At the halfway point of the 2020 MotoGP season, the competition is closer than ever. Only four points separate the top five riders so every point counts.
Unfortunately for Petronas Yamaha rider Fabio Quartararo, these points were discounted at the Emilia Romagna Grand Prix last weekend.
Spending the final laps battling Spaniards Joan Mir and Pol Espargaro for a podium position, Quartararo managed to bag third place. However, his position was demoted due to ignoring a long-lap penalty on his dash, given due to exceeding track limits too many times.
“As soon as I saw long lap on the straight, I thought it was so strange that I didn’t even have a warning. This is something they must work on, because when you watch a Moto3 race, you see they send a message to the TV. But you are not looking at the TV at this moment. So, for me this is a mistake from them and also I exit five times on the green, so it’s my mistake too.”
The frustrated Frenchman, who first competed in the premier class last season, says he was given no prior warning from race direction before being handed the penalty, during the second Misano race – though officials have confirmed that the warnings were sent.
The penalty was served after Quartararo’s fifth time on the no-go green zone, which was once grass. According to MotoGP Race Director, Mike Webb, the rule states that if any part of the tyre touches the curb, then it is considered in. So, if both tyres are out of the track surface and on the painted run-off area, a penalty will be handed out.
“What used to be grass beside the racetrack, for safety, is now asphalt run-off, which is just painted and obviously the riders can use that to gain an advantage and we have to monitor that. It is like a tennis ruling, it is very clear for us, we can make those rulings accurately.”
Many fans who mourn the grass and gravel bordering of racetracks have suggested that the asphalt runoff should be coated with a low-grip paint, so riders who run wide are automatically punished, just like the old days. But this wouldn’t always be necessary.
In fact, there is more trouble regarding track limits at Misano Circuit than any other. This is likely because the track runs the wrong way round (since 2007 when it was amended in the face of safety, after a 13-year absence). Because of this, the majority of the corners are very tight and angular, forcing riders to push their luck if they want to be fast.
Jarno Zaffelli, the designer of Termas de Rio Hondo, blames the track design for the many issues with track limits at Misano, explaining:
“Misano has the kind of corners that riders try to make straight, so it’s easy to go too wide. When MotoGP goes to fast and flowing tracks, it doesn’t have track limits issues because you don’t gain time by cutting the green or going wide. If you design a circuit properly, you won’t need all these rules and regulations to control the problems of bad circuit layout.”
But the number 20 rider isn’t the first to receive a penalty this season, with Johann Zarco starting from the pit lane at the Stryian GP. The penalty was punishment for the Avintia Ducati rider’s part in the shocking collision with Franco Morbidelli the week before, leading to two stray bikes narrowly missing Monster Yamaha riders Maverick Vinales and Valentino Rossi.
This was the event that triggered the conversation around the use of radios for better communication between race direction and riders. And now, the controversy surrounding Quartararo’s penalty could open this up to debate once more, encouraging a change.
But for now, and come November’s season finale at new MotoGP venue Portimao, Fabio Quartararo may regret the risks he took which caused the loss of three points at Misano on Sunday – which could be the difference between winning and losing the Championship.