Just about everyone’s seen it by now, but in case you haven’t, here’s the deal: The whole motorcycle roadracing world is still in a flap over an incident in Sunday’s Moto2 race, which saw Romano Fenati (already a controversial racer, sacked from the VR46 team in 2016 due to his behaviour) tangle with Stefano Manzi.
After early scraps that saw Manzi push Fenati wide twice, Fenati caught up, reached over, and grabbed Manzi’s front brake lever, giving it a good yank as they rode at 200 km/h.
You can get a good view of the incidents below.
Things haven’t gone well for Fenati since. First, MotoGP organizers handed him a two-race penalty. Then MV Agusta, who’d signed Fenati for its upcoming Moto2 team as a 2019 rider (where he would have been Manzi’s teammate!), ended its contract with him. Then his current team, Marinelli Snipers, also gave him the boot.
That’s Biblical-level destruction in a short space of time, and given the cutthroat nature of the international roadracing scene, it’s very possible Fenati may never race in a major series again. But would that be fair? Just how dangerous was his stunt at Misano? I called a few figures in the Canadian roadracing scene to get their takes.
Ben Young, the runner-up in this year’s CSBK Pro Superbike series, figures MotoGP’s two-race penalty wasn’t enough. Echoing the words of many writers and fans around the world, Young said “I honestly think he should never be allowed to race in competition again, to be fair. I don’t know how any rider would want to be on track the same time as him, after that.”
While he’s heard of a rider being kicked by another racer at a Pro Superbike event, and he’s been pushed around on-track at times, Young’s never seen anything like this happen between his time in MotoAmerica, CSBK and British Superbike. He did recognize Manzie and Fenati’s tangle-up earlier in the race, but said “There would never be a moment big enough to cause that.” He wondered if there was any previous history between the two that would have contributed to the event, because “If it was just that moment (the contact earlier in the race), he needs some mental help.”
Former Canadian Superbike champ and AMA and World Superbike racer Brett McCormick was less black-and-white in his opinion on the penalty, because as he put it, “It’s something that’s never happened, so how do you know what’s appropriate?” He wondered if organizers figured the teams would hand out their own penalties, as they indeed have, and that was why the penalty seemed a bit light—”The repercussions are coming without FIM having to hand them out.”
In his years on-track McCormick would have seen his own share of tough maneouvers – he ended up in a neck brace after being forced into the weeds by Carlos Checa at Assen in 2012 – but he just counts that stuff up as racing incidents that go sour. The closest thing to competitor-on-competitor hijinks that he remembers is a Supersport race at Mosport, where Steve Crevier grabbed McCormick’s butt as he sailed by on a quicker machine down the back straight. They just laughed about that one afterwards.
But McCormick acknowledges this is different—regardless of Fenati’s explanation, it was a bad decision, one that could have caused a serious crash, and much different from the usual roadracing controversy that erupts over something like a tough pass.
What if something like this did happen in CSBK? What are the consequences? Series organizer Colin Fraser said the competitor would be disqualified for sure, and done racing for the weekend, and likely suspended. From there, the results would depend somewhat on the rider’s history and standing with organizers and the series. But in CSBK’s case, Fraser says nothing like this has happened in about 30 years, although they have indeed had to hand out permanent lifetime bans to racers before.
Fraser said MotoGP’s organizers have one big advantage over CSBK officials in that they have good video coverage of all the races. If something like this happened in a CSBK event that isn’t being taped (say, an Amateur Lightweight Sport Bike race), then organizers would have to rely on eyewitness accounts instead.
“That makes it easier to rule, when you have good video that provides full details,” Fraser said. “Being sure what happened is one of the biggest challenges when organizing an event, particularly at the regional or national level, where there are less easy ways to gather data and you’re relying on people’s recollections which are often unreliable.”
But with regard to this incident, Fraser says if it happened in CSBK, officials would determine it as a deliberate attempt to make another rider fall, and “I can’t imagine a situation where there’d be any way you’d explain what happened.” He pointed out that, protected as it is by a guard, you’d have to make a decent effort just to get ahold of someone’s brake lever to start with—you can’t claim it as accidental.
He did not want to second-guess the two-race penalty, and said MotoGP has a good system in place of stewards and clerks who make sure things are done correctly.
“It’s pretty locked down, so I think that’s likely the most penalty they can award him for an incident that didn’t cause a crash,” Fraser said, although he doesn’t know that for a fact. Still, he did think that a two-race suspension didn’t sound like much.
“I don’t think it’s an overly aggressive penalty, given the behaviour, and certainly we would definitely consider suspending your licence for a very long time (if that happened in CSBK). But I don’t want to come across as having all the answers.”
No matter where Fenati goes now, he’ll face scrutiny, Fraser says. From an organizational standpoint, a troublesome racer can be bad news not just because of the ill will created between the riders, but also for harming the trust between the riders and the racing oversight body, says Fraser. Riders aren’t happy if they think the punishments handed out to errant racers don’t fit the crimes committed.
And for those reasons, Fraser summed up Fenati’s future best with this understatement: “It’s going to be difficult for him.”