In The Paddock

Michael Scott | June 26, 2020

In The Paddock


If a tree falls in a forest and there is nobody around to hear it, does it make a sound?

The question forms a famous so-called “thought experiment,” which—when first aired in an American philosophical magazine in 1883 (thank you, Wikipedia)—elicited a negative answer. No one to hear it equals no sound.

Which is a little bit difficult to agree with. Particularly if you have an imaginary friend, who might have been standing under the tree at the time.

So, if a motorcycle race, for example the 24 Hours at Le Mans, takes place without any spectators, has it really happened?

In The Paddock Column

American fans have already found out; MotoGP followers soon, likewise, starting July 19 per the newly announced calendar. And at Le Mans, we’ll find out at the end of August, when the classic endurance race is due to take place in private at the Bugatti circuit. But I guess that since all the bikes have more than one rider, each of whom will presumably be aware of his teammates, then the race will be real enough. To them, anyway.

So, it’s real for the riders. For the rest of us, it might be helpful to turn the question around. A reverse-thought experiment.

If a race is canceled without any spectators, has it really failed to take place?

This time it is even harder to agree with the “No” answer. Sadly.

The list of cancellations has grown longer almost by the week during lockdown, and the latest calendar confirms their demise—Japan, Great Britain, Australia and Italy the latest casualties, joining the already canned Germany, Netherlands and Finland. The postponed flyaways in the USA, Argentina, Thailand and Malaysia are underlined on the “maybe” list. It would be next to impossible to fit them all in. With Valencia scheduled for November 15 and the season promised to finish on December 13, they would have to run on consecutive weekends.

Meanwhile, a supposedly definite list of 13 rounds starts at Jerez on July 19 and (probably) finishes in Valencia four months hence. Ten of them will be run on consecutive weekends at just five circuits: Jerez, Red Bull Ring, Misano, Aragon and Valencia. The other three circuits with single outings are Brno, Catalunya and Le Mans. Five of eight circuits are in Spain; all of them are vulnerable to renewed lockdowns, should there be a second wave of infection. All will be run behind closed doors.

Time to consider the human cost.

If a professional grand prix rider doesn’t have any grands prix to ride in, does he still exist?

The question is not asked without sympathy. A rider’s career is short enough (apart from Rossi’s, obviously) without having to lose a chunk of it, just when you were really getting going. Or in his case, wondering about whether to wind it down.

And it is particularly poignant in the case of Alex Marquez, whose position alongside brother Marc in the factory Repsol Honda team is already under threat before even one race, before he has even turned a wheel in anger. In fact, he’s already reported to be gone but no official announcement from Honda yet.

The younger of the close-knit pair was something of a surprise choice to fill the gap left at the end of last season by the abrupt departure of Jorge Lorenzo (whose hopes, by the way, of the odd outing for Yamaha this season have been dashed by the Dorna “no wild-cards” diktat).

Now HRC is reportedly flirting seriously with Pol Espargaro, whose KTM contract runs out of time at the end of this year.

He also might seem an unlikely choice, but after some shaky crash-strewn seasons the former Moto2 champ has impressed over the past year by conspicuous and sustained effort and aggression on the same KTM that Johann Zarco found impossible to ride.

For this and other reasons, many observers are taking the Pol-to-Honda rumor seriously. Even though it is a strange move, that risks alienating the rider who has won all but one rider championship and a similar number of team and constructor titles since arriving as a rookie in 2013.

Dropping Alex in favor of Pol would be a double piss-off for Marc. Not only would it leave pet kid brother out in the cold for 2021, it would introduce serious friction into the team. There is little love lost between the compatriots. Pol and Marc were major rivals in Moto2 (remember when Marc “inadvertently” knocked Pol off at Catalunya in 2012?).

Happily, there are far worse fates, both inside racing and beyond, than missing a few races, or having to go looking for a new team.

Now the final thought experiment.

If you haven’t read all the way to here, does this ending really exist? And why am I asking you?

Mind out for that tree now. 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.