Former MotoGP star Max Biaggi has lashed out at members of his eponymous Moto3 team for their actions in qualifying for the Aragon Grand Prix, after two mechanics from the squad were caught on camera blocking Tech3 KTM rider Adrian Fernandez from exiting pitlane behind their rider Ayumu Sasaki.
In video footage posted on social media by Tech3, two members of the Max Racing Team can be clearly seen getting in the way of their former rider Fernandez – younger brother of MotoGP rider Raul – and seemingly making contact with his front brake as he prepared to roll out of pit lane.
As per Tech3 team boss Herve Poncharal, this subsequently caused Fernandez to stall his machine, preventing his entry onto the track as he and his mechanics scrambled to restart the bike. Once it was restarted, Fernandez had run out of time to do a flying lap and was consigned to 15th on the grid.
This is what happened in #Moto3 Q2 today. @31AdriFernandez was denied to leave in the good group for the QP time, by another team. Unacceptable. @MotoGP @Max_Racing_Team 👍🏻#AragonGP pic.twitter.com/BgfRAMfu2S
— Tech3 Racing (@Tech3Racing) September 17, 2022
And while it wasn’t entirely clear if the mechanics’ actions were deliberate or not, team boss Biaggi exclusively told The Race afterwards that there will be swift and severe sanctions handed down to the two team members regardless of intent.
“It’s clear for me!” the Italian fumed afterwards. “I was there. I was speaking with [pitlane reporter Antonio] Boselli from Sky. I didn’t notice because it was quick – I noticed when someone sent me the tweet. I saw. I want to speak with the mechanics what happened.
“They were speaking very [quiet mumbles]… why? This is unbelievable. I went to Tech3 and I asked what happened. They explained to me. I said sorry, I said this is unacceptable, and I will make some action. So, from my point of view, it’s unacceptable. Any aspect, any class, anything.
“And… [even] if Dorna or IRTA will, I don’t know, punish somehow or say this is something… I will do by my own, on the team. There will be a punishment for the behaviour. It doesn’t mean anything if they did on purpose or not. It was clear to me. And unacceptable.”
A video from another angle was subsequently uploaded by MotoGP itself, and offered a clearer picture of what happened.
It gets crazier the more you watch it 🤯
— MotoGP™🏁 (@MotoGP) September 17, 2022
MotoGP announced that the two mechanics in question were “found to be interfering and making contact with the bike and rider of another team in an aggressive and dangerous manner” – with each fined €2000 and handed deferred two-race bans.
The bans will apply to the Phillip Island and Sepang weekends rather than the upcoming races at Motegi and Buriram, as “it would not be possible to replace the team members in question for the next two races due to immigration and travel restrictions for upcoming rounds, which could potentially cause a safety concern for their rider”.
On Tech3’s side, Poncharal admitted to The Race that despite all his experience in racing, it’s not something that he’s ever encountered before – but also not something that should see Max Racing Team riders Sasaki and John McPhee punished for their teams’ actions.
“I was shocked,” he said of seeing the video footage afterwards. “They sent me the video, I sent it to [Max Racing Team manager] Peter Oettl, to tell him ‘what’s happening?’ He said ‘I’m sorry, I apologise’. More than that, what do you want me to say? It’s always difficult to say. They will say it’s not deliberately done or something like this.
“But… we have the data, the guys sent me the data, they’re really cross – and it’s almost obvious. Almost obvious. What can I say? What can we do? I think this was not a good image for the sport, absolutely not, especially between two sister brands that belong to the same group [Husqvarna and KTM].”
We publicly apologize to the Tech3 Racing Team and Adriàn Fernàndez.
An unsolicited, dangerous action that cannot be justified in any way by our code of ethics!
Those responsible will be appropriately punished. https://t.co/Hia5Usr3U0
— Max Biaggi (@maxbiaggi) September 17, 2022
However, the Frenchman was also more magnanimous than his counterpart Biaggi in respect to sanctions. Conceding that following other riders is all part of the game in Moto3 qualifying – something he says he’s specifically aware of after working with Sasaki (a frequent offender) in 2021 – Poncharal said that more than anything it needs to be a warning to others.
“I don’t see the point because I don’t think Adrian was ever going to be a threat for anyone,” he admitted of his rider’s performance, with Fernandez 14 places behind Sasaki in the standings in 20th.
“For sure they all go together, trying to follow each other. But he’s not the only one! I don’t know who he wanted to follow, maybe they thought he wanted to follow Ayumu, but when I was with Ayumu [at Tech3 in 2020-21] everybody was coming to tell me ‘hey, can’t you ask Ayumu to stop following?!’
“They all follow each other! This is the game! This is not the rule but this is what they’re doing.
“But I don’t want to make a big story out of this honestly. I think this is the first time I ever saw that. But what can you do? Can you penalise? You’re not going to penalise the rider, the rider doesn’t know anything, and he’s for sure not involved. So who needs to be penalised? I think it was good that there was a video, I also have to thank Adrian for saying nothing, but the poor boy, he came back into the box and he was crying like a baby.
“It’s like when you have dirty things happening in a football match and you see it live on the camera… I think once you have shown it, and I think there were quite a few people who watched it, you know that has happened and you can tell the people ‘don’t do that again’.
“The more input and focus on it, the more some people know that has happened and it shouldn’t be done because this is dirty.”