliano is very consistent. as soon as he gets in a good position, he crashes.

Guintoli is doing fine job geting the points, but TBO, Sykes is faster than him, and Melandri is killing him from Sepang on. There is no such thing as undeserved World title, but...I think it should go to a fighter and a powerfull winner. Guintoli seems to be only winning now and then, under special circumstances.

"There is no such thing as undeserved World title, but...I think it should go to a fighter and a powerfull winner"

I wonder if this is also applicable in MotoGP in a certain year 2006 ?

It was writen exactley with Nicky's title in mind. He worked hard and won what he could, with no help from Pedrosa or Honda.

but NH only became WC tnx to the not-intented help from Pedrosa as weird as it may seem.If Dani hadn't refused a race tire at Estoril, Elias wouldn't have received it and wouldn't have won that race and NH wouldn't have been champion.

all I'm saying is it all depends from which POV you look at things. most Sykes/Kawasaki fans will blame Aprilia, most Italians/French/Aprillia fans won't.

This race's results hinged on a *contrived* manipulation of the finishing order in pursuit of a World Championship.

It's A + B = C.

So you're implying that Dani purposely refused that tire, expressly because he was sure Elias could win the race with it, and thus Nicky would be champion?

Or you're trotting out an If/Then example no more relevant to the topic than "If Nicky had been struck by lightning at Valencia, Rossi would have been champion."?

Well, there are reasonable arguments both for and against team orders. But if Team Aprilia revealed anything with its use of the angry face on the pit board, it's that they maintain a sense of humour in difficult situations, as confirmed by the pantomime in Parc Fermé.

Does anyone know if Aprilia plans to continue in World Superbike next year? Marco Melandri is said to be reluctant to move to the Aprilia MotoGP team, preferring to remain in WSBK on a bike capable of winning. But I thought there was some serious question about whether Aprilia would contest both series. And even if they do, would Marco be in line for the ride?

I'm bothered by the whole thing. That being said someone I listen to has made the point "...it's a team sport.".

Sure, but only 1 person is standing on that top podium step. He sure doesn't go get his also ran teammate to stand next to him on the top step.

I think everyone is missing the most important part of this whole situation:

At some point, Aprilia team management had to have gotten together and had a discussion that went something like this:

"Melandri is gonna kick Sylvain's ass. We need some way to let him know during the race that we're not gonna be happy if he beats Guintoli. Suggestions?"

"I got it! How about we print out a grumpy-face emoticon and mount it to Marco's pit board?"

"Brilliant! Johnson, get on that!"

The more you think about everything that had to take place to have that grumpy-face designed, printed, mounted and taken to the track to have it ready to display, the absolute crazier it is ...

Very good, point, they had it ready to go!

This is a great debate actually, and thanks to Jared for kicking it off, because it dominated the result.

I do see both sides but ultimately, is this principally a manufacturer's championship, or is it a riders championship? Clearly the two are in conflict sometimes, and certainly here.

Guintoli is an excellent wet weather rider as we all know; so it takes a really skilled and in form rider to beat Guinters in the wet, that's what Marco did. I can understand why he wasn't prepared to say a polite "after you Guinters" twice in a row, and its quite humiliating for Guintoli too, he would have much more preferred to win it fair and square.

Oh well, I'm sure its not the last we've seen of it. Let's also not forget that Tom Sykes got a favour too.

The manufacturer's championship and rider's championship are not in conflict here. It is precisely the rider's championship that they want to secure right now... For the manufacturer's championship it does not matter in which order Melandri and Guintoli cross the finish line.

The press generally give far more attention to the human winner rather than the victorious manufacturer in motorsport competitions. The public seems to prefer a human idol, so it's understandable why a factory would want to land the rider championship.
There's always exceptions to every rule, which are provided by the LeMans 24 Hours and Bol D'Or. Most enthusiasts will remember Audi and Suzuki's recent triumphs rather than the names of the pilots - perhaps because a crowd on the top step of the podium is confusing - too many names for lazy brains.

I think Aprillia knows Melandri would beat Guintoli long before they arrived at Suzuka :D
And Melandri should have a helmet designed with that face behind it on his next race...cool!

Marco was a bit of a douche, IMO.

SG was racing for the championship. It was very important that he stay upright and ride with caution.

MM of course has no worries about winning the championship and so he could take more risks to put on his dramatic 'look, I'm faster and now I'm pulling over', BS.

Especially in race 2 where the order came out clear. Why would SG risk trying to get in front when he thinks Marco will follow the teams orders and pull over?

I don't have much respect for Marco. Not much for SG either with the way he handled the whole thing by pretending nothing was going on.

You're assuming Guintoli saw Marco's pitboard and knew he would be let past if he tried. This is not necessarily the case.