until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League


Will MotoGP dismissals quash or inspire a full-on rider union?

by Simon Patterson
6 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

With the news leaking out on Friday at the Austrian Grand Prix that MotoGP would introduce sprint races at all 22 expected rounds of the 2023 championship – before the current grid of riders had even been informed – it once again raised the topic among the racers of the potential need to unionise.

However, the idea was effectively dismissed – or at least seriously played down – by two of the sports’ most senior figures during the subsequent press conference to announce the sprint races – those being Carmelo Ezpeleta, the CEO of series promoter Dorna, and Herve Poncharal, who wears two hats as the owner of satellite MotoGP team Tech3 KTM and as the president of the teams’ union, the International Race Teams Association.

“You know, I’ve heard the idea of a riders’ union for decades,” laughed Poncharal, “and this is something you should ask the riders about because I don’t have any opinion. I think that our championship, thanks to Dorna, is the championship where the riders are the most respected, the most informed.

“I think in this championship we care about the riders more in this championship than any other.”

MotoGP Austrian GP Red Bull Ring

Ezpeleta was even stronger in his reply, suggesting the presence of the idea on the agenda was an invention of the media while simultaneously claiming that the traditional Friday evening safety commission meetings hosted by Dorna already fill the union-shaped hole.

“There is a riders’ union,” the veteran Spaniard insisted. “It is the safety commission. The safety commission is a riders’ union, and never in any sport has the protagonists have what they have in MotoGP.

“This is something that maybe you take form the opinion of some of the riders and you create a necessity to talk about union, but I have not seen any rider talking to me about it. Of course I have not any opinion against it, but the reality is that today the close relationship with the riders and the championship is better than it has ever been in any other popular sport in the world.

“It’s an argument for the press but it is not the reality. If they need to create something then they need to talk to me, not to you [media]. The question [you ask them] is ‘do you think it is necessary to create a union?’ but if riders need something they will talk to me and not to you.”

The idea that Dorna’s relationship with the riders is better than any other sport is one that requires serious scrutiny – not just considering the current lack of movement when it comes to an FIM Stewards Panel reform despite riders’ frequent criticism of the body, but also in Ezpeleta’s other assertion during the fractious sprint race press conference.

He also insisted that not informing the riders beforehand of the sprint race plan before being they were somewhat ambushed by media questions about it on Friday afternoon was for good reason – because he didn’t believe that it was the role of the series bosses to inform the grid about it but rather something that should be delegated to their teams.

“The riders must be informed by their contractors,” Ezpeleta explained, “who are the teams, independent teams and factory teams. Some of them informed and some did not.

Pol Espargaro Carmelo Ezpeleta Alex Rins MotoGP

“My obligation and the behaviour has been like this since the beginning of the [rule-making body] Grand Prix Commission, and the safety commission is to talk about safety at any particular circuit ans safety in general.

“Knowing that some riders were not informed and knowing that the announcement was today, I informed some of them before [at the safety commission], but really people who need to inform them about changes in the championship are the teams.”

The suggestion that the media are the ones pushing the unionisation agenda, however, was something that was dismissed after the press conference by some of the key riders who have floated the idea.

While some, like the normally-outspoken Aleix Espargaro, elected to remain silent when questioned by the media again about their plans afterwards, it was Gresini Ducati rookie Fabio Di Giannantonio who again spoke eloquently about why he sees the need for some sort of structure to give riders a voice at the table.

“The thing is that I think it could be interesting to have a riders’ union,” he insisted, “and for sure if we have to talk to Carmelo then we will do it. The only thing that we have to do before is to have all the riders together already decided to do it.

Fabio Di Giannantonio Gresini Ducati MotoGP

“If we are just four it is useless, but if we are all together then we could do something more for the regulations, for the tyres, for the development of the bikes. It would be really interesting to involve the riders in this. If it will not happen then we have to race anyway, but it is what it is.”

He was backed up by one of the series’ most experienced voices, too, with Andrea Dovizioso again siding with his compatriot about the need for a riders’ representative, a role that Dovizioso (who will retire at next weekend’s San Marino Grand Prix) has reiterated he’s not opposed to filling.

“In every situation there is a positive and a negative,” he explained. “We have to be realistic that in our sport, in MotoGP, they listen to us a lot compared to a lot of sports. We have to be realistic and we have to be happy about that.

“A lot of young riders don’t realise that, in my opinion. They are used to seeing it and don’t realise how it is in other sports.

“But is it possible to do something better? Sure, always. I think it’s very important to listen to riders. Not to listen to them and make [exactly] what they say, because they know some things but not everything. But you still have to listen to them, because you can have some important feedback to use for yourself and for everyone.

“That is important and I think they understand that.”

Andrea Dovizioso RNF Yamaha MotoGP

That might not have been so clear from press conference, but a subsequent appearance on MotoGP’s official Last of the Brakes podcast from the series’ managing director Carlos Ezpeleta, son of Carmelo, did represent something of an olive branch in that direction.

While acknowledging that the proposal has been rubber-stamped in “record time” – which is what effectively led to the riders being blindsided, the junior Ezpeleta emphasised the importance of working with riders to refine it.

“I’m sure that, during the next weeks, once we explain everything that the new proposal brings and everything and entails, to increase the exposure of the sport, I think that they’ll all understand.

“But for us it’s really important that the riders are all in for the new format, because they’re the ones that are going to make it a success. We understand that for sure having a sprint race on Saturday afternoon is a bigger risk than it would be to have a free practice session as we do now. But… we understand the positives and the negatives and we think that overall it’s a big benefit for the sport.

“And we will work – for sure with the riders to have their input in terms of things that we could change, to compensate maybe, to make it less of a load physically during the whole weekend.”

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