In recent years, MotoGP organizing body Dorna Sports has taken considerable steps to improve the safety of Grand Prix motorcycle racing. From increasing runoff sections to mandating airbag systems, the rules and regulations have evolved with the latest safety equipment and data. As riders continue to push the limits and setting lap times, Dorna regularly implements new safety measures.
One such measure concerns the track limits sections around the perimeter of each circuit on the MotoGP calendar. In the past, grass bordered the rumble strips at the apex and exit of each corner. More recently, Dorna required raceway organizers to pave over those grassy sections in the name of rider safety. While the extra asphalt reduces the risk of crashing, the new track limits also present riders with potential advantages.
When grass bordered the tracks, riders avoided the low-grip areas at all costs. With that said, the newly paved sections allow countless riders to avoid crashes, but they also require race direction to punish racers for regularly exceeding track limits. To mitigate penalties doled out by race stewards, MotoGP institutes rules that allow riders to avoid risk without gaining an advantage.
If stewards deem a rider’s trip into the green track limits as a potential advantage or as a rider error, they count the mistake against the rider’s allowance. After exceeding track limits three times throughout the race, the rider will receive a warning from race direction. If the rider visits the green two more times thereafter, they earn a long-lap penalty, which can greatly affect their race position. Of course, if a rider is forced off track by another competitor, race direction doesn’t penalize the victim of the collision.
While the protocol is set up to protect riders, when human judgment is involved, controversy is bound to follow. In the 2020 Moto2 Styrian Grand Prix, Red Bull KTM Ajo rider Jorge Martin crossed the finish line first, but race direction determined that Martin exceeded track limits on the last lap, awarding the race-win to Sky VR46 rider Marco Bezzecchi. Upon further examination, it seemed like Bezzecchi also brushed the green on the final lap, but the results stood.
For the 2021 season, MotoGP continues to improve the track limits parameters with new pressure sensors. No longer relying on cameras solely, the new tech allows race direction to confidently distribute penalties while reducing the impact of human error. As always, Dorna will adjust the rules and regulations with time, but it’s heartening to see the organization reduce risk while also addressing unfair advantages.