In The Paddock

Michael Scott | June 14, 2020

In The Paddock


So, it’s all starting up again. Probably. Apparently. In some places, anyway. Real racing in the USA, in front of empty grandstands and with a skeleton staff in the pits. Practice laps in Spain and Italy, and in Andorra. With just two or three out on the track at the same time.

Things can only get better, as long as there isn’t a second wave on the way.

All the same, this coronavirus thing could just end up spoiling bike racing for a very long time.

You might think it already has. By stopping it from happening.

This is just the beginning. Even when we do get properly going again around the world (we will, surely?), the viral implications are long-lasting.

Wise or maybe merely self-opinionated men like to say that this pandemic will change the way we live, in every respect. Not sure I agree, give or take a few missed handshakes, air-kisses and man-hugs. Leopards, after all, don’t change their spots.

The only real potential change that some seem to see as important is a permanent application of “social distancing.” In everything we do.

Including motorcycle racing.

Pol Espargaro KTM MotoGP RBR Private Test 2020-2
Photo Courtesy of KTM

Imagine a MotoGP race (remember them?) with social distancing rules. No overtaking, unless by prior written agreement and a stamped and signed official form, always preserving a gap of at least two meters. A disappointment, when you think back to classic touch-and-go Phillip Island, Silverstone, Mugello and many other MotoGP races over recent years.

Compulsory processional racing. An echo of a Mick Doohan-stretched past best forgotten, when all the rest were spaced out widely trying in vain to catch up with a massively superior talent.

That is clearly a facetious suggestion. But perhaps not entirely. And it’s not just the track action under threat.

Those intimate heads-together chats between riders and their crew chiefs? History. They’ll have to consult one another by WhatsApp. Facebook. Snapchat, or some other face-planting social media with dubious security and ethics.

This will leave them wide open to spying by rival teams’ electronics boffins. No more secrets. Or worse still, by Russian hackers, fiddling maliciously with their suspension settings just for the fun of it. Or Chinese agents, implanting spyware for who knows what sinister reasons.

Umbrella girls? No thanks. That’s asking for trouble. They’d have to stand so far away that they might get mixed up with the wrong rider. And they’d need to be weightlifters, to manage such big umbrellas!

In any case, the grid will have to be spaced right out. Maybe even drop the mass starts. Send the riders off one at a time, to race against the clock. Could that work? Oh, yes. That’s how they do it on the Isle of Man.

Then there’s all that touchy-feely on the handlebars. Yes, they wear gloves, but the gloves breathe. Safest to stop every five laps to sanitize. While (of course) singing the Happy Birthday song, twice, to get the timing right. The Chief Steward could supervise; Dorna’s PR staff could harmonize.

You can forget the winning team hugs. They will however be permitted to smile and nod. At a distance.

At least riders who professionally need to hate one another’s guts needn’t feel obliged by the saccharin demands of their PR staff to pretend otherwise. Staring angrily from a distance will be the new norm. (Rossi and Marquez, among others, have already practiced for this.)

Crashes will be a particular problem. Marshalls wearing hazmat suits? Medics likewise—with scanning for virus symptoms taking precedence over trauma treatment? Doesn’t bear thinking about, even in jest.

Nor will it be much fun in the crowd, everyone staring suspiciously at one another, and moving away to keep the distance up. And that bloke coughing over there? Throw things at him; drive him away.

That is if spectators are even allowed. The U.S. prototype at Elkhart Lake banned the fans.

It doesn’t look as though any lack of shouting, waving and autograph signing had any adverse effect on defending champion Cameron Beaubier, who assiduously complied with the social-distancing rules to win both races by miles.

But there is another bright side for spectators, which goes with the fact that in many countries the wearing of face masks in public is compulsory, and in others is actively encouraged.

Imagine the merchandising opportunities. Face masks, with the riders’ actual faces on them. Want to look like Rossi? Or maybe Dovi, or Crutchlow? No need to stop short at just a coded and logo-ed T-shirt and hat. You can go head to foot and become almost indistinguishable.

As long as you’re wearing a mask, make the most of it.

Maybe it won’t be that bad, come to think of it. Better than having to pretend to be interested in the riders playing computer games. CN


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Michael Scott | MotoGP Editor Scott has been covering MotoGP since long before it was MotoGP. Remember two-strokes? Scott does. He’s also a best-selling author of biographies on the lives of legendary racers such as Wayne Rainey and Barry Sheene.