Suitcases packed, plane tickets and hotels booked, the countdown to seeing the new MotoGP bikes on the track for the first time had started. February 5, the first day of the shakedown at Sepang, was marked on the calendar. Until the phone rang yesterday: “the tests will not be open to the press. Journalists will not be allowed to be in the press room, in the pit lane, in the paddock or in any other area of the circuit" read the WhatsApp message. Why? “The teams made this request to IRTA last year and told us today” was the answer.
We could go on about how with a year available, the decision was made and communicated just two weeks before the start of the tests (therefore when everyone had already booked flights and rooms) this is not exactly a correct modus operandi, but this is not the point. If anything, one must wonder why lock down an innocent test.
The shakedowns see test riders and rookies on the track (this year only Augusto Fernandez will be there) and it's an opportunity to take a first look at the new bikes. Not all manufacturers, however, welcome the presence of journalists. Last year one of them asked us not to take pictures of their bikes. It wasn’t the Italian ones: a few years ago, Aprilia allowed us to mount cameras on the RS-GP ridden by Bradley Smith (find the video HERE), while Michele Pirro, Ducati tester, recently joked with us about the evening chats in those days. The game, over a beer, was to "extort" some information from him, even at the cost of a few reproaches from Gigi Dall'Igna.
The shakedown had therefore become a fixed appointment, for us but we also think for our readers, who could get to know everything about a different world from that of the official tests, but still fascinating.
Someone, however, has decided to interrupt this tradition. Why? It’s hard to say. To think that some journalist in the pit lane can understand the secrets of the new bikes is a naive and even obtuse line of reasoning. All the manufacturers and their engineers will be on the track, and they certainly have better eyes and knowledge than some reporters. Just think that Honda, during testing, sometimes has its own photographer (complete with HRC gear) who has the task of capturing images of all the other bikes in the pit lane. That’s on a different level than a few journalists armed with mobile phones…
The only result, therefore, is to miss a good opportunity to talk about MotoGP. A championship that last year saw a sharp decline in interest (both in TV ratings and in the presence of the public in the circuits, except on a few occasions) and which instead of opening… shuts up shop.
The Sprint Race was introduced to increase interest (we'll see if it succeeds), but one cannot think that all problems can be solved with a wave of the magic wand. Shutting up a circuit as if it were Area 51 (without having any secrets to hide) does not increase interest, on the contrary it risks having the opposite effect.
As in any good book or film, the main scene must be prepared, getting there step by step, attracting attention page after page, scene after scene. The shakedown was a tasty appetizer, which arrived after months of fasting, and led to the main dish. Those carbon-black bikes shining under the Malaysian sky, the eye looking for brand-new details and speculation began as to who had worked better in the winter.
Forget all this, some manufacturers seem to have adopted the childish motto: 'the ball is mine and I decide who’s playing’. As if the races were a self-referential exercise and not (also) a show for the public. As if the behind closed-door races of the recent past weren't enough (in that case a mandatory measure) now behind closed-door tests are being inaugurated. Not private tests, but official ones, as indicated in the Dorna and the FIM calendar.
If this is the future of MotoGP, whoever is in the control room should reflect on where this path will lead.