Sunday’s Doha Grand Prix was the stage of some incredible racing at the Losail International Circuit, as Fabio Quartararo delivered a textbook victory over Johann Zarco and rookie Jorge Martin to kick start his 2021 MotoGP season.
But the biggest talking point from the race wasn’t the French 1-2 on the podium, with headlines instead dominated by the dramatic battle between reigning world champion Joan Mir and factory Ducati rider Jack Miller that saw the Australian seemingly trying to push Mir off the track at the last corner.
It’s something of a mystery how Miller escaped with zero penalty from the FIM MotoGP stewards.
With Miller claiming he was the victim of multiple previous contacts in the race, an admittedly aggressive move from Mir earlier in the lap looked like it’d sent him over the edge and caused him to take retaliatory action of his own.
As Mir exited the last corner slightly wide, it was Miller’s job (as the rider behind) to ensure that they didn’t make contact but instead, after appearing to glance twice in Mir’s direction, he slammed the door shut, forcing Mir to the very edge of the track.
The result was nearly catastrophic as the pair made contact, before Miller told Mir exactly what he thought of him as they rode side by side down the main straight.
— MotoGP™🏁 (@MotoGP) April 6, 2021
The resolution to the Miller/Mir incident stands in stark contrast to what happened in the lightweight class just a couple of hours prior.
The usually calm and collected Moto3 rider John McPhee lashed out in the gravel trap at Jeremy Alcoba, squaring up to him before delivering a kick, as McPhee’s own frustration at once again being involved in an incident with Alcoba boiled over after.
It marked the fourth time since Alcoba made his Moto3 debut at the start of last season that there has been an incident between the pair, and not the first time that McPhee has been wiped out of a race by Alcoba.
The lack of punishment for the Spaniard specifically for triggering the inciting incident is a textbook example of the failings of the FIM Stewards.
And flare-ups like these are at risk of becoming more and more commonplace until the FIM stewards do something to restore rider confidence in its decisions and leave no doubt in the minds of the racers that their opponents will be punished for overly aggressive moves.
In the crash in question, Alcoba had left it too late to brake, making contact with Darryn Binder and literally flipping his own bike into McPhee’s face.
But the penalty handed down to him after the race was for bringing the sport into disrepute by fighting with McPhee after the Scotsman’s initial kick-out – not for the incident on track.
— MotoGP™🏁 (@MotoGP) April 4, 2021
Making matters even worse, it’s the second week in a row that McPhee was wiped out of a race, with rookie Xavier Artigas skittling McPhee and two other riders at the Qatar Grand Prix the week prior.
Punished with a double long lap penalty for Sunday’s race – a lesser penalty than either McPhee or Alcoba have incurred for their ‘punch-up’ – Artigas was already back inside the points when he in turn was taken out by Carlos Tatay in the second round at Losail (with Tatay subsequently going unpunished).
And as a similar and even more extreme example, fellow rookie Pedro Acosta won Sunday’s race from pitlane despite being sent there as punishment for riding dangerously slowly on the racing during FP2 earlier in the weekend – with his victory effectively rendering the penalty null and void.
Simply put, the MotoGP penalty system needs a root-and-branch restructuring. It needs a system where penalties become cumulative an increasingly serious, where riders face race bans for dangerous behaviour, and where the riders can trust in the system to punish those who are regularly out of control.
What’s totally crazy, though, is that such a system did previously exist – but was one of the casualties of MotoGP’s high profile Marc Marquez/Valentino Rossi incident from Sepang 2015.
Under the penalty point structure used back then various incidents were punished by having points added to a rider’s record, with penalties automatically triggered by hitting certain values, just like with a driving licence.
That’s what sent Rossi to the back of the grid for the final race of the 2015 season in Valencia, with the Italian having the points for his clash with Marquez added to previous points on his licence for touring during a qualifying session earlier in the year.
That system was fair, it was more open and transparent, and it saw repeat offenders punished severely – often severely enough that it prevented them reoffending.
But while the new system remains cloaked in secrecy (with the stewards refusing to face questions about their decision-making) and inconsistent, we’re going to see more and more examples of riders taking matters into their own hands, increasing the danger for everyone.