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MotoGP

The clash between MotoGP's 'slap' rivals you missed at Le Mans

by Simon Patterson
3 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

The last time MotoGP rivals Aleix Espargaro and Franco Morbidelli had an altercation on track, it ended with one of them brandishing a back-of-the-head slap, and was followed by the other launching a tirade about respect.

That beef was squashed, and there was no repeat of those 2023 Qatar Grand Prix antics in France last weekend. But their unseen final-lap flashpoint did inevitably draw different reactions - and differences of opinion - as well as another grievance in the general direction of the ever-under-fire stewards.

Espargaro had already taken to the runoff area in avoidance of Enea Bastianini at the Chemin aux Boeufs Esses at the end of a brutal handful of laps in which he fell from third place in the early stages of the French GP.

And though it wasn't shown on the TV feed, Morbidelli essentially completed a repeat of that pass on the final lap - in Espargaro's opinion forcing him to comply or crash, as he felt had been the case in the Bastianini incident as well, and dropping him back to ninth behind Morbidelli and Brad Binder as a result.

But while he remonstrated with Morbidelli in the media centre after the race, Espargaro appeared sanguine about the incident when speaking to the press.

Instead, he was more occupied by the lack of action taken by the stewards. While there might not have been contact in either incident, Espargaro stressed that he did not believe that mattered - and that actions and not just the consequences of them needed to be considered.

"[With] Enea I had to pick up the bike, it was very quick, but Franco also if I didn't pick up the bike I'd have crashed," said Espargaro, when asked by The Race to clarify the incidents.

"So the feeling is that they just put [award a] penalty if you crash, but [what] you have to judge and penalise is that outcome, not the result.

"If I hold the line [against Bastianini], we both have a big fly [crash]; we were very fast and I saw the replay, he was far [away] when he attacked me. So I didn't really understand [why there was no penalty] but it's OK."

It comes only a few weeks after his last encounter with the stewards' panel headed by Freddie Spencer at Jerez, where he was the one in the hot seat after contact between him and Johann Zarco left the pair in the gravel. On that occasion, Zarco was the one letting off steam at the stewards when they - in his opinion - turned to him for guidance rather than making a decision on what sanction Espargaro deserved.

Bastianini did receive a penalty but this was for cutting the second part of the Esses and gaining an unfair advantage rather than forcing Espargaro off the road.

"He braked very late and went long, and I tried to go inside but it was impossible," explained Bastianini. "I lost the rear a lot in the braking, and I cut the chicane."

Morbidelli, who received no sanction and scored his first Sunday points of the season in seventh, was even less repentant than Bastianini when asked to explain the incident only seconds after his heated conversation with Espargaro.

"I just tried an overtake manoeuvre in the last corner. He didn't look very happy about it, but I'm used to his behaviour now," said Morbidelli.

"We didn't even touch."

And asked by The Race about Espargaro’s claim that had he not moved out of the way they would have crashed, Morbidelli replied simply: "If my mother had balls, she would be my father."

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