MotoGP’s clampdown on riders improving their lap time while passing yellow flags caused further controversy in qualifying at Aragon last weekend.
Alex Rins falling while yellows were displayed for Jack Miller in the gravel trap – plus other riders setting their best qualifying times – at the Jerez season-opener proved the catalyst for Race Direction to adopt a stricter interpretation of the yellow flag rules on safety grounds.
Previously, any improvement in sector time achieved under a double yellow flag led to the cancellation of a rider’s lap time. But if a rider was just 0.001s slower in the yellow sector, for example, and quicker in the others, their new best lap time would stand.
From round two, the double yellow rule was extended to single yellow flags and, to give an added incentive for riders to back off more than before, lap times would now be cancelled if a rider passed a yellow flag of any kind (regardless of sector times).
Marshals were briefed to remove yellow flags as soon as possible after an incident had been cleared, and fears that a rider might deliberately run into the gravel to kill any competition for pole have so far been unfounded, but many riders are far from happy with the new stance.
The first issue raised was the visibility of some yellow flags – which caught out Pol Espargaro in Brno – and, associated with that, the time it takes to inform riders that their best laps have been deleted.
While riders will lose the lap time whether they actually see the yellow flag they have passed or not, the whole purpose of the clampdown is for riders to slow down and avoid putting marshals and fallen competitors at extra risk, which won’t happen if they don’t see the flags.
Those that don’t see the yellows also don’t realise their lap will be deleted until being officially informed by Race Direction. Some, such as Espargaro and Jack Miller, have complained the time taken to receive the ‘lap deleted’ message meant they were denied the chance to try for another fast lap.
But there’s nothing Race Direction can do about that if a yellow flag is present on the final lap of a session, a likely scenario given it’s when riders are pushing hardest for a lap time.
That’s exactly what happened in Aragon qualifying when a group of riders – including Joan Mir, Miguel Oliveira, Alex Marquez and Cal Crutchlow – lost their best lap times for passing through a yellow flag zone… Only for the laps to be reinstated when video evidence showed that marshals had withdrawn the yellow flags before informing Race Direction that the area was clear.
“I saw in the last sector Zarco was on the grass. I didn’t see the flags, but saw the rider,” said world championship leader Mir.
Alex Marquez confirmed video evidence later proved the yellow flags had already been withdrawn by the time other riders passed the area.
“MotoGP riders have good contact with Race Direction. I asked if they could tell me where was the yellow flag exactly, because I was behind Lecuona and maybe I couldn’t see,” said the Repsol Honda rider.
“But they said there was a misunderstanding from the marshals and Race Direction. They put the yellow flag out, but when the marshals took it back in they miscommunicated with Race Control to say, ‘No yellow flag from this point’.
“For this reason, they checked the videos later and there was no yellow flag ‘on’. The rule is like this. When the marshals are no longer at risk, they take down the yellow flag really soon.
“So they gave me back the lap because there was no yellow flag there.”
While some say the removal and then reinstatement of the lap times shows the system can be double-checked to ensure the correct decision is made, others feel it just proves the whole thing is unnecessarily complicated.
“Every week the riders are complaining about it,” said Crutchlow.
“We don’t know how this Race Direction works. They take laps away from someone. And give it back. It’s a mess,” said Pol Espargaro, who stood to gain from the cancelled laps. “When I finished the session I was 9th Then I go to 7th. Then I got the [official] papers and I was back in 9th.
“The rule is good. It’s how you apply. They are taking away laps in qualifying when you risk so much, it’s super painful when they take it away.”
The previous day Miller had been fuming at how long it took to find out he’d lost his best Friday time: “Why does it take 30 minutes – well, even more, the whole session – before they cancelled the lap?” the Pramac Ducati rider had said.
After the brief qualifying reshuffle on Saturday, the Australian added: “It just shows the system is flawed. That’s what I said to Race Direction last night. Their system is not working. Plain and simple. I thought it was a stupid rule when it was invented and still think that now.
“At end of day we’re racing motorcycles. It’s a dangerous sport. For sure, there should be a limit. There should be a rule that if you crash at the same point where someone else has just crashed, like Marc at Silverstone (2013). then the penalty should be enforced. Because obviously, you pushed too much [under yellows].
“But many times, and on many of the laps cancelled, the crash is not really in a dangerous position. Anyway, if you roll out and don’t take maximum risk, but it’s faster [overall] you get cancelled. I think it’s quite stupid. Anyway, I don’t make rules, I just have to abide by them.
“Another one is riders on out-laps, in qualifying in Moto3 they enforce this rule that you can’t do slow out-laps. Yet in MotoGP riders are allowed to go out and be 30s off the pace waiting for a tow,” Miller added.
“I don’t understand this. We are supposed to be setting an example for younger guys. We’re not. I think Race Direction needs to take a good look at themselves and try to enforce the rules everywhere and not just focus on one category.”