MotoGP riders split after flag penalties decide qualifying - The Race

MotoGP riders split after flag penalties decide qualifying

Apr 17 2021
By Simon Patterson

There has been a mixed response from the MotoGP paddock about the series’ continuing strict enforcement of the yellow flag rules, after Ducati rider Pecco Bagnaia was stripped of his Portuguese Grand Prix pole position and new absolute lap record of the Portimao circuit.

Bagnaia produced a time over half a second under the previous lap record set by 2020 race winner Miguel Oliveira last November – but ironically had the time taken away after a crash for Oliveira during the final moments of qualifying brought out yellow flags that the officials ruled Bagnaia failed to heed.

He will consequently start Sunday’s race from 11th after losing both his Q2 flying laps – having had his first attempt deleted for a separate offence.

“This is the rule and we have to follow it,” said a visibly frustrated Bagnaia after qualifying.

“The problem is that in 15 minutes, I had two times cancelled out of two attempts. It would have been better to remain in the box looking at the others.

“The good thing is that my pace is good and we can try to recover the positions tomorrow.”

Some of his fellow riders had a stronger opinion about the situation.

His Ducati team-mate Jack Miller was among those who felt the punishment was unfair. No stranger to the rule having been punished last year for similar yellow flag infringements, Miller said he doesn’t understand the reason for the rules being the way they are.

Jack Miller

“I’ve been on the receiving end of that penalty a few times,” admitted the Australian.

“There’s no point in even arguing with it because there’s no real logic to it.

“It makes no sense because there’s a very narrow window of when the tyres work, and if you’ve already pushed on that lap, like Pecco had, then you’re not going to have the same chance again on that tyre.

“Like I say I’ve been on the receiving end quite a few times and I don’t understand it. You can understand our point of view in qualifying.”

Not for the first time this year, though, world champion Joan Mir took a very different opinion to Miller.

Joan Mir

He insisted the rules are a necessary evil given a number of high profile incidents in recent years.

The FIM stewards panel announced increasingly tight enforcement of the rules after qualifying at Jerez last year, when Miller crashed at the same point on the track where Alex Rins had already fallen.

Before that, Johann Zarco was lucky to hobble away from an incident at Valencia in 2019 when Iker Lecuona’s crashing machine ploughed into him from behind as he was walking away after his own fall, a number of marshals attending to an incident famously jumped out of the path of Marc Marquez at Silverstone in 2013, and Tito Rabat was left with injuries that effectively ended his MotoGP career at the British circuit in 2018 when he was collected by Franco Morbidelli as multiple riders crashed at Stowe amid a rain shower.

“It has happened to me as well,” Mir said when asked about the situation by The Race. “It’s what happened to me in FP3 – I wasn’t able to finish a lot of laps because of this.

“But it’s the safest way, because if someone is there in the gravel, you have to close the throttle because if you crash you can make a super dangerous situation with the marshals and with Oliveira on the ground.

“It’s the safest way, but it is true that sometimes it is unfair, really unfair.

“It’s why the only tyre we had in Q2, we used at the beginning of the session, because of the problem with the yellow flags if there’s some crashes at the end of the session.”

Aleix Espargaro crash Portimao MotoGP 2021

Aleix Espargaro went even further than Mir, calling for penalties for ignoring the yellow flags to be made cumulative rather than simply a case of losing that particular lap.

Espargaro said when asked about the rule by The Race that he had witnessed Bagnaia speeding past him first hand while he was in the gravel yesterday.

“You can’t go in the brain or the eyes of Pecco,” said the Aprilia rider, “so I trust him if he says he didn’t see the flag.

“But we have rules for safety, and yesterday I crashed in Turn 11 and a lot of riders closed the throttle.

“Pecco was wide in that corner, went wide and was off the track while I was in the gravel with the marshals trying to pick up the bike.

“The rule is the rule and I think they have to be even more strict. They are very fast with the yellow flag, but if it is there it is because someone is on the ground. If you crash, you can kill a marshal.

“I feel sorry for Pecco because I know he did an incredible lap and got pole position, but it was very dangerous.”

When asked if that meant that the rules needed to be tightened further, Espargaro underlined that he thought cumulative penalties for repeat offences were better than one-off lap deletions.

“What more can they do now? They have more flags than ever, they have LED panels,” he added.

“We need to start with radios or with yellow flags on the dash, but it’s hard to do more than they already do.

“So yes for me they need to be more strong.”

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