What will happen now? The question everyone is asking after the fireworks of the Argentinian GP, which has left a black cloud hanging over the championship. The ghosts of 2015 have reappeared, that tension that could be felt throughout the paddock, the only difference being that two years ago there was hope that the upcoming winter would serve as a cool-off period and restore tranquility. This time however, there are 17 races still to run, meaning plenty of time and opportunity for further bombs to explode.
Carmelo Ezpeleta has confirmed he wants to meet with both Rossi and Marquez at Austin, and rightly so, and we would hope that FIM President Vito Ippolito is also in attendance at said meeting. The Dorna boss wants to find a solution, all well and good, but where will his efforts lead?
The riders aren't children that can be hauled in front of the headteacher because of prank. Marquez is well aware of the consequences of his action, as is Rossi when it comes to his comments. The same goes for the other riders, like Aleix Espargarò, who has butted heads with colleague Simeon and team manager Francesco Guidotti on social media.
It's too easy to make a comparison with the Far West, especially in light of the upcoming Texas race. Challenge each other, insult each other, ignore the marshals' indications, nothing will happen to you.
Race Direction is primarily responsible for what is occurring. We cite the regulation when we say that its role is to “take decisions as provided in the regulation” and “To oversee operational matters to ensure the safe, efficient, and timely running of the event according to the rules” ( point 1.6.5 of the regulation that can be downloaded from the FIM site), but it is also responsible for resolving any situations not foreseen by the regulation.
To be clear, Race Direction does not decide on penalties, this is in fact the job of the Stewards Panel, introduced after the well-known facts of Sepang 2015, though the Race Director is part of the Stewards Panel.
In recent years, Race Direction has not been able to impose itself on the riders and its laxness has led to a belief that anything goes. There is no 'certainty of punishment'. The problem emerged in Malaysia, in 2015, when the decision to punish Valentino came late and the sanction was carried out at the following GP, leading to a wave of appeals and accusations that we well remember. Furthermore, on that occasion, Race Director Mike Webb stated that Marquez had intentionally slowed Rossi down, but would not be punished. A regulatory short circuit that would have inevitable consequences.
If we consider the Termas de Rio Hondo race, we have to acknowledge that Race Direction did in fact correctly interpret the regulation regarding grid formation (despite the image of Miller, all alone, 30 metres ahead of everyone else, appearing surreal) but it then proceeded to make mistakes. Marquez was wrong to restart the bike and ignore the marshals, but no-one thought to disqualify him with a black flag. This led to the absurd situation in which one rider was penalised three times in the course of the same race, while others were not even put 'under investigation' for similar moves. Zarco for example, who caused Pedrosa to crash and fracture his wrist after attempting an ill-timed pass.
We don't want to judge the riders' actions, this is the job of the Stewards Panel, which includes the Race Director as we've said. But no-one has judged them, or even providing a reasoning as to their behaviour. The rider have put their actions into words, and Ezpeleta and Ippolito have spoken up, but Race Direction has remained silent.
So how can things be brought back to normal? By taking some clear action: changing the members of Race Direction or at least its Director. We don't want to put Mike Webb on trial and we respect his role of course, but there doesn't seem to be any other solution. The body that should ensure the correct (in all senses of the word) running of a Grand Prix no longer has the authority to do so. Or worse, this authority does not appear to be recognised by the riders. No-one is scared of the guards, and this had led to anarchy.
We're talking about the same Race Direction that, for years now, has been unable to put the brakes on the Moto3 riders who compromise safety in qualifying, stopping to wait for a good tow. We're talking about a Race Direciton that too often turns a blind eye, seeming even intimated by certain riders.
If the riders no longer trust in Race Direction (and the words of Rossi and Pedrosa confirm this), then it needs to take a long hard look at itself and restructure. It seems that the only way to save it would be to change it. In this way, they would send a clear sign to the riders that times are changing.
They need to decide whether MotoGP is a sport or a show. If it's a sport then a strong Race Direction is required, one that can uphold the regulation, while if it's a show, they just need a good dramatist.