VR46 Ducati MotoGP rider Marco Bezzecchi’s Grand Prix of the Americas ended in an unusual way on Sunday, when he was shown the black and orange flag during the race to indicate a technical problem with his bike.
That technical problem was the result of a crash on the opening lap that did enough damage to his bike to leave it smoking and to prompt race control to act.
However, while initial concerns were about an oil leak thanks to the smoke coming out of the damaged Ducati Desmosedici, Bezzecchi was adamant after the race that he should have been allowed to continue because an assessment of the bike’s condition afterwards revealed no substantial damage.
“My start was good,” he explained afterwards, “but in the first few corners I had contact with another rider and I went back in the pack. Then it was difficult for me to go up so I tried to stay there, but in corner 15 I touched the gas and lost the front.
“Fortunately my bike stayed on and nothing was damaged, so I restarted but I don’t know why they stopped me.
“The bike was perfect but they made me stop. It’s normal that the bike smokes when it stays flat on the ground for a few seconds, because the oil goes into the airbox a little bit.
“It’s something that is normal and happens on every kind of bike, and I don’t know why race direction doesn’t know this, but it’s like this. I don’t know why they don’t know this. Everyone who knows bikes knows it.”
However, there’s one key flaw in the rookie’s thought process: the fact that race control simply cannot take risks when it comes to the chance of having a damaged machine pouring oil down across a live racetrack after a crash.
It’s something that has happened before, most spectacularly in Moto3 at Le Mans in 2017, when oil from Adam Norrodin’s machine was spread across a significant section of the track following a four-rider fall in the early stages of the race. The result was absolute chaos as more than half the grid subsequently fell on the second lap, with 17 riders eventually hitting the ground.
Miraculously (given not just the fact that so many fell but that so many avoided being struck by other falling machines in the gravel trap), everyone walked away unscathed from the accident. It could have been so much worse, though.
Turn 4 at Le Mans, where it occurred, is relatively slow. Had it happened at one of the championship’s more terrifying corners (like the now-modified Turn 3 at the Red Bull Ring, for example) then the ending could have been much worse.
That’s why, whether Bezzecchi likes it or not, race control is so strict when it comes to stopping any rider they suspect might be leaking fluids.
Of course, for the more cynical view, there’s also the fact that clean up operations inevitably take a long time, messing with the holy writ that is MotoGP’s TV schedule.
But, from a pure safety aspect, it’s actually my belief that MotoGP doesn’t go far enough – and that it should be looking at the British Superbike championship’s rules preventing any crashed rider from rejoining a race until their machine has been checked over by marshals .
Crashing out of races simply doesn’t produce success stories anyway, and as a result, it’s largely pointless to allow riders to rejoin when the safety risks far outweigh the rewards.
It’s not like a pitlane start or a problem on the grid like Marc Marquez had in the same race as Bezzecchi’s fall, where it’s possible to rally back to a good result, but is perhaps more comparable to a ride-through penalty given the amount of time it knocks off your race.
Sure, there’s perhaps an argument to be made on the very odd occasion, normally when a rider has a crash in the final lap of the race: Andrea Iannone and Andrea Dovizioso’s famous 2016 Argentina clash, for example. But these cases are so rare that it’s actually possible to highlight only a handful of them – whereas crashed riders rejoin races all the time.
Those moments aren’t really worth the potential consequences, and as a result, let’s change the rules – and guarantee that a crash means your race is over.