2013 Le Mans MotoGP Thursday Round Up: Just When Are Penalty Points Appropriate?
Where do you draw the line? That's the central question in the paddock at Le Mans. The last-corner incident at Jerez is still front and foremost in many riders' minds, though perhaps none more so than Jorge Lorenzo's. Jorge Lorenzo still believes that Marc Marquez should be penalized for the move he made at Jerez, while the rest of the world remains to be convinced.
The subject came up at a rider briefing held by Race Direction at Le Mans, after all of the riders had arrived at the track, but before the press conference was due to begin. The briefing had been convened to discuss other issues - what to do when races are red flagged, behavior on the grid, the procedure for restarts, and a host of other complicated but important details surrounding safety. The briefing was clearly needed, as Marc VDS rookie Livio Loi's post red flag crash at Jerez made clear, the youngster's lack of experience causing him problems.
It was inevitable that the subject of the clash between Marquez and Lorenzo would come up at a meeting such as this, and, depending on whose account you believe, it was inevitable that tempers would be frayed. Lorenzo was described on GPOne as being 'furious' with Race Direction over their refusal to penalize Marquez for his pass at Jerez, though in the press conference, Lorenzo played that report down. He stood by his assertion that Race Direction needed to penalize Marquez, and that he had left the meeting early because "I thought it was over, the briefing, and I leave. Someone has to leave first, so I was the first one to leave."
That's not the way that others saw it, however. GPOne reports that Lorenzo harangued Race Direction for not imposing a penalty on Marquez, and that by not doing so, the penalty point system became meaningless. He was particularly harsh on Loris Capirossi, according to GPOne, pointing to the many misdemeanors the Italian ex-rider, and now Safety Officer, has committed in the past. It is indeed odd that a man capable of a move as cynical and dangerous as the last-corner wiping out of Tetsuya Harada to take the 1998 250cc title in Argentina should be named as a 'Safety Officer'. But then again, Capirossi is just one man among four who make up Race Direction, the others being Race Director Mike Webb, Dorna representative Javier Alonzo, and FIM appointee Franco Uncini. The decision was taken collectively, so singling Capirossi out is not entirely fair.
Raising the issue of the penalty system is important, clearly, but the devil is in the detail of how to apply it. For Lorenzo, the issue is clear: "In my opinion, when you make a hit, you must be penalized somehow, one point, two points." Whereas for the remaining riders, and Race Director Mike Webb, it is a far more complex equation. What it boils down to for everyone who isn't Jorge Lorenzo is a combination of intent, danger, and context. Dani Pedrosa, Valentino Rossi, Cal Crutchlow, Mike Webb, Randy de Puniet, their attitude was summed up by the words of Dani Pedrosa: "Last corner, last lap."
"It's difficult to understand where the limit is," Cal Crutchlow explained, "but I think we're racing motorcycles, there are 25 guys riding around, at some point in the year, the main guys are going to hit each other, or at least touch." Randy de Puniet concurred: "this is the race and these guys fight for the world championship." It was a lot easier for the riders than it was for Race Direction, Crutchlow said. "We just go for the gap that is there," the Englishman quipped. "Last year, I did the same to Nicky in the first lap, and together we said 'rubbin' is racin'." In the end, it is simple: "nobody crashed, nobody was hurt, it needs to be forgotten about and carry on racing."
Though there appears to be much disagreement between Jorge Lorenzo and the rest of the riders, in reality, the difference is small. The penalty point system is a big improvement, as it makes it much clearer where each rider stands. And it also provides a valuable lesson to young riders, as Jorge Lorenzo explained. It had changed his riding in the past. "When you are penalized, you change your mind and you become a more logical rider, as happened with me," Lorenzo explained. "In 2005, I made many mistakes, and the only time I changed is when I got penalized for one race [Lorenzo received a one-race ban for his clash with Alex De Angelis in the 250cc race at Motegi that year - DE]. If not, I probably stay riding the same, and make more races crashing."
A line has to be drawn in the sand, a boundary marking competitive riding from dangerous riding. Step over that mark, and points must be awarded by Race Direction, to avoid a repeat of the same situation. But this is where Jorge Lorenzo differs from the rest of the world: when Marc Marquez dives up the inside on the last corner of the race, into space left by Jorge Lorenzo, everyone except Lorenzo regards that as a racing incident. "Always there is some limit, but last lap, last corner, if I see some space, I will try," Marquez himself said of the incident.
One day points will be handed out, and given that he points system itself is widely believed to have been introduced to cope with the situations created by Marc Marquez in Moto2, the Repsol Honda man is still the red-hot favorite to be the first rider in MotoGP to be issued points under the system. But, as Mike Webb explained to MCN, the last-corner incident at Jerez was not an incident deserving of punishment.