Simoncelli in the firing line - again
Jorge Lorenzo: "If in the future nothing happens, it's not a problem. But if in the future something happens with you, it will be a problem."
Marco Simoncelli: "Okay, I will be arrested."
That exchange at Estoril has been the talk of MotoGP in recent weeks - and Simoncelli wasted little time in putting Lorenzo's prediction to the test with an ambitious manoeuvre at Le Mans that meant disaster for one of his rivals. Although Lorenzo, the current world champion, was not on the receiving end, Spanish compatriot Dani Pedrosa was - and his subsequent crash did spell an immediate problem for the overexuberant Simoncelli.
The Italian may not have been arrested but a ride-through penalty seemed like an excessive response to the collision with Pedrosa, a knee-jerk reaction from Race Direction that has polarised opinion and caused a furore that will rumble on until the paddock reconvenes at the Catalunya circuit in a little over a fortnight's time.
While there is a school of thought that Pedrosa could have done more to prevent his own downfall, there is no denying Simoncelli was at fault. Indeed, at a time when the former 250cc world champion has been under fire from his contemporaries for his aggressive riding, even his most vocal ally, compatriot Valentino Rossi, admitted that: "This time, Simoncelli was too hard."
Ben Spies called it a "pretty dumb move", while Lorenzo, who was banned for a 250cc race after wiping out Alex de Angelis at Motegi in 2005, felt the punishment should have been even harsher.
"The most logical thing (and equivalent to the damage caused) would be to not let him race until Pedrosa is 100% fit again," he tweeted.
The most scything condemnation came from Pedrosa's personal manager Alberto Puig, a man not known for sitting on the fence. "I think Simoncelli is a total ignoramus," he fumed. "The kid needs to be locked up. He has ruined our season."
It was interesting to get the more impartial opinion of Suzuki team manager Paul Denning on my way out of the circuit on Sunday evening. Citing moves made by Simoncelli earlier this season on Andrea Dovizioso and Casey Stoner in Qatar and Portugal respectively, Denning said that he would accept the punishment if Simoncelli were in his team – particularly since the rider had been hauled in front of Race Direction earlier in the weekend following an official complaint made jointly by a group of riders that included Lorenzo, Stoner and Hector Barbera.
However, I have to agree with my BBC colleague Steve Parrish on this one - arbitrarily imposing a ride-through penalty smacks of victimisation.
Lorenzo made a rough pass on Dovizioso earlier in the race, which he has admitted was a mistake and almost took them both out, yet no action was taken (Nor should it have been, I should add). Rossi knocked Stoner off at Jerez but was able to remount and finish the race without punishment. To my knowledge, neither rider has been warned about their future overtaking etiquette.
So was Simoncelli's mistake really any worse than either of those examples? Not for me. There are countless other examples, yet to my knowledge this is the first time in the premier class that a rider has been given a ride-through penalty for an illegal manoeuvre.
On one hand, I suppose you have to applaud Race Direction for being decisive. That is also the opinion of Stoner, who was slapped with a €5,000 (£4390) fine for lashing out at Randy de Puniet following some inadvertently dangerous riding from the Frenchman in Sunday morning's warm-up.
"To be honest, it's good to see that Race Direction are making some punishments. It's surprising for once," Stoner said with an ironic smile. "I have no problem to pay the fine. To see them actually make a judgement on something is quite rare, so I have no problem."
The problem is that these punishments are not even remotely consistent. In the Stoner-De Puniet case, both riders admitted their guilt yet only one of them was fined. However, an unprecedented ride-through penalty for Simoncelli is a course of action that offers no recourse for appeal. There was no time for in-depth video analysis of the incident, no opportunity for the riders involved to state their case and no referral made to telemetry data from the bikes that shows the exact speed and braking points of each rider in that particular corner.
It may not be an ideal solution, especially for the fans watching the race, but a retrospective time penalty would at least give Race Direction an opportunity to match the severity of the punishment to that of the perceived crime. In 2003, Rossi was given a retrospective 10-second penalty for overtaking under yellow flags at Donington Park, handing his victory to Max Biaggi. Later that season, Rossi was given the same penalty for the same crime but was informed of the decision during the race, allowing him to respond with one of his greatest ever performances and winning by 15.212 seconds. Precedents are set but rarely are they respected - and that is the big issue here.
Anyway, I'm going to get off my soapbox now because, of all the conflicting emotions from the weekend, the overriding feeling is one of sympathy for Pedrosa. A broken collarbone, the same injury that ended his 2010 title challenge at Motegi last October and led to complications and surgery at the start of this campaign, means his championship hopes are left parked at the door of the Clinica Mobile for the fourth season in a row. In 2009, he was hindered throughout the year with hip and knee problems, while in 2008 he crashed out of the race and championship lead at Sachsenring, fracturing a wrist.
Second place at Le Mans would have given Pedrosa the championship lead going into his home race in Barcelona. Had he finished third, he would have been tied at the top with Lorenzo. Now he faces an all-too-familiar race just to be fit. With six races in seven weeks over the months of June and July, this is the worst possible time of the season to be anything less than 100%.
From a production point of view, we had our own problems at Le Mans, which you may have noticed when pit-lane reporter Azi Farni and I lost all contact with the gallery and each other during the grid walk! It was a shame because we missed the opportunity to hear from De Puniet about the incident with Stoner and also missed out on a chat with world rally star Sebastian Loeb, who Azi had managed to grab for a quick word. It just goes to show the important part played by the production team during a live broadcast. Without their direction we are virtually walking around blindfolded.
It didn't help that former Guns N' Roses guitarist Slash threw me a curveball with his liberal use of French! Apologies once again if you were offended by that, although it is great to see such big names coming to the races and getting caught up in the excitement of MotoGP. I noticed that Ronnie O'Sullivan was tweeting about it over the weekend, too, so maybe he'll be appearing on the grid somewhere soon.
We had a lot of good feedback about our opener this week. I have to say that assistant producer Mike Williams and editor Matt Loughlin did a great job making a watchable piece out of my questionable camera work and it was nice to have something a little different at the top of the show. Hopefully you guys enjoyed it and an action-packed weekend in France means that we won't be short of ammunition to produce another packed show next time out in Barcelona. If there's anything you'd particularly like to see in it, let me know!
Finally, I should say thanks again to Captain Parrish, aka Biggles, for allowing us on board Plummet Airways, his own personal four-seater Cessna 182 plane that he flies to most of the races in northern Europe. Steve's girlfriend, Michelle, also got into the spirit of things by dressing up as a stewardess and providing us with a packed lunch, although I'll be a little more wary of the contents next time. Her "hand-made sweets" were actually dried mealworms dipped in dark chocolate. I shudder to think what the mini-scotch eggs might have been...