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Simon Patterson: Chilling crash shows Red Bull Ring must change

by Simon Patterson
4 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

The terrifying crash between Johann Zarco and Franco Morbidelli, which nearly collected Valentino Rossi and Maverick Vinales, shook everyone in MotoGP – our motorcycle racing correspondent Simon Patterson included.

He gives his opinion on today’s events and what should be done in their wake.

I grew up around motorbike racing. I’ve spent every summer in a race paddock since 2003, I’ve worked in the sport for over 10 years, and I’ve been to every grand prix since Valencia 2015.

I’ve seen lots of races and plenty of big crashes over the years, in front of my eyes, through the viewfinder of a camera and on screen.

Yet in all that time, I’m not sure that I’ve ever been left as chilled by a collision where no one was killed or seriously hurt as I was today when Johann Zarco and Franco Morbidelli came together approaching Turn 3 on lap nine of the Austrian Grand Prix.

They made contact at nearly 200mph and catapulted their bikes across the track. If Valentino Rossi had been a tenth of a second faster down the straight then there’s every possibility that tonight I’d be writing a much-different article from what I’m currently penning.

Franco Morbidelli Crash

The crash was a freak accident, but it was a freak accident that is in part a consequence of racing motorbikes at the Red Bull Ring.

One of the most scenic and picturesque tracks on the calendar with facilities that make nearly every other venue on the calendar look like a club race, it’s without doubt one of the paddock’s favourite destinations to visit.

But it’s also got a key flaw, one that unfortunately more and more of the tracks that we visit seems to share: it’s primarily designed for car racing and for the sort of collisions that they, with their high-strength roll-cages, can handle.

Asphalt runoff instead of old-school gravel, walls that are far closer than bikers would prefer and corners that tend to funnel up competitors are de rigueur – and Turn 3 at the Styrian venue is the perfect hell of all three.

Red Bull Ring MotoGP crash

A great section in a Formula 1 car, with its flat out approach through a tight kink followed by a 120-degree hairpin corner, inevitably in the close racing of MotoGP, multiple riders end up fighting for the same piece of ground.

The asphalt runoff on the exit gives a little bit of a safety margin if you get it wrong, but the left-hand approach into the tight-turning right hand corner means that a falling bike can easily end up shooting across the track at 200mph, just like we saw today.

Even before MotoGP went out on track, the red flags came out in Moto2 when Enea Bastianini crashed on the exit of the first corner and his bike ended up in the middle of the track.

Unable to see it as he came over the crest of a rise and in the slipstream of other riders, Hafizh Syahrin struck it and was very lucky to limp away battered and bruised but thankfully with nothing broken.


Aside from the very nature of the track layout itself causing problems, there are other issues too.

In multiple places, the trackside walls are far too close for comfort, especially given that the Austrian circuit is frequently hit by torrential downpours and has a tendency to trap standing water.

When I posted about just that issue earlier this week, one of the first people to comment on it was Silverstone CEO Stuart Pringle, reflecting on memories of visiting a badly broken Tito Rabat in hospital after he hit a puddle at the Northamptonshire circuit in 2018.

All in all, there’s no one issue that makes the Red Bull Ring more dangerous for bike racers than any other track. But, as is the case in many accidents, from motorbike racing to airliners, it takes a series of cascading problems to lead to the perfect storm.

None of them in themselves is going to cause a potentially-disastrous crash on its own, but each one can easily be a contributing factor.

Red Bull Ring MotoGP

There’s been plenty of calls to change the track over the years. Casey Stoner wanted it altered before MotoGP even raced there, riders have protested at safety commissions since the first race, and Cal Crutchlow and Jack Miller again went on the warpath on Thursday.

But while the riders demand change, we’re yet to see much sign of action. A few walls were moved about a while back, but there’s no sign of the sort of substantial redesign that MotoGP is calling for.

It’s not like the parent company is short of cash to do the job, either, with Red Bull more than happy to invest not only in the facility but in the entire surrounding area as part of Projekt Spielberg.

Of course, there is one alternative approach to the dangers of Turn 3 that could be explored…

This was previously the home of one of the fastest and most beloved pieces of track in Europe in the form of the original Osterreichring. And Red Bull still owns the land that the original Turn 1 section was built on.

It’s currently farmland but available for development should it be needed. Why not just scrap the entire run from Turn 1 to Turn 3 and revert to the past?

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