The 2021 MotoGP season has been sensational for all the right and wrong reasons. The racing is competitive as ever, with Yamaha’s Fabio Quartaro leading the rider’s championship and Ducati’s Johann Zarco and Suzuki’s Joan Mir rounding out the top three. Marc Marquez returned to his winning ways after a long shoulder rehabilitation process as well.
On the other hand, several on-track incidents are forcing race stewards to adopt two new onboard messages to riders ahead of the Austrian GP. Using the TFT displays installed on all MotoGP bikes, race direction communicates penalties and off-track warnings to riders throughout each competition. The stewards are now expanding that warning system to address the rider’s safety gear and on-track behavior
Following the Catalan Grand Prix, where championship leader Fabio Quartararo’s leathers came undone over the course of the race, MotoGP race direction realized that it didn't have a notification for such an event.
“In the case of a problem or fastening undone on rider equipment, or something that’s not immediately a problem but needs to be fixed, it’s a different situation,” admitted MotoGP Race Director Mike Webb. “So we have a new signal on the dashboard, it shows ‘equipment’ on the rider dashboard and the meaning has been explained to the riders and teams: there is a problem with your equipment and you’re required to fix it immediately.
Of course, Quartaro knew his race suit wasn’t fastened, but with vital championship points on the line, he continued fighting for positions. Without a way to communicate a warning to the rider, MotoGP had to impose the penalties on El Diablo after the checkered flag waved. The new system will allow race direction to notify racers of wardrobe malfunctions on the fly, and levy penalties in real-time if riders fail to comply.
Recent clashes at the Styrian Grand Prix are also prompting race direction to warn riders for aggressive behavior as well. On the first lap of the race, six-time MotoGP champion Marc Marquez slammed into Aprilia rider Aleix Espargaro on the approach to the Red Bull Ring’s turn one. The clash sent Espargaro off track, losing multiple places in the process.
After a fiery crash forced organizers to restart the race, Marquez bumped the Aprilia rider off the track once again at the same corner. In a post-race interview, Espargaro criticized race direction for not penalizing Marquez’s aggressive style. However, it seems the stewards will be able to address such situations in the future.
“There are times when a rider may do something we don't like, but it is borderline and could have been a misjudgment or a mistake,” Webb added. “However, if they repeat that behavior and prove it was neither, it will incur a penalty. So, the Stewards want a warning signal to say ‘hey, don’t do that. We’re watching and if you do it again there will be a penalty’.”
Hopefully, the new system discourages further shenanigans on track and MotoGP returns to delivering the competitive and unpredictable results we’ve come to expect in recent years.