MotoGP’s impossible dilemma in the wake of tragedy

After Moto3 rider Jason Dupasquier died from his injuries during qualifying at Mugello, many of MotoGP's riders were uneasy about taking to the grid for the Italian Grand Prix. Whether the race should have been cancelled is a debate with no clear answer, but there is a clear lesson that can be learned regarding its TV coverage

MotoGP’s impossible dilemma in the wake of tragedy

“This is not the first time that this happens, it’s not going to be the last.” Franco Morbidelli perfectly summed up the gut-wrenching reality of motorsport on Sunday following the MotoGP Italian Grand Prix, a day marred by the tragic death of 19-year-old Moto3 rider Jason Dupasquier.

The young Swiss was in his second season in the world championship and showing considerable justification for Prustel GP giving him a second campaign. Dupasquier had scored points in all five of the races run in 2021 prior to Mugello, taking a best of seventh in the dry at Jerez and occupied 10th in the standings with 27 points.

Having put in a lap good enough for 11th on the grid ahead of his final flying lap at the end of qualifying last Saturday, Dupasquier crashed at the Arrabbiata 2 corner and was struck by Tech3’s Ayumu Sasaki.

Dupasquier required immediate trackside medical assistance and had to be airlifted to the Careggi hospital in Florence where he was said to be in a very serious condition. Tragically, Dupasquier succumbed to his injuries on Sunday.

Three riders were involved in the incident. Sasaki walked away unscathed despite a terrifying airborne moment. Gresini’s Jeremy Alcoba was also unscathed, though his role in the incident remains unknown.

MotoGP is no stranger to rider deaths. Motorsport has taken such wonderful strides in improving safety, but motorcycle racing – for all the advancements made – remains inherently more dangerous due to the simple fact a rider is exposed. The crash which ultimately killed Dupasquier was a freak incident, but it was the unavoidable danger in bike racing – a rider falling in front of another.

Jason Dupasquier, Carxpert PruestelGP

Jason Dupasquier, Carxpert PruestelGP

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Mercifully, the paddock hasn’t had to suffer such tragedy since 2016, when Moto2 ace Luis Salom lost his life in a crash during Friday practice for the Catalan GP. In the premier class, no rider has perished on a race weekend since that black day at Sepang when Marco Simoncelli lost his life after a lap-two crash at the Malaysian Grand Prix in 2011.

In grand prix motorcycle racing’s 72-year history, 104 riders have died during world championship race events. Such has been the advancement in rider safety that between 1989 and 2021, there have only been eight fatalities across all classes.

The timing of the official FIM announcement regarding Dupasquier’s passing was jarring. It came as the Moto2 field was getting ready on the Mugello grid for its race, while 15 minutes before the 23-lap MotoGP contest a minute of silence was held out of respect for Dupasquier. As a result, a number of riders – who were already upset at having to go straight into FP4 on Saturday minutes after Dupasquier had been taken away in the medical helicopter – were even less happy that the decision had been made for the race to go ahead.

"It is difficult to understand when you have the suit on and go on the bike and go 350km/h thinking [about it] next time, today was his time, why it cannot be mine one day? Just a moment thinking maybe would have been better"Danilo Petrucci

“It’s maybe one of the worst days of my life, I didn’t enjoy anything today,” Ducati’s Francesco Bagnaia said after crashing out of Sunday’s race. “I asked to don’t race today because it was not correct for me. Also, I think if it [a fatal crash] happened to a MotoGP rider we wouldn’t race.

“So, I’m not happy about today, I’m not happy about the decision of someone to let us race after news like this. Doesn’t matter if I crashed, I’m just thinking about him [Dupasquier] and his family. We have lost a 19-year-old rider, so this is very difficult to accept and very difficult to accept the decision of someone to let us race.”

Tech3’s Danilo Petrucci was just as upset by this, admitting he felt “dirty” that he raced on the same track a fellow rider had suffered a fatal accident at just a day earlier. But what really disturbed the Italian was the fact no discussion between the riders and the organisers was held regarding whether the grand prix should even have gone ahead.

“Nobody asked or had a meeting to say that ‘one of us is not with us anymore, let’s say, can we talk a bit if it is correct to do the minute [of silence] and then continue to do this?’,” Petrucci said. “Nobody asked us.

Danilo Petrucci, KTM Tech3

Danilo Petrucci, KTM Tech3

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

“We talk a lot about safety and about everything but we passed [the crash scene in FP4] after three minutes [of Dupasquier being taken away], there was even the flag with the red and yellow stripes because maybe - I don’t know - there were things they needed to use to recover the body. We passed through them like always. It is difficult to understand when you have the suit on and go on the bike and go 350km/h thinking [about it] next time, today was his time, why it cannot be mine one day? Just a moment thinking [about this] maybe would have been better.”

What remains unclear at this stage is if MotoGP organisers spoke with Dupasquier’s family and asked for their blessing to continue with the weekend. This was certainly the case at Barcelona in 2016, when Salom’s family asked for the weekend to continue.

In that instance, MotoGP made instant changes to the Barcelona layout, switching to the Formula 1 version of the circuit in response to concerns about the lack of run-off at the old Turn 10 and penultimate corner. Cancelling the race isn’t without precedent either. The 2011 Malaysian GP wasn’t restarted after Simoncelli’s crash.

