There’s always been a certain amount of controversy about penalties given to riders for contravening the rules of racing whether it be jumping the start, crossing the lines bordering the track, making challenges deemed to be dangerous...
And they inevitably have grown with the advance of technology which, in certain instances, seem to have become the equivalent of an XBox for the stewards.
The latest came up at Estoril in qualifying when riders get one lap on super-soft tyres to grab the best grid position. But they only get, or got, one lap to do it. And if on their vital lap they are subject to a yellow flag, that’s it, the tyre is done and so is their qualifying. Common sense now seems to have prevailed and they get two tyres from Misano onwards.
Bikesportnews posed the question to James Whitham: “Why do we have to have qualifying, using qualifying tyres, at all?”
He explained: ”The qualifying session lasts only 15 minutes and the rule is that if a yellow flag comes out it applies to everybody in order to stop anyone rider taking advantage but it also can be unfortunate for a lot of people who were on their best lap, which is what happened at Estoril. I suppose what they’ve done for Misano does help because it gives riders another bite at the cherry.
“But why do we have qualifiers? Having softer tyres is not a crazy idea because people started off using slightly softer tyres to go a bit quicker knowing that they weren’t going to use them for the race. Then the manufacturers started making dedicated qualifying tyres and that is how it has evolved. But what is the point in giving everybody a set of qualifiers when there’s only a 15 minute session and you’ve only time for two runs anyway? Just give them the 15 minute session and no qualifiers then they can stay out the whole session and see what they can do.
“For me they have gone about it the wrong way and have complicated things. The change for Misano might be a solution although a bit stressful for the teams but it means the riders aren’t going to be able to wait to use their first qualifier. They’re just gonna have to go because it won’t be the people who use one qualifier and save the other in case they get yellow flag disqualification - they’ll use two, the first tyre straight away and then the second, both tyres.
“I do agree with the yellow flag rule but I do question whether the easiest way of helping that rule is to get rid of qualifiers. But they’ve gone the other way and given them two so we’ll see how it pans out.”
Bikesportnews: Scott Redding and Toprak Razgatlioglu were both penalised for jumping the start at Estoril. Were they fair judgements?”
Whitham: ”When we saw it first it was obvious that Toprak definitely cheated and Redding probably cheated. vIt was quite obvious when we saw the replay that Redding reacted to Toprak’s start. It is difficult. You’re on the line, you don’t want to make a bad start and you’re doing everything you can to get away. You see something start to move out of the corner of your eye and while not compelled are certainly encouraged to go.
“I don’t think he’d have jumped the start if Toprak hadn’t. Nevertheless when we looked again it was clearly a jump start for both but I think Scott was unlucky.
“It was very weird that it took the stewards, with all their electronic aids, about four hours to announce the penalty. And the problem for Scott was that he actually crashed trying to stay with Johnny and push on. He might not have been in that position if the decision had been made earlier, he’d dropped back a few places but scored some points. “
Bikesportnews: “Do you think what happened at Estoril will have any effect on Misano this weekend?”
Whitham: ”Not really because Misano is a very different track to up and down Estoril. It’s a more technical circuit and will be very hot. But I think the usual suspects will be out front. We all thought that Yamaha and Toprak would be the combination to beat at Estoril but for various reasons it didn’t happen. It looks like the new Kawasaki, although not outstanding in any area, has improved in most. My view on the championship hasn’t changed - Jonathan challenged by Scott and Toprak.
“Alex could push for the front anywhere if things go his way and he gets his act together but my pre-season predication still stands - it’s up to everybody else to beat my favourite, Jonathan Rea.”
Bikesportnews: ”Turning to MotoGP and Moto3 where we had that tragic accident, it is now the case that the danger on most of these world championship circuits is no longer the ‘furniture ‘ but being hit by a following bike. Do you think that for 15 or 16 year old kids racing around at 120mph plus in fields of 30 to 40 bikes, while being an amazing spectacle, is just too dangerous?”
Whitham: ”My feelings are that unfortunately we are all involved, and all love, a sport which has an inherent danger. The organisers these days seem to think that getting kids in younger and bringing them through mini-bikes into Talent Cups and Moto3 at 13 or 14 is the way. And that’s fine if you want to make 18 year old world champs out of them.
“Whether a rider of 13 has the mental maturity to make decisions on his own ultimate safety, which is what he is having to do, they have to decide for themselves. Every body has their own thoughts. And I do think that given the biggest danger to a rider is his bike or somebody else’s bike hitting him, either with a rider or without, and in racing as evenly matched you are going to get close racing. And I do honestly think that at 16 or 17 they do understand the dangers.
“If you had asked everyone in that paddock, although they were all shocked and very sympathetic to the family and the team, I don’t think one rider would have even thought of pulling out. They had all made the decision before they started in what is inherently a dangerous sport.
“I don’t know what I would do. Most countries and organisations have rules which protect younger people from themselves. When I was racing round at 12 years old - not quite like this - was I aware of what risks I was taking? Maybe some were, I wasn’t.
“Has there been anything quite as close as this? Probably not but the people who are fans would say ‘that’s what breeds world champions.’ And if you look at the MotoGP paddock then clearly the system is working.”