until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League


MotoGP gets ominous warning about worst-case title scenario

by Valentin Khorounzhiy
5 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

MotoGP had a significant warning of a potential nightmare scenario for its championship outcome on Saturday - with the news that three riders had breached the tyre pressure regulations in the sprint race.

As per the rule introduced after the summer break, riders are mandated to run with a tyre pressure above the minimum threshold for 30% of the sprint distance and 50% of the Sunday race distance.

Up until Valencia, each of the breaches that had occurred were Sunday breaches. But it emerged on Saturday in Valencia that Fabio Di Giannantonio, Luca Marini and Franco Morbidelli had fallen foul in the sprint.

None of the three breaches affected the points distribution from the sprint. With it being the second breach of the season for Marini and Morbidelli, both received three-second penalties - but they had been out of the points anyway. Meanwhile, Di Giannantonio was a first-time offender - so got away with a warning, his sixth place unaffected.

However, the fact that as many as three riders were caught out in the sprint raises a worrying spectre for the main event - especially as both title contenders Jorge Martin and Pecco Bagnaia have already had a warning each this season, so are in line for a three-second penalty for the next infringement.

"Clearly we made the wrong calculations," said Morbidelli after the race. "Would've been bad if I was fighting for something important. [Like this] it's not a big deal."

But he said that his race was "not really" run in clean air - something that would normally be a culprit for a too-low front tyre pressure.

And when asked by The Race whether the infraction was thus a surprise, he said: "Yes, it was."

"Yeah, guys, yesterday the safety commission was one topic," said Aleix Espargaro, raising his eyebrows in surprise when told of the infringements.

"We pushed a lot [MotoGP sporting director] Carlos Ezpeleta because we said to Carlos - it's not about Michelin, it's about the championship, this rule is going to ruin the championship."

"Tomorrow will be more problems," Espargaro added. "Because the temperature tomorrow looks like it's going to be more cold. Four or five degrees less.

"So it means that to understand the right pressure, it's going to be more difficult."

Bagnaia needs to finish in the top five to make sure of the title, and his 14-point buffer over Martin means the possibility of a penalty for one of the two isn't as precarious as it would've been if the title race was neck-and-neck.

However, the permutations under which a post-race tyre pressure changes the outcome of the championship battle even in the current situation aren't difficult to envision.

"I hope my team will do a good work," said Bagnaia when asked by The Race about Saturday's tyre pressure infringements. "Honestly, my pressure today was perfect... it's strange that some riders had this kind of problem!

"And just we needed three laps to be in. And even the limit [which is adjusted slightly from track to track from a base figure of 1.87 bar] here was lower. Strange, strange.

"And Diggia was also in my slipstream [so should've had the tyre pressure go up]."

"Today I was in the pressure [limits] and I won," said Martin - who did take most of the race to get into clean air.

"It's not easy, because the temperatures are changing, if you change from medium to hard, different tyres, it's really complicated. But it can happen. It can happen to us, it can happen to Pecco.

"Maybe he finishes, I don't know [where], and then three seconds [penalty], and it changes everything. So, let's see. For my side, I hope to be in pressure because I feel confident. But there is always the risk."

Big fears for 2024

Considering the intention is for a tyre pressure breach to result in automatic and instant disqualification in 2024 without any warning notices, the policing of the rule has been a topic repeatedly broached by riders as potentially season-ruining.

Both Morbidelli and Espargaro again touched upon it after the Valencia sprint outcome.

"Something is not quite working here," Morbidelli said. "We can all understand that something is not right and something needs to be better. We can all understand that, and I hope that a clever and proactive solution can be taken."

Michelin is bringing a new front tyre - designed to be more resistant to tyre pressure fluctuations - for the post-season test on Tuesday, but only as a first part of a testing programme that should see it introduced in 2025.

Asked by The Race if he would like to see that timeline accelerated if the test goes well, Morbidelli said: "Maybe yes. Why not? Why not? This problem needs to be fixed as quickly as possible - as the tyre quality problem. And it's an ongoing process, everybody's walking towards that."

"The rules are made by the championship, not by the brands," Espargaro said. "So, we ask Carlos to protect us, because with this rule next year, the standings are going to be based on penalties. 100 percent."

Tyre pressure infringements aren't made immediately known after the race, but rather after a small wait.

Espargaro reacted with a firm "f***ing hell" when the idea of championship celebrations being delayed by that on Sunday was relayed to him.

"If a penalty decides the championship, the image for the championship..." he said, trailing off, before quipping: "It's worse than what I did to Morbidelli in Qatar."

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