Competitive sports always demand an extraordinary will to win. The competition in motorsport is particularly fierce, with race wins and championships making or breaking riders, teams and even manufactures. MotoGP is certainly one of the most closely contested championships of all. The riders go wheel to wheel and make thrillingly dangerous passes to get ahead of their competition, much to the delight of the spectators.
While it is common to witness Moto3 riders tangle and crash every other race, the riders who make up the grid in MotoGP do so by virtue of them having learned enough to be trusted with a 350 kmph prototype GP bike. The 2016 season witnessed two willful and absolutely reckless instances of Andrea Iannone taking out another rider in an attempt to make a pass. The first time, he took out his teammate Andrea Dovizioso and himself out of a sure podium at Argentina. Most recently, he took out Lorenzo at Catalunya and was penalised with a last place grid penalty.
I certainly don’t intend to pick on Iannone. We armchair experts have a hundred opinions but none of them are validated by GP experience. However, the moot point is this – where do we draw the line between reckless riding and brave maneuvers? Riders like Pedrosa who seldom engage in close passing unless occupied in an intense duel are often mocked for having no stomach for a fight. Riders like Marquez two years ago and the late Simoncelli are lauded for their close passes even if they did take out a few riders along the way. Of course, riders such as Bautista are universally scorned for their ability to take out riders at whim. Iannone was dangerously close to slipping into this territory but has since kept it sane.
The best riders do get it wrong sometimes in the millisecond and inch perfect world of MotoGP. This is understandable and excusable. However, blind idiocy is not. Going for gaps that simply aren’t wide enough and attempting to make passes that involve going through another rider is very dangerous, for the prospect of being hit by a man on a bike at 150 or 200 kmph is a very painful experience, as Lorenzo found out. Broken bones and other serious injuries could put riders out of commission for a while, jeopardizing their chances of winning a championship or even their livelihood. If Iannone had hit Lorenzo and broken his pelvis or spine, what then? Would an apology make up for destroying a man and his career?
Race direction should make sure that riders on the grid keep in mind that all riders have families and friends, and taking a rider out could someday mean robbing him of life or limb. Proactive measures are always better than retroactive measures, but in the lucrative world of racing, it often takes the loss of life to bring about the necessary changes to both attitude and infrastructure. There will always be the next race and the next season for contenders, but no such thing as the next life for riders. We would do well to remember this on the track.