until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League


MotoGP needs to lose its stigma over team orders

by Valentin Khorounzhiy
7 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

The idea of team radio in MotoGP caused much consternation when it was floated earlier this season, and not least because it would give teams more of an opportunity to manipulate the outcome of races.

Team tactics is a huge part of motorsport but it’s not one anyone particularly likes, and the absence of direct voice communication between team and rider makes executing any sort of squad strategy complicated in motorcycle racing.

MotoGP teams would have to get pretty creative to successfully impose a team order. Or, they would if they tried at all – but, since the now-famous ‘Mapping 8’ incident of Sepang 2017 with Andrea Dovizioso and Jorge Lorenzo, it feels like they don’t generally bother as a rule.

Jorge Lorenzo Andrea Dovizioso Ducati Sepang MotoGP 2017

Maybe that’s for the best. Again, nobody particularly likes team tactics. And yet, in a sport that’s all about winning, isn’t there something quietly irritating when a team completely forgoes an improvement to its title chances that would require only a very minor intervention into the natural order of things?

Enter Ducati at the Aragon Grand Prix. After practice, six Ducatis were consigned to contesting the first segment of qualifying, from which only two riders would progress.

A Formula 1 team in such a position – as difficult as it is to imagine an F1 team with six cars or an F1 manufacturer with three teams as closely aligned as Ducati, Pramac and Avintia – would probably ensure that its two main title contenders have the best chance possible at making Q2, perhaps by requesting its other racers to deliberately slow down.

Maybe it wouldn’t. Maybe that’s too much for an audience to stomach, which is fair. But in any case it would certainly avoid the situation that actually transpired in last weekend’s Q1.

Danilo Petrucci, who won the previous race at Le Mans but was effectively out of title contention, hitched a ride behind very much title-contending team-mate Dovizioso on the first run, and duly went faster than Dovizioso, pretty obviously aided by having Dovi as his reference point.

Well, no harm no foul, everyone is bound to improve on their second runs anyway – and if Dovizioso doesn’t, Petrucci’s towing will have been irrelevant anyway. Just as long as somebody politely requests that he doesn’t do it on the second run also – or maybe even tows Dovizioso along – it should all be swell.

“He was very, very angry for sure with me. And it was correct” :: Danilo Petrucci

According to all parties involved, nobody did. So, lo and behold, Petrucci waited on track before slotting in behind Dovizioso again. He topped the timesheets as a consequence, while Pramac Ducati’s Jack Miller denied Dovizioso Q2 by 0.015s.

Dovizioso, consigned to 13th place on the grid, chucked a glove in anger across his pitbox and made his displeasure with Petrucci clear to the media afterwards.

“He was very, very angry for sure with me,” Petrucci said after Sunday’s race. “And it was correct because for sure he lost the access to Q2 because I stayed behind him.

Danilo Petrucci Ducati Aragon MotoGP 2020

“But as today you can see from the television, I lost a lot of time on the straight even if I’m on the slipstream.

“As I told you, I found him along the track on the second attempt of Q1 and I used him to get a slipstream on the back straight.”

Was Dovizioso indeed “correct” to be mad? Sure. But Petrucci was absolutely the wrong target for his ire.

Petrucci may have been wise to be more considerate, but ultimately his job first and foremost isn’t to maximise other Ducati riders’ title chances. In Q1, his primary job was to make Q2. As he put it, he “used all my weapons” to ensure he did. And ultimately that mission was accomplished.

If Dovizioso wanted him to have other considerations, a simple message passed on via Ducati would’ve done the job. But when asked why he didn’t request any favourable tactics, he said he’s “not that kind of rider”.

Thing is, there’s nothing wrong with being “that kind of rider” in this case. As Dovizioso alluded, he’s done a lot to help Petrucci in their time at Ducati – something Petrucci has never denied – because they were team-mates and an ideal team-mate isn’t just somebody who rides the same bike and never cooperates. At least, in theory – in practice, that seems to be the general MotoGP approach to what a team-mate is.

Andrea Dovizioso

Dovizioso wanted Petrucci to act in his interest, but didn’t feel the need to request it. Ultimately, by letting the media know his displeasure with Petrucci’s actions, he is effectively requesting that Petrucci doesn’t do something like this again – which is not really that different to the idea of team strategy that Dovizioso seemed to be in objection to.

Yet ultimately that’s the kind of thing that Ducati itself should be thinking about, not just Dovizioso and Petrucci between themselves. Ducati’s higher brass saw little issue with how Q1 played out, but if they want a MotoGP riders’ title this year, it is mind-boggling why nobody made sure, after seeing the first runs in Q1, that a repeat didn’t leave Ducati’s main title contender compromised.

Dovi parlayed 13th place on the grid into seventh at the finish, averting total disaster for his title hopes, but while he feels his race was compromised by the medium rear tyre choice, he accepted that “we have to start a bit more in front”.

When asked by The Race how much better could he have done by starting higher up, he said: “I think at the maximum with the tyre choice we did maximum two positions [higher], not more. At the end the medium worked not that good, like in practice, and we finished the tyre in the last eight laps.

“It will be very important to start in the first two rows next week, but before we have to be faster in some areas, because I was losing a lot in the beginning of the race, I wasn’t fast in some corners, and when this happens in the race, you are fucked, because you can’t change that.

“I survived during the race, I did a good start, I was really consistent – especially in Aragon, if you start 13th, it is difficult to recover, you can’t push too much the tyre, so we have to be happy about that.”

There is clearly a stigma about requesting help from your team-mate – but surely it’s worth getting over that hang-up in a season which represents such a golden chance

Dovizioso reliably gets fantastic starts and he is phenomenal at defending positions. Whichever way you see it, the Aragon GP – though no disaster – was ultimately points lost. Ducati can’t be happy about this.

This is a title that can easily come down to just a handful of points. Dovizioso is 15 off the lead in fourth. Although he made it clear he wouldn’t totally dismiss team tactics, his comments about being “not that kind of rider” show there is clearly a stigma about requesting help from your team-mate – but surely it’s worth getting over that hang-up in a season which represents such a golden chance at taking the world title.

It’s a golden chance for Ducati, too. Yes, the Desmosedici is not at its best so such minor point swings might not matter in the end, but Dovizioso’s title challenge is not doomed. And, crucially, Ducati would not be rocking the boat by enlisting help within its riders’ ranks, in whatever form that takes.

Johann Zarco Avintia DUcati

Avintia Ducati rider Johann Zarco saw no problems with potentially helping Dovizioso when asked about it on Friday. Equally, when quizzed by The Race on a similar topic after the Aragon Grand Prix, Pramac’s Francesco Bagnaia said: “For sure if I’m in front of him and he’s close to me, and we’re fighting for good points and not just one point – but if we are in front, for sure I will think about it.

“Because it’s more important that Ducati will win this championship than me stealing a position from Dovi.”

The caveat with Petrucci is that, unlike Zarco and Bagnaia, he will not be a Ducati-contracted rider in 2021. And he’s been open in having felt a lack of faith from his Bologna employers, who moved to replace him before the season had started.

But by all counts he still gets on with Dovizioso, admires and respects him and wants him to do well. And now that the season is into its final stretch, it’s very hard to imagine that a milquetoast request like ‘please don’t tow him in Q1’ would fall on deaf ears.

The key thing is, you just have to ask.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Email
  • More Networks