Assen crash challenges regulation small print
Alvaro Bautista had bowled spectators over with his improvement in performance over the past month, but his kamikaze dive to bowl over Jorge Lorenzo at the opening corner of the Dutch TT swiftly undid all that.
Having gone from being referred to as an impressive rider surely not long from claiming a first MotoGP podium to some idiot “who was still going full throttle when the rest of us were braking”, it is easy to fall from favour in a split second when one goes racing, it seems.
Still, to ‘Amazing Alvaro’ and ‘boneheaded Bautista’ we can add the moniker ‘Bautista the philosopher’ after the visit to Assen as, quite unintentionally, he has placed punishments for racing incidents – and adequate recompense for the innocent parties involved – firmly in the public eye.
The German Grand Prix this weekend will be the first occasion on which a factory spec bike will start behind a CRT machine on the premier class grid. Bautista has been hit by an immediate and firm sanction from race direction, speedily approved by the FIM stewards who created such chaos in the aftermath of the Marc Marquez-Pol Espargaro saga.
The message was clear this time: “Work on your race set-up on Friday and Saturday, because you’re going to the back of the grid on Sunday.”
As covered after the race at Catalonia, race direction’s options for treating such incidents are varied. In reality, only one could be fairly applied in the case of the Dutch TT. As Bautista was already eliminated from proceedings, there was obviously not going to be a black flag shown. Had he got his bike started again, then that very well could have been the extent of his punishment. The Gresini Honda rider is effectively going to suffer for his actions over the course of two grands prix, although Lorenzo is not entirely in agreement.
“I'm more disappointed about the decision of race direction to only penalise him by starting at the back of the grid. With the CRTs in front of him, in two laps he will be in a good position,” he said in the immediate aftermath of the incident – and could even have added the fact that Sachsenring is one of the shorter tracks on the calendar, with overtaking spots ready-made for a fightback through the field.
But how far can you really go in stacking the odds against a rider guilty of a misdemeanour?
Lorenzo, of course, has some cause for paranoia regarding official decisions. In what he now emphasises were his reckless early days, he was suspended for a race after smashing into Alex de Angelis at Motegi. He also went to race direction to complain about Marco Simoncelli and Jules Cluzel’s riding in qualifying and practice for the 2007 250cc Italian GP.
The result? A $5,000 fine for Lorenzo himself for an on-track gesture – only picked up on after his formal complaint. He also had a complaint against Bautista on race day, for a hard move on the penultimate lap that ended in a crash for the man then known as JL48, rejected outright.
Bautista’s punishment isn’t the joint world championship leader’s main concern, however, for whilst he has pulled back on his criticism of his fellow Spaniard, there is another issue which more directly affects him that has arisen from the costly error.
It turns out that the outcome expected, or misinterpreted, by Lorenzo does not tell the whole story. The Yamaha rider mistook sympathy for his plight as a promise of an extra engine, bending the rules on the permitted six motors allowed for use by each rider. However the engine regulations offer no room for negotiation or individual discretion. With the damaged motor having endured merely a couple of days of practice and around 10% of its expected mileage on the clock before being irreparably damaged, the Assen crash is in all likelihood going to see him start from the pit lane with a seventh engine before the end of the season.
It’s an unfair situation, but one bound to arise whenever any part is restricted. Nobody is riding on an empty track and riders will always cost one another points over the course of the season. The positives are the consistency and adherence to regulations from the organisers and governing bodies, and little more than that.
It’s a shame for Lorenzo, a bit of an embarrassing position for Bautista and a gift for Casey Stoner. Bautista will not be donating a factory Honda RC213V engine from his allotted inventory to the Lorenzo cause, but you’d better believe that he’ll be leaving plenty of space next time he wants to get past a former world champion.