Camel Honda Portuguese Grand Prix Feature

1 September 2004

WHEN TO STOP
Hindsight is a wonderful word . The Concise OxfordDictionary sums it up perfectly – Wisdom after the event.How many times in your life would have a little wisdom afterthe event pushed you down a different path.

It certainly applies in grand prix motor cycle racing. A bitof hindsight would certainly have helped with tyre choiceand race tactics but even more seriously, as was perfectlyillustrated at Brno last weekend, on the crucial question ofriders safety. As it turned out , hindsight would haveprobably produced exactly the same solution to a very trickysituation in the 20 lap 250cc race.

The race started on a dry track but with dark cloudsthreatening . The rain held off until lap six when itstarted to fall at the bottom end of the 5.403 kms circuit.Race leader Alex De Angelis and second placed Randy DePuniet put up their hands to indicate they thought the raceshould be stopped. A similar move by the MotoGP riders at Mugello this year brought out the red flags to haltproceedings on the orders of the Race Director.

However,reports from marshals at the wet part of the circuit and theTV helicopter above, indicated that the track surface wasnot dangerous enough to stop the race and the red flagsnever arrived. While the leaders slowed with hands raised,others just got on with racing . The situation at the frontof the field changed considerably between the haves,(handsraised) and the haves not (hands not raised).

The race continued in tricky conditions with spits of rainon the riders screens but on a surface that was certainlynot dangerous enough to stop the race. Race leader DaniPedrosa even set a new lap record on lap 17 . One lap laterafter the Spaniard re-wrote the record books, the rainappeared heavier and up went his hand but not before thatearly leader De Angelis crashed out. Once again some ridersslowed while others saw there was no red flag and carried onracing.

The Race Director again sought advice from the marshals andhelicopter and was told it was safe to proceed. The redflags stayed behind the barriers. Suggestions that the racecontinued in order not to delay the start of the MotoGP racewith it´s lucrative television contracts bore littlecredence, especially in the case of the second attempt. Ifthe race had been stopped the riders would have completedenough laps for the results to be declared there and then,thus giving even more time before the start of the moneymaking MotoGP encounter.

If and when to stop a grand prix race is a difficultdecision to make. It´s the Race Director who makes the finaldecision although riders play a massive part. If all theriders had slowed at Brno and put up their hands, surelythere could have been no other decision than to order thered flags. However, not all did and indeed some took fulladvantage of the situation by following the rules to theletter of the law, racing on with not a red flag in sight.

No wonder after the race there was not total harmony amongthe participants. It will be interesting to see what happensif a similar occasion occurs before the end of the season.Perhaps they will have discussed a little bit moresolidarity. If the leader puts his hand up everybody elsefollows suite and slows up. In the MotoGP class it does appear the leaders have a bitmore clout both with their fellow competitors and the RaceDirector.

At Mugello this year a fabulous battle betweenValentino Rossi, the Camel Hondas of Max Biaggi and MakotoTamada and Sete Gibernau was brought to a halt in the rainwith Rossi´s raised hand at the front bringing out the redflags. The rain soon stopped but as Rossi pointed out afterwinning the re-run six lap race, ” Seeing what happened inthe second race, it would have been possible to carry on,but I don´t have a crystal ball to see the future.”

The rules for MotoGP are different to the 125 and 250ccclasses. They were changed last year, in order to help worldwide television viewers know what was going on if a racehad to be stopped. The 125 and 250cc system of running asecond leg and then adding the times of the two legstogether to find the race winner was abandoned. Instead, theresults of the stopped race are scrapped and the winner ofthe restarted race, which runs for the remaining original race distance, is declared the winner. In the case ofMugello it was just a six lap dash which Rossi won fromGibernau and Biaggi.

At the moment all world championship points are awarded tothe riders participating in the second race . That´s apretty tough deal for somebody who´s battled throughout thefirst leg only to perhaps go down in the rain, or for therider who´d led the way throughout the first leg before therain arrived.

Next season there could be a change with aproportion of the points going to the riders finishing thefirst leg. When it rains properly, for example at Sepang in Malaysia,there is no problem, the race has to be stopped. When itspits and dribbles the problems occur. It´s a tough call forthe Race Director to make.

Rider safety is his main priorityand surely the sight of all riders putting up their handswould indicate the race must be stopped. If the 250cc ridershad done that at Brno there would have been nocontroversy…..Let´s go back to that Concise Oxforddictionary and check out the word, solidarity.