The MotoGP season is underway, but struggling once again against Covid. At the helm is still Carmelo Ezpeleta, the man who learned to navigate the troubled waters of the pandemic last year. Another difficult season is expected, but the Dorna boss is optimistic: vaccinations will help the world championship and 18 is the number of races they want to reach in 2021. It’s another year that has started without Marquez, but with Valentino still on track. Covid, Marc and Rossi are just some of the topics touched by Ezpeleta in a long interview granted to GPOne.
How difficult was it to organize this season?
“After last year we have the experience of what can happen, for the moment the situation is not worse, so we will continue with the same system. Honestly, after the end of last season we thought things would be better, but we still can’t get out of it. I am confident that in the coming months the vaccinations will help us, for the moment we will continue with the same protocol as last year”.
How important is it that the entire paddock is vaccinated?
“I don’t know exactly how many we have signed up, but I have been told almost everyone. With the utmost respect for those who did not want to do it, I think it is very important to have a large number of people vaccinated, because statistically this avoids contracting the disease and avoiding what happened to Fausto Gresini. I’m sure it’s something positive and no one will have any contraindications, if not a little fever for a day. I did it myself and I had no reaction. But I don’t think vaccination will allow us to change the protocol until the authorities decide. It is an internal initiative for which I thank Qatar very much, because the paddock will be protected throughout the season”.
“All the Grands Prix in Europe are confirmed: we want to do 18 races”
After this start to the championship in Qatar, should we expect many changes to the calendar?
“One thing I want to specify, if at times we can’t do a Grand Prix, we will be the first to know, so I would like people not to talk about what could happen in the paddock, I don’t think certain voices help. It is better to wait instead of creating anxiety, if there is any problem I will be the first to communicate it. For the moment all the Grands Prix are confirmed, I think we will do all the races in Europe, like last year”.
And those outside of Europe?
“What will happen in October we will only be able to know at the beginning of the summer, around July. Our intention is to do at least 18 races, with the European ones we will reach 14, so there are 4 missing: Japan, Australia, Malaysia and Thailand. If it is not possible to race in some of these, Argentina and Texas want to do the GP and Indonesia is as a reserve, so I am thinking of a calendar of 18 races”.
“The paddock has learned to work together, I’m proud”
It is said that you learn from difficult situations, what is it?
“You learn a lot. I learned that working together helps a lot and that everyone has understood that they are in a special situation by accepting different conditions, of this I am proud. Journalists are an example, I would like to return to having spectators and the press moving around the paddock, but we must understand that it is not possible. The most important thing missing for me is spectators, but also the journalists. At first people thought it was our decision, but we must accept the decisions of the host countries. For example, here in Qatar the government closed the swimming pools after a few days and we have to accept that. Our common goal is to race”.
“For the next 5 years we will have 6 manufacturers and 24 bikes on the grid”
In recent months the MotoGP manufacturers are signing the renewal of the contract with Dorna for the next 5 years, what can we expect from 2022?
“Aprilia and Suzuki are missing, but it’s just a matter of a signature. I expect Aprilia to take another step forward thanks to the concessions, but it is already competitive, in fact Aleix finished 6 seconds behind the first in a fast race. I expect to have 6 manufacturers capable of fighting for the victory, the satellite teams will have the possibility to choose which bike to race with and this will be a guarantee for the future ”.
Six manufacturers is the perfect number?
“It is not a question of perfection, we know that for economic and value reasons we cannot exceed that number. So we will not increase the number of teams, the compromise is to have 24 riders on the grid”.
There was the idea of having 4 bikes for each manufacturer, will it be possible in 2022?
“It is a possibility more than an idea, the law of the market counts a lot. Everyone wants to have a satellite team, but then we need to find a commercial agreement and we have no say on that ”.
“There was no mistake on the part of the MotoGP doctors: Marquez had passed the test to race”
How much is MotoGP missing Marc Marquez?
“Clearly missing, we are talking about the rider who has dominated the last few seasons and from one moment to the next he is gone. I think the other riders are not hanging about, they are all fast”.
Were any mistakes made by the doctors in allowing him to return to Jerez a few days after the operation?
“No, absolutely not. There are those who argue that there is no protocol for these cases, but it is not true: there is. It had been changed after what happened at Assen in 2017, if you are undergoing general anesthesia you cannot race until a certain amount of time has passed. When a rider does those push-ups, like Marc did, by what rule do you tell him he can’t race? He came back, passed a medical check and was allowed to race, it couldn’t be otherwise. He did practice on Friday and then, for reasons only he knows, he decided not to continue. At home, training or opening a window, I won’t go into the matter, he had a problem with the plate, but not in the circuit. I don’t know if mistakes were made or not because I’m not a doctor. As far as I’m concerned, no medical errors were made within the championship. As far as I’m concerned, I respect all the decisions of a rider, including not coming to race in Qatar after having tested in Barcelona and Portimao. You have to give maximum respect to what a rider decides to do with his body”.
“There was a lack of respect towards Marquez, a lot of people spoke without knowing the situation”
What’s not there?
“I don’t know what Marc and the doctors said to each other. It seems to me, however, that it was not correct that other doctors entered this discussion by saying what they would have done differently. It’s like when, in a football match, you tell a goalkeeper how he was supposed to save the penalty after it has been taken. It seems to me that there was a lack of respect on the part of the people, especially on the part of some doctors, who gave their opinion without knowing things thoroughly. Everyone seemed to be experts in plates, arms, the only thing I can say is that I saw the push-ups he did in front of the doctors in Jerez. So I ask who could say that a rider who can do that is not allowed to race. Riders are not normal people (laughs), we have seen this throughout the history of the world championship. Doohan, in 1993, raced after the operation in Interlagos and Kyalami, struggling to get on his bike. It is a story made up of heroes”.
So the protocol remains the same?
“How can we change it? Should we say that if you have an operation you can’t race for two weeks? Okay, but it’s the same for an arm or a finger. Now it’s all very simple: there are exercises to complete, if you can do them you race, otherwise not. We tried to figure out how to change it, but we didn’t find out how ”.
Have you talked to Marquez?
“I can see that he’s good. I’m sure he won’t come back if he can’t win, Marc’s mentality is the same as always”.
“I don’t think this is the last season for Valentino. What’s the difference between 42 and 45 years?”
Marquez is one of the symbols of MotoGP this year, another is Valentino. Will it be a shock for MotoGP when he retires?
“No, I expect Valentino will still be there. One day he will have to retire, he is extraordinary: he is 42 years old, what is the difference between 42 and 45? Valentino and I have never talked about retirement, neither his nor mine. Out of respect, he’s the one who hath to decide. The last time I spoke to him he told me: if I enjoy it I will continue, but I don’t enjoy just taking part. I respect him 100%, I think Valentino has extraordinary value as a rider. One day he will quit, but I don’t expect this to be his last season. I know that Valentino will remain here anyway, because this is his life and he is doing an extraordinary job with the Academy, as he did as a rider. I believe he will continue to do so”.