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Simoncelli in the firing line - again

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Matt Roberts | 09:34 UK time, Wednesday, 18 May 2011

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.

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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...


  • Comment number 1.

    With some of the top Moto GP riders whingeing about Simoncelli's "aggresive" riding style I feel they are maybe being a bit soft ! If Moto GP had a decent number of bikes on the start-line every race I wonder how the poor chaps would cope ! I think some of the riders need to cast their minds back to what racing was like before they reached the "Elite" grid.
    It says at every race track "Motor racing is a dangerous sport". Keep the sport safe but keep it sensible ! A ride through penalty was just a silly knee jerk reaction to elite rider whingeing.

  • Comment number 2.

    Good article Matt. I agree with all you say. Sic is a bit wild but means no harm i'm sure. Sad about Dani, but no-one knows if he was braking extra late to cut off Sic.
    The key thing to come out of this surely is that race direction need to have proper consistent policies. Your examples prove that. If riders know whats going to be time-penalised they will think twice.

    On another tack, who is Azi Farni anyway ? No disrespect to her, but what qualifies her to interview Moto GP riders ? Has she ever raced? Been involved week by week ?She seems pleasant enough, but does that do it ? There are normally two types of interviewers in bike racing.....those who know the sport inside out, like Steve and those who add a certain flavour , like Suzi did. What exactly does Azi bring to the party please? There must be scores of ex racers who would make a great , knowledgeable interviewer if we are not going for sex-appeal? Great coverage tho BBC , thanks.

  • Comment number 3.

    Think Motogp needs hard chargers like Simoncelli , there are too many riders in the premier class that are quite happy to ride round in a procession. At first i thought it was partly Pedrosa`s fault by getting into the bend too hot and running into Simoncelli who was doing a hard move round the outside , but after watching another video of the incident i`m not so sure that was the case. Now i think it was more of a case of both riders going for the same bit of track at the same time , with neither rider wanting to give way , what i would call a racing incident.

  • Comment number 4.

    "who is Azi Farni anyway ?"
    She is a very good reporter that does not have to look pretty and ask silly questions that everybody knows the answers too. She to me is one of the finds of the seasons.....

  • Comment number 5.

    Great column, Matt - my armchair-pundit view is that Race Direction have been played by (mainly, but not limited to) Lorenzo and Stoner and their comments (or more accurately, bleating) about Simoncelli recently. It appears they maybe have taken Melandri's description of them as (together with Pedrosa and Rossi) The Aliens a little too seriously, and perhaps are already feeling threatened by an outsider upsetting the natural order of motoGP...

    ...(almost) more critically, I really hope this is not the sign of things to come, where an increasingly risk-averse approach leads to F1-style racing, which is to say, not racing other than line-astern for fear of being hauled through the pits for an attempt at overtaking.

    Finally, I don't really understand why live programmes continue to interview people like Slash. He has demonstrated his inability or unwillingness to talk without profanity. So don't interview him live! But instead networks continue to shove a mic under his nose and then fall about when he invariably uses the f-word... :o?

  • Comment number 6.

    Surely this is all a bit of "handbags"? It is racing after all and when Simoncelli settles down i think he may turn out to be the next "big thing" Pedrosa was going wide at that corner anyway,his back wheel was bouncing. It was a hard move but no harder than some of the "goats" overtaking moves, ask biaggi,gibenau,criville,stoner etc. I think that lorenzo's move on dovi was probably harder but he is the current world champ so nowt will be said. I canremember a certain micheal doohan not being impressed with a young "Italian upstart" a few years ago, and he now has nine world titles. Come on chaps we don't want moto g.p to end up like F1 processions do we? I know i don't

  • Comment number 7.

    Can someone really be on the "bring back Suzi Perry" bandwagon when Azi is clearly far better educated about the racers and the racing? I'm sure there's plenty of pictures of Suzi on the net to keep you busy whilst the rest of us watch the racing and listen to more inciteful interviews! (And Google will tell you EXACTLY how well qualified Azi Farni is to have the job!).

    As for the crash - MotoGP is going soft, end of. Still no telemetry evidence, we know why don't we Dani, and still no retrospective punishment for Lorenzo after his use of Dovi as a berm to get himself round a bend and up a place. One rule for one..............

  • Comment number 8.

    Pedrosa at the time was behind (next to, but definitely behind) Simoncelli. I'm not a racer, just a road rider, but in either context I'd say the greater responsibility is on the person behind, as they can see the full picture and act accordingly. I know he's a fierce competitor, and it's a race, and so naturally Pedrosa didn't want to back off. But by the same token he cannot moan too much when he comes off. He has the weight/aero-dynamic advantage over Sic - he would have been better served letting him have that corner, then attacking him again a little further along. I'd say they were both guilty of lacking cool-headedness in that instant, and both suffered as a result - unfortunately for Pedrosa, his suffering will be longer lasting. Racing incident. The end.

    And Lorenzo needs to pipe down and race.

  • Comment number 9.

    The move wasn't any worse then anything you see week in week out in bsb or wsbk.

    Simoncelli was done on reputation and nothing else. You get hard moves every race and if you start to admistor this type of punishment then overtaking will only get less and less which wont help a sport which is struggling as it is.

    I really worry about what way motogp is heading at the moment.

