In The Paddock Column

Michael Scott | July 22, 2020

In The Paddock

COLUMN

They are calling it Quartergate. Or perhaps Fabiogate. Whatever the name, there is a whole lot of blame being flung around in advance of a special official hearing before the first MotoGP race of the season at Jerez.

It’s to do with breaking testing regs while trying to stay sharp in these extraordinary times, and while officially there are only vague allegations concerning an unspecified number of unnamed riders, “unconfirmed reports” (don’t you love that phrase?) put the bite on Spanish Moto3 sophomore Sergio Garcia and Yamaha’s Rossi-replacing Fabio Quartararo.

Nobody much cares about the first one: Moto3 kids are expected to be naughty and always in trouble, and he’s only 17. Plenty of time to live and learn.

It’s a bit different for French Fabio, though. The crepe suzette flambe of MotoGP is a special case. Not for nothing is he widely regarded as the main challenge to Marc Marquez this year (next year, sometime, never?). So when he is in trouble, it’s significant. What Quartararo does matters.

According to those unconfirmed reports, it seems his offense was not that he went private testing at Paul Ricard in June, on a Yamaha R1—that’s allowed and was not done in secret. The problem was that the motorbike was a modified R1, with Superbike electronics, in a state of tune allowed by the French National Championship. A relatively minor transgression, you might think, given the small though obviously important differences between a showroom bike and a Superbike racer, and the yawning gulf between each of them and a full-on MotoGP prototype. But there remain several implications.

Some concern the “real-thing” performance of the electronics, bearing some relation to a proper MotoGP bike in terms of scope and adjustability. This might be construed as an unfair advantage while testing. Might it really? It’s a bit of a pedantic point.

Another concerns the potential punishment. Given the FIM Stewards’ recent to-the-book record, like Cal Crutchlow’s ride-through penalty in the Argentine GP last year for a barely noticeable (indeed, in my view still arguable) jump start, who knows how severely they will sanction Fabio? They have carte blanche.

The whole Quartergate scandal has the feel of a can of worms.

Informed opinion is that he’ll get off lightly. After all, there was nothing underhand about his testing, he described it fully on social media, and it was further publicized by the French race-prep firm that lent him the bike. But until the axe falls, nobody can tell what will be amputated.

There is also the question of other riders who may likewise fall foul of the possibly rather vague and definitely (perhaps necessarily) ad-hoc Covid-19 regulations, which were issued after the cancellation of the premier class at Qatar’s first GP of the year.

Other riders involved? Italian website GPOne reported that Taka Nakagami had been testing on Alvaro Bautista’s Honda CBR1000R-RR Superbike and had issued glowing social-media comments about the experience. This would seem to be nudging dangerously towards the same transgression as Quartararo and he may not be the only one. Rossi and his gang were also out at Misano, and were their R1s strictly standard?

The restrictive regulation changes had come at the end of May, when the allocation of private test days for the smaller classes was abruptly canceled. Teams that hadn’t used the full permitted seven days lost out.

MotoGP riders were also kept at home. That’s normal for the factory riders, although in normal times they would have been racing. There was no change in the rule allowing MotoGP “concession teams” (KTM and Aprilia) and factory test teams to test, but lockdown meant that the circuits were closed in any case. Misano opened at the end of June, and the KTM and Aprilia concession teams were joined by Suzuki and Ducati test riders, out on track with World Superbikes for the first gallops in months.

The whole Quartergate scandal has the feel of a can of worms.

And anyway, what is a rider to do? There’s only so much value in sitting on a sofa and lapping it up on the PlayStation. With or without fans watching on.

Almost four months without serious race-speed saddle time is a major setback for all, and it’s cruel and arguably even dangerous to deny the opportunity to get reflexes back up to speed before hostilities resume. Rusty GP riders are potentially a menace.

In fairness Fast Fabio should escape with no worse than a rap on the knuckles for his transgression. Or a slap on the wrist.

Either would be a great deal better than the punishment suffered by Andrea Dovizioso for his efforts to stay sharp. The Ducati rider was sanctioned by the factory to enter a motocross to get his racing Mojo working.

He crashed and broke his collarbone and will start the belated 2020 season recovering from that.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.