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Riders ‘unanimous’ in criticism of MotoGP stewarding

by Simon Patterson
4 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

A whole host of top names from the MotoGP world championship have spoken out about their disappointment at the way the FIM Stewards Panel hands out penalties and called for consistency.

MotoGP stewarding was on the agenda following the Austrian Grand Prix collision between Franco Morbidelli and Johann Zarco, which was the subject of a stewards’ hearing on Thursday, four days after the race.

A pitlane start penalty for Zarco was announced the day after.

The FIM Stewards Panel was created at the start of 2019 and includes former 500 and 250 world champion Freddie Spencer and American Motorcycling Association Director of Racing Bill Cumbow, with a third steward joining them on a rotating basis.

The new structure removed MotoGP race control from having any influence in the process of penalising riders. Race director Mike Webb was formerly a part of the panel but was removed when Spencer joined.

There has been a perceived lack of consistency since the changes were implemented, with sanctions seemingly handed out based more on the degree of attention an incident gets rather than the actual severity of it or previous precedent.

Before Zarco’s sanction was announced, Aleix Espargaro was one of the first to speak up ahead of this weekend’s Styrian Grand Prix, describing what many see as the problem with the current panel’s decisions.

“It’s unanimous – every rider in the safety commission isn’t happy,” Espargaro said. “I know it’s not easy, but what we don’t feel comfortable with is that it’s always different. They aren’t always equal with the same actions.

“It depends if the rider crashes or not. It depends if they’re leading the race or not. It depends if they’re MotoGP or Moto3. The rules are the rules, and it doesn’t matter if it’s two guys fighting for 20th in Moto2 or if it’s Valentino Rossi and Marc Marquez.

“They have to try to be more equal, and we can improve on this. In some actions I don’t agree with them at all, but the most room to improve is on equality.”


In fact, so strong is the current mood among the riders that Espargaro was in almost complete agreement with Danilo Petrucci only five days after the two had a public falling out on social media and were summoned to the stewards after clashing during qualifying.

“Most MotoGP riders are not happy about what they [the stewards] do,” Petrucci said, “because there are many accidents like ones that happen at the front that aren’t judged the same and there are things that happen in MotoGP that aren’t judged the same as Moto3. There are many things to fix.”

Acknowledging that it’s not an easy job to police the grid, seven-time MotoGP champion Valentino Rossi is adamant that more needs to be done to protect the safety of other riders, especially in the smaller classes.

“It is a very difficult job to be a steward because it is always delicate but I think they need to speak with riders directly after the race, it is difficult to understand why they waited a week,” Rossi said.

“They have a lot of work because in Moto3 the situation is already dangerous, a little bit out of control. Also, in Moto2 and Moto3 we see a lot of contact in the straights, we see riders go straight into the other riders. This is very dangerous.

“At the end, they need to take the decision without pressure from the outside or from other teams and they have to speak mainly about the safety of the riders.”

The issues of inconsistency in penalties is even more pronounced in the smaller classes, with a number of Moto3 riders contacting The Race in recent races to express their lack of understanding in the penalties handed out to both them and their rivals.

The inconsistency was again highlighted when Petrucci was handed a warning for making rude gestures towards Espargaro after their clash. It’s something that riders were specifically warned about in 2016, and Moto3 rider Niccolo Bulega was fined €300 only a matter of days later, while a number of other riders have since been penalised financially.

Spencer’s appointment to the panel was originally applauded by riders, with all of them insisting that it is necessary to have an ex-racer on the panel.

However, with the three-time world champion retired from Grand Prix racing since the mid-eighties, in recent months many have now suggested that it needs to be someone with more modern experience.

“I have full respect for Freddie Spencer, but when was the last time he rode a MotoGP bike?” asked Espargaro. “We need someone in that position who has rode a MotoGP bike five or six years ago, who has been a rider in the premier class but who understands the paddock a little more.”

MotoGP also works in stark contrast to other series like F1 when it comes to media communication regarding stewards’ verdicts.

As a general rule, the series is unwilling to comment on most decisions and releases only the news of penalties, issued with no detail of their decision-making process, leaving many in the paddock in the dark about how the stewards reach their conclusions.

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