That example is likely where Petrucci and Bagnaia’s frustrations regarding the race not being scrapped - because the rider death didn’t come from MotoGP - stem from. But the fact Dorna Sports sought the Salom family’s blessing at Barcelona in 2016 also makes their assessment somewhat unfair at this stage.

Cancelling a grand prix also isn’t a simple decision for organisers, with complicated television deals and race contracts - something the COVID pandemic has undoubtedly made even trickier - needed to be taken into consideration. This is something Aprilia’s Aleix Espargaro alluded to: “For me, if we paid more tribute by not racing I would not be against it. But you have to understand also that… it’s difficult to say, but there are a lot of people working here, there is a lot of money, there are lot of things. So, it’s not that easy to cancel one race. I can understand both sides.”

And the other side of the argument is that, ultimately, Dupasquier died doing what he loved, and so carrying on racing in his memory is a tribute – perhaps the only true way to honour a fallen racer. This is a view many riders held.

Valentino Rossi – who was involved in the accident that killed Simoncelli – admitted one always questions why you race when another rider dies, but noted that it made little sense to question it because not racing wasn’t going to change things. And as Ducati’s Jack Miller pointed out: “For me, I felt like racing and I think Jason was a racer at heart and I’m sure he would have wanted the race to go on. It’s the one thing we love to do and the one thing we’re good at. We have tragedies, we all know motorcycle racing is dangerous… I think there’s nobody with a gun to your head. At the end of the day if you want to race, you race.”

Valentino Rossi, Petronas Yamaha SRT

Valentino Rossi, Petronas Yamaha SRT

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Ultimately, this is the impossible situation that faces MotoGP whenever a tragedy like the Dupasquier incident happens. Unless there is a clear safety issue, more riders than not will want to race because for many of them that is their way of coping. Morbidelli, who lost his father to suicide in 2013, said on Sunday: “Sometimes life is a bastard, sometimes life is shit. But you need to go forward because it’s life.” 

Add a constant differing of opinions from riders into the logistics involved in running a race and the complications in cancelling, no one decision will be suitable for all. Therefore, whether MotoGP was right or wrong to go ahead with the Italian GP following Dupasquier’s death is a question with no right answer.

All MotoGP can do now is learn any lessons it can. From a safety point of view, there’s not a lot it can do to avoid a repeat. Dupasquier crashed on a blind crest. MotoGP’s new LED marshalling panels made sure the red flags were visible for all, and the rapid response of the medical team cannot be faulted.

"We had Sky TV on in the hospitality and I made everybody unplug all the TVs because at the end I think I saw 10 fucking replays of the crash"Jack Miller

But where MotoGP could definitely improve in future is how it broadcasted those awful scenes on Saturday afternoon.

A replay of the crash was shown before Dupasquier’s condition was known. And for the duration of the over half-hour delay to proceedings, constant live shots of the trackside response to Dupasquier as well as his transfer to the medical helicopter were continually broadcast.

This upset a number of MotoGP riders, who felt this was unnecessary, while others admitted seeing these shots can help to understand if a serious situation turns out positively. But what rankled Miller - and is ultimately the biggest issue in motorsport broadcasting presently - was how readily available replays of the crash were to broadcasters.

“Last night [Saturday] I had a dinner, we had Sky TV on in the hospitality and I made everybody unplug all the TVs because at the end I think I saw 10 fucking replays of the crash and I think this is unacceptable more than anything,” he fumed. “You don’t know the situation, you don’t know what’s happening. We were all hoping and praying and for them to keep playing this shit shouldn’t happen. That they have access to this footage, it shouldn’t be there.”

Jack Miller, Ducati Team

Jack Miller, Ducati Team

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

This isn’t a new complaint from riders either. Cal Crutchlow felt the constant replays of the horror Morbidelli/Johann Zarco crash at the 2020 Austrian GP during the red flag period were “ridiculous” when the riders were expected to return to the very same circuit to finish the race. In F1 last year, Daniel Ricciardo blasted the same replay treatment the fiery Romain Grosjean Bahrain crash was given.

Social media has only magnified the issue, with crash footage accessible to millions just seconds after it has happened. Not only is it disrespectful to competitors, it also shows little regard for the families of racers. World feed providers ultimately should have a duty of care to its competitors when it comes to how it broadcasts serious incidents.

MotoGP certainly isn’t the only culprit, but it hardly covers itself in glory either when your video pass subscription allows you to re-watch the Q2 session where Dupasquier had his fatal crash, or the opening laps – including crash and a replay – of Malaysia 2011.

If there is any lesson to be learned from the Dupasquier tragedy, it’s that multi-angle live shots of seriously injured riders receiving medical treatment are unnecessary and irresponsible.

Undoubtedly the debate over whether Sunday’s Italian GP should have gone ahead will rumble on into this weekend’s Catalan GP, where MotoGP moves forward with a heavy heart following Dupasquier's tragic loss.

Whatever your view, the fact that they still got on their bikes and raced as hard as ever in memory of their fellow fallen racer deserves nothing but admiration.

A minutes silence to remember Jason Dupasquier

A minutes silence to remember Jason Dupasquier

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

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