  • Comment number 10.

    i think jorge lorenzo should look back at the race he,s the most harsh rider out there its funny how lorenzo and stoner start wingeing when some1 like simoncelli comes along thats just a matter of time befor he does start to win they want it giving to them its a race things like that happen rossi as had to fight for everything he as stoner and jorge should do the same stop all the bitching and get on with it your like babys and marko just keep going for it you really are fast forget them 2

  • Comment number 11.


    Suzi knew her stuff, and she's a bike rider - therefore earning the respect of the paddock. She was not just window dressing. Azi is doing a great job as far as I can see.

    As for Lorenzo, I'm sick of his childish whining. Even winning the World Championship diesn't seem to be enough for him. He wants all to bow down before his massive ego. Dani's a tough fella, and I'm reasonably confident he'll put it down to a racing incident.

  • Comment number 12.

    The only thing i think you did wrong at LeMans was bothering to talk to that Slash bloke whoever he may be. There was a huge "minder" standing next to him, and when you walked away the minder gave you a real odd look. I thought he was going to chase you round the grid!!!
    That could of been more exciting than the previous Estoril race!!!

  • Comment number 13.

    Dani has a real problem now, not only to be ready in time for the next race but because he is so light he needs to put his weight as far forward as he can both under heavy breaking and heavy acceleration (under braking to ensure the front end doesn't break and whilst accelerating to prevent uncontrollable front wheel lift, wheelies).This will put huge pressure on his damaged collarbones and shoulder. I saw it as a 50/50 accident although it was unconventional to pass on the outside into a left - right chicane, Dani could have showed prudence, let him pass and use his superior power to weight advantage(about 20 kilos lighter than Simoncelli on a similar Honda with roughly the same power if not slightly better as it is the factory bike) to claw back position on the straight. Instead he will be back, some time, but as a rider/amateur racer and physician who treats fellow riders and racers of all levels I can tell you he will struggle to ride comfortably for the rest of the season. Being uncomfortable on these machines adds seconds a lap in a sport where tenths of seconds count. Maybe not the first 4 or 5 laps, but by lap 20 if you are in pain you are generally slow. Great win by Stoner (someone who both fell off a lot in the past and courted anger from fellow riders) Simoncelli is a great racer who will get wiser or crash hard and learn that way! Great to see Rossi back on podium, once he has a bike he can trust we will be in for a real season of jousting between the planets best on two wheels.

  • Comment number 14.

    Some good points and further proof that opinion about the culpability of the pass itself is subjective.

    @petebutty Thanks for your comments. Re Azi, as pointed out by Lostboy she has exactly the right credentials for her role and I think for her first year of live television she has slipped in seamlessly and is improving quickly. Likewise as Chris_Page says Suzi was respected in the paddock for her qualities as a journalist and presenter.

    @mark_r6 @scamax yeah I guess Slash was a risky one but I think it's nice for viewers to see the vast spectrum of people who are into their MotoGP. I saw the big fella when I watched the race back on iPlayer - glad I got out of there when I did!!

    @imperialduke hopefully you're right - I think we are only a couple of races off seeing Rossi fighting for wins again

  • Comment number 15.

    Have none of the current crop of MotoGP riders ever watched a WSB/BSB race?

    They'd soon stop complaining about simoncelli's riding style then.

    I also want to pick up a point Steve Parrish made in his column about Simoncelli getting mullered down the straight by Pedrosa on the same machine, and understanding his frustration. When is MotoGP going to introduce a proper all-up weight limit? ie: weight of bike and rider combined. OK, Pedrosa's a quick guy, there's no doubt of that - but if things carry on this way, the entire grid will look like horse-racing jockeys! And it's horribly unfair on the bigger blokes (like Simoncelli) that they're immediately at a disadvantage just because they weren't born 5ft2" tall.

    I mean come on, even F1 has the weight of car and driver added together. And it's not every day F1 gets one over on MotoGP.....

  • Comment number 16.

    Look.... The way I see it is that something has to give in Moto gp. There is no denying that these guys are at the top of their game but I want to see the rivalries of old on the track, not handbags in the paddock. Simoncelli is giving the factory lads a proper run for their money, Cal may do too when he's learnt the circuits. Who knows, may be 1000cc and more bikes on the grid might spice things up a bit, I'm all for rider safety and nobody wants to see repeats of incidents we have had in the past but this after all is an inherently dangerous motor sport.

    For me, Moto 2 is where it's at just now. I love the fact that qualifying has no resemblance to the outcome of the race. The passes these guys are making week in and out make Moto gp incidents look tame just now.

    Finally you guys and gals do a great job keeping us upto speed. Cox's comment about the doctor just about to make a house call was priceless. I feel that the BBC let you down with sometimes questionable coverage. Red button continuation for example. The only negative for me is Azi trying to do pit lane interviews during the race with 200hp bikes flying by. You can't make a word out on the tv. Any chance of giving Colin Edwards a bit more Mic time. His interviews and one liners are class as opposed to the monotonous drones of Lorenzo, Pedrosa et al.

  • Comment number 17.

    It wouldn't have been a race if everyone had taken the safe option. Although it isn't nice for Dani Pedrosa to be injured, you have to take risks to get anywhere. Marco Simoncelli wouldn't have intentionally set out to hurt anyone, he was doing his job on the day.


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