Grand Prix motorcycle racers following each other in practice and qualifying sessions to both steal tows and use a faster bike as a reference point is a long-established tactic, and one that causes varying degrees of rage at virtually every MotoGP race weekend.
Some riders gained almost comedic reputations for relying on that trick to qualify anywhere near respectability. Marc Marquez routinely does it despite his own brilliance.
Sometimes it actually badly compromises the rider trying to do the shadowing. More often, it infuriates the rider being shadowed.
Farcical scenes on the television broadcast of riders spreading out across the track and trundling along waiting for someone to follow during the vital third practice session at Austin last weekend, plus Aleix Espargaro’s rage towards Alex Marquez over it after qualifying both put the issue in a fresh spotlight.
It’s led to calls for MotoGP to emulate the World Superbike Championship by creating an equivalent of the Superpole sprint race it uses to set the top grid positions for its Sunday races. MotoGP champion Fabio Quartararo is among the advocates of that one.
But Suzuki’s Alex Rins has a different idea.
He was among the most vocal critics of what happened at the Circuit of the Americas last Saturday.
“It’s unacceptable. It’s unacceptable what we saw in MotoGP,” he said.
“We are MotoGP riders. I think they are waiting more than the Moto3 riders. The race direction, the stewards need to do something because it’s not the way to do the grand prix.
“We are the big boys, we need to give an example to the others.
“I do not know. I don’t have words to describe the feeling. I was in Q1 pushing, pushing, pushing, then four or five riders stopped in front.
“It makes no sense. It’s so dangerous. They need to do something because, like this, we are not going good.”
His suggestion isn’t a radical format revamp, but mandating time gaps between riders for their pit exits at the start of qualifying. Those gaps would obviously fluctuate as people tackle non-flying laps differently, but Rins feels that would at least make it very clear who needed to be penalised—and hopes they’d then be properly punished.
“I was thinking, maybe for Q1, Q2, in order of the FP3 classification, going for example ‘Aleix finished 11th, so he goes, then five seconds of waiting for the next rider, then goes the next rider.
“Like this, they will see which are the riders who close the throttle and then get the penalty.”
Not all riders felt a change was necessary.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Alex Marquez was among the defenders of the practice.
“For me it’s a good thing if they want to follow me, it will be nice news that I’m fast,” he said.
“It’s something that happens in Moto3, happens in Moto2, happens in MotoGP. This is the game.
“To change the rule, to superpole or something like this, I think for the show will be more boring.”
And Espargaro’s complaints weren’t backed by either his Aprilia team-mate Maverick Vinales or his Honda-riding brother Pol.
“Honestly, this is not our job,” said Vinales when asked by The Race what he thought of Rins’ time gaps idea.
“I will not waste time on thinking of if to do something – this is part of the game. Sometimes it plays better, sometimes it plays worse.
“But you have to be smart enough to get the good point, because, especially with Aleix, we took three yellow flags in three fast laps in FP3. So we were not able even to do one lap, on the last [rear] tyre. But…we have to do the laptime before!
“It’s a matter of timing. Nothing else. Timing and the luck to do the time in the correct moment, that is all.”
Pol Espargaro called the touring and following situation “part of the job” that everyone needed to just accept and work with.
“We are more and more tighter and tighter, closer to everyone, and just one tenth, it solves so much,” he said.
“OK, sometimes it affects you, like for me for example in Mandalika with Alex Marquez and [Luca] Marini, and sometimes you are the guy behind.
“You need to take it, it’s not a problem.”