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  • Writer's pictureAdéla Pavlovská

Penalty system in MotoGP

In 2019, the penalty system in MotoGP changed when a concept of a "Long Lap Penalty" was added. What possibilities do the stewards have when they need to punish a rider?

Too harsh, too soft, too inconsistent ...

Words we hear not only in Formula 1 but also in MotoGP. So, for what can riders be punished, and how severe these penalties can be?

The reasons to give riders a penalty are basically the same as, for example, in Formula 1. Collisions, ignoring yellow flags, exceeding track limits, jumpstart, cruising on the racing line ... nothing shocking. But what an interesting thing is that crashing under yellow flags automatically results in a penalty regardless of what caused the incident - even if it was vibrations on the front tyre (as it happened to Jack Miller in Sachsenring last year).

A race ban is the most severe punishment a rider (and even a team member) can get. Here are few examples:

1) Two Moto3 mechanics have been issued with race bans following a bizarre incident in qualifying at Aragon in which they blocked a rival rider from exiting the pit lane.

2) A video emerged on social media from the 2019 Thailand GP, showing a mechanic appearing to repeatedly strike his rider Booth-Amos in his pit box. The team has decided to terminate the employment of this staff member.

3) Moto2 rider Romano Fenati tried to grab Stefano Manzi's brake lever during the race, which resulted in a two-race ban. Fenati was later dropped by his team.

Until 2016, the Race Direction including representatives from the FIM, IRTA, and Dorna, was in charge of handing penalties. Now, the FIM's three-member Panel of Commissioners has this role - there are two stewards nominated by the FIM and the Chairman of the panel nominated by IRTA, which is the team's association. Currently, it is three-time World Champion Freddie Spencer. All three members have to be approved by Dorna. The panel reviews all incidents and decides whether or not to apply a penalty; if yes, then how harsh it should be according to regulations. Riders and teams have a right to appeal the decision. The appeal is then reviewed by the two-person FIM Appeal Steward panel - the members are on rotation. The panel then confirms or overturns the decision, or imposes a different penalty. If the final recourse is not accepted, the rider or a team can take it to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

The Stewards meet separately during the race, while Race Direction can get on with their job. They are able to assess penalties (time penalties, grid drops, long lap penalty) during the race and impose them while the race is running, including black flagging a rider or handing down a ride through. Sometimes, when riders break more than one rule, more severe penalties have been adopted, where the accumulation of infractions results in a new penalty. Previously, Race Direction would wait until after the race was finished, and check carefully who was to blame.

Many different approaches were tested throughout the years. In 2013, they adopted a penalty points system as a result of a number of incidents involving Marc Marquez through the 2012 season, as well as a habit of Moto3 riders waiting for a faster bike to follow in practice to get a good qualifying time, which often meant getting in the way of other riders, causing all sorts of problems. The Grand Prix Commission commented on this by saying that "It has been recognised that there is the need to address the problem of riders who are constantly being warned or penalised for endangering other riders or committing other serious offences like assaulting marshals or other officials."

A rider with 4 penalty points by his name was forced to start from the back of the grid; 7 points meant a start from the pitlane, and 10 penalty points resulted in a one-race ban. While it was used, the system underwent some changes: first, they lasted for one year; after the controversy surrounding the 2015 Malaysian GP, (Valentino Rossi got three penalty points for an incident with Marquéz and had to start from the back of the grid - and lost the chance to fight for the title) the four and seven points rule was dropped. In 2017, the idea was scrapped with this reasoning: "The FIM MotoGP Stewards have many penalty options, the penalty points were no longer necessary".

For the 2019 season, a so-called "Long Lap Penalty" was introduced, a now standard type of punishment that is unique in the motorsport sport. It is applicable to any type of wrongdoing. How does it work? At each circuit of the championship, a corner was chosen to have an additional longer route marked at the edge of the track (an asphalt runoff area outside of a turn), which a rider who had received the penalty had to take. The Long Lap section varies depending on the characteristics of each track. When given a Long Lap Penalty, a punished rider has three laps to complete it. Usually, they lose time (as this area is slower than the normal racing line) and even a position or two. If they fail to serve the penalty despite having enough time, they can get double Long Lap and in the worst-case scenario, a disqualification. Sometimes, the penalty may be carried over to the following race. In general, a single Long Lap Penalty does not necessarily prevent the rider from having a chance to win or be on a podium. Double Long Lap, on the other hand, rules out any of these chances. If there is not enough time to complete the LLP, the rider normally receives a one position drop for less severe incidents; grid drops for causing collisions are also available to stewards.

Long Lap Penalty area at Portimao

In 2021, sensors were installed to control track limits. Before, it was up to the FIM stewards to determine whether or not they had exited the track limits, and it was not always accurate. If the rider’s bike goes in to the run-off three times, they receive a warning; five times, they are penalized.

Each incident is different, and therefore the stewards really do not have an easy job. Especially when there is no clear system. Stefan Bradl told "It's sometimes difficult for me to understand the system by which the penalties are distributed. There is no exact rule book and no exact catalog of penalties. It will only be discussed at the debrief on Thursday what penalties can be imposed for irresponsible riding if you endanger an opponent or cause a fall."

In many ways, the penalty system is similar to the one in Formula 1 but there are some significant differences. But what they have in common is the inconsistency that infuriates both competitors and fans.


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