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MotoGP French GP

Bagnaia penalty fear in France sprint highlights ongoing MotoGP stewarding concern

Francesco Bagnaia admits “I was scared” battling Marc Marquez in the MotoGP French Grand Prix sprint race for fear of getting a penalty, as persistent stewarding problems remained present.

Marc Marquez, Repsol Honda Team, Francesco Bagnaia, Ducati Team

The Ducati rider was forced to drop a position for a hard-but-fair overtake on Jack Miller at the Spanish GP two weeks ago.

In Saturday’s sprint race at Le Mans, Bagnaia engaged in a hard battle with Honda’s Marquez that resulted in an aggressive overtake from the latter, who made slight contact with the Ducati rider at the Dunlop chicane.

This went unpunished by the stewards, which Bagnaia was thankful for, but admits he was fearful of copping a penalty like he did at Jerez when trying to overtake Marquez – which he eventually did on lap 10 to finish third.

“I just said to him [after the race] that [the racing] has to be like this always, having aggressive fights and we have to be allowed to do that and not to be scared about penalties, because honestly I was scared behind him,” Bagnaia said of his Marquez battle in a sprint ultimately won by Jorge Martin.

“I had two opportunities in corner seven and I was there saying to myself ‘do I go or not’, because if you touch – what we spoke about yesterday [in the meeting with the stewards] you have to drop one position. So, I was taking care about that.”

During Friday’s safety commission meeting, FIM chief steward Freddie Spencer met with the riders to discuss MotoGP’s stewarding in 2023 following numerous incidents in the opening rounds.

It’s understood that Spencer clarified what incidents would be punished, with any touch as riders overtake each other or any contact that disadvantages a rider being punished.

Several incidents like this occurred during the sprint race at Le Mans, which led to a number of riders venting frustration at the ongoing lack of consistency from the stewards a day on from their meeting.

VR46 Ducati rider Luca Marini felt the meeting was a waste of time, stating: “I’m really angry about the decision of race direction today, because it’s really strange that yesterday we spoke about everything.

Luca Marini, VR46 Racing Team

Luca Marini, VR46 Racing Team

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

“And they said that Pecco in Jerez, dropping one position [for making contact while overtaking] was correct for them.

“So, why today they don’t apply the same rule? Because [Brad] Binder pushed me out of the track, Marquez touched Pecco when he overtook him.

“So, another time there is no consistency. It is strange. At the end of all the safety commission, I asked ‘so now the line is: if there is a contact and a rider gains a position, causes a consequence to the rider, there is a drop of one position?’

“They said yes. Today there was a clear episode of this and they did not apply the rule. This makes me angry because if Binder dropped one position I was in the right position to be in second place today.

“For me, it’s not a problem with the other riders: it’s just make one decision, keep the same line for the season and then next season change. Today, the result, yes [the meeting was a waste of time].”

Aprilia’s Aleix Espargaro, who also got involved in some hard racing, has enacted a ban on the media from asking his questions about the stewards as he feels “there is no point” to continue discussing their inconsistency.

“I don’t want to talk more about the stewards, there’s no point,” he raged.

“From today until Valencia, please don’t ask because I will not respond. There is no point, there is no difference at all about anything.

“So, I will try to enjoy life as much as possible, I will ride as I feel, I will try to be clean because I’m a clean rider. If I touch somebody and they want to penalise me, they will penalise me.

Aleix Espargaro, Aprilia Racing Team

Aleix Espargaro, Aprilia Racing Team

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

“We see the same actions a couple of times in Jerez, and [the same ones] today there was no reaction. That’s it from my side.”

Marc Marquez is also frustrated at the ongoing discourse, calling it “stupid” as he feels all punished accidents in 2023 apart from his crash with Miguel Oliveira in Portugal were racing incidents.

The Honda rider believes hard racing is an integral part of MotoGP and penalising minor incidents will only have a negative effect on the racing.

“For me the situation is clear: we must stop speaking about these racing incidents,” Marquez said.

“This is stupid, for me. Already yesterday for me it was nice that the stewards came to the safety commission and I appreciated it a lot.

“We were speaking, there were 15 riders and everybody had their opinion. My opinion, and I say to them, is like all what happened this year was a racing incident – only my one should have been penalised, because it was a big mistake.

“All the rest were racing incidents. This is MotoGP. Then they started to speak about putting more penalisation, different warnings: if we have more penalisations, we will speak more and more about this.

“This is MotoGP, sometimes you have small contacts like today, sometimes you cannot avoid. Sometimes the rider outside doesn’t want to give up and you don’t have space.

“If you do a big mistake like I did in Portimao, it must be penalised. But all the rest, the people like to see that kind of show.

Marc Marquez, Repsol Honda Team, Miguel Oliveira, RNF MotoGP Racing, Jorge Martin, Pramac Racing crash

Marc Marquez, Repsol Honda Team, Miguel Oliveira, RNF MotoGP Racing, Jorge Martin, Pramac Racing crash

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

“If we start to be very strict on those situations, we will speak every weekend about these kinds of things and the problem will be that it will be very difficult to overtake. It’s my 11th year in MotoGP, and when I started… of course, it was another extreme, but [we need] something in between.”

Fabio Quartararo has made his own complaints about stewarding this season, but feels nothing will ever change because none of the riders can agree on what incidents deserve punishment.

“We are 22 riders,” the Yamaha man said.

“Then there is three people from the stewards, and it’s difficult to have everybody agree on one thing.

“My incident that happened in Jerez [when I collided with Oliveira], some riders said I was able to avoid the crash.

“Some riders say it was impossible. Whatever the case is, there will always be someone who will not agree with you.

“We are all complaining, but in the end somebody will agree and somebody will be complaining. So, in the end, nobody will agree.”

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