Stand in rides and occasionally wildcard entries offer a rare chance for riders to show their skills to teams and occasionally spice up the weekend but, with safety playing such a huge part in racing, should MotoGP focus less on the finances and more on the experience of riders?
MotoGP is seen as the pinnacle of bike racing and being given the privilege to race alongside some of the greatest riders to walk the Earth is exactly that, a privilege but these lucrative ‘one off’ opportunities are predominantly given based purely on the money in their back pocket rather than their experience and performance on the track. A fact that, in my opinion, would be laughable if it wasn’t so unsafe.
The issue was raised post-Misano after Christophe Ponsson, a vaguely unknown rider, was drafted in to replace the injured Tito Rabat in the Avintia team. Free practice one at the Italian track was Ponsson’s first experience of a MotoGP machine and the Frenchman was dramatically off the pace throughout, not only the session but also the weekend. Combining his sheer lack of experience of handling a machine as powerful and heavy as a MotoGP bike with the number of riders barreling into a corner in such a large group, one mistake from the inexperienced rider could have been catastrophic.
In an interesting article by Simon Patterson, riders such as Aleix Espargaro and Marc Marquez called for the introduction of an F1 style ‘super licence’ for racing in this class. The current F1 super licence requires drivers to complete six races in the junior series Formula 2 or gain 25 points in other championships before they can participate in a free practice session and then need to obtain 40 points to receive a full licence. The use of the licence points proves they are capable of competing at that high level and are experienced with a machine of similar power.
To use the F1 super licensing format, Ponsson would not even class to be near a bike as he was unable to finish a race ahead of the likes of Alejandro Medina, Issac Viñales’ short-lived Moto2 replacement. The introduction of a rider as inexperienced as Ponsson is frighteningly dangerous and the reaction of other riders on the grid shows that there is a need to change the way stand in riders are reviewed before they are given the go-ahead to race with the elite so they are not a danger to other riders by blocking them or not understanding the power of the machine.
Since his controversial entry in Misano, Ponsson has been replaced with always popular Spaniard Jordi Torres. The decision to replace Ponsson did not go down well with the Frenchman who released a statement pointing the finger of blame at MotoGP riders Cal Crutchlow and Jack Miller, accusing them of ‘convincing other riders to exclude (him)‘.
Crutchlow and Miller were left shocked by the accusations as Crutchlow had originally been one of the supporters of Ponsson’s opportunity, a bridge which has definitely been burnt and lies as a pile of smouldering ashes. Miller raised two excellent points which adds to the mounting evidence that change is necessary. The Australian stated ‘I crash and I can still lap him, he nearly got lapped twice‘ and ‘you saw in the first free practice, many riders nearly touching him‘. Two pieces of blinding, face smacking pieces of evidence that more needs to be done to prevent inexperienced riders from entering the grid.
I am all for giving riders a chance to show their skills but it needs to be done in the right way, not in a pocket lining way. A safe way that won’t have everyone on the edge of their seat because a backmarker gets too close to the leader whilst two laps down. Licences, points, whatever the system, there needs to be something put in place.
Thankfully, due to the reaction of the MotoGP grid, wheels have started to turn and procedures are being put into place to review the stand in riders across all the classes. Small changes are better than nothing.