Espargaro/Binder crash shows MotoGP stewards serious about change

When Aprilia rider Aleix Espargaro crashed during the MotoGP sprint race at this weekend’s Indonesian Grand Prix and took Red Bull KTM racer Brad Binder into the gravel with him, it looked like a relatively straightforward penalty was coming from the series’ stewards – and some were more than a little surprised when it was announced that the Spaniard would escape without any sanction for causing the crash.

An overtake attempt that was unfortunately a little too on the limit 😢@AleixEspargaro later went to @BradBinder_33‘s garage to apologise 👏#IndonesianGP 🇮🇩

— MotoGP™🏁 (@MotoGP) October 14, 2023

However, while it might have been the case in the recent past that he could have expected to serve at least a long-lap penalty in Sunday’s full race at the Mandalika circuit, the fact that he escaped without punishment might well indicate that the words earlier this year of MotoGP chief steward (and former multiple time world champion) Freddie Spencer might well be worth taking at face value.

Too often too quick to penalise racers for any infraction at all, that’s something which came to a head earlier this season at Le Mans, when the American sat down with the MotoGP grid and listened to their feedback on how they were being punished – a meeting that seemed, at the time, to mainly involve riders telling the stewards that they wanted the space to race rather than risk being punished for every infraction.

Things had been heating up leading up to the French race, with riders being sanctioned for even the slightest contact with their opponents, something that six-time world champion Marc Marquez in particular was opposed to.

“For me the situation is clear. We must stop speaking about this kind of racing incidents. This is stupid for me,” he said.

And, in the aftermath of that Le Mans conversation, it seemed that to his credit Spencer and his fellow stewards took note of the riders’ feedback, something that the notoriously media-shy former champion hinted at when speaking to US domestic series MotoAmerica’s podcast a few weeks later.

“It got to a point a few races ago where it was just too much. Not too much contact, but it’s where there shouldn’t be any involvement, where it should be race incidents,” Spencer said.

“We all agree with that, and if it’s too much, if it’s race-affecting, then there will be changes of position, that’s the first course of action, as it should be. Then we’ll move forward from that.

“From our side, it’s safety and fairness, but we want the riders to be able to race and that’s what we saw in France.”

That’s something that hasn’t really been tested up until this point, with no incidents that fall into the relative grey area that would have previously seen a penalty handed out but left fans not understanding why – at least, until Espargaro tucked the front while overtaking Binder at Mandalika and wiped out the South African.

There was no debating afterwards who was to blame for the move, with Espargaro quick to hold his hands up and accept responsibility for the crash, admitting that the combination of dirty track and low grip had caused his error.

Unused for a substantial part of the year and located right on the beach, the Mandalika circuit has developed something of a reputation for being dirty and dusty, an issue that means that even as it clears over the weekend, it does so only on the racing line as bikes circulate, something that makes deviating off that line treacherous.

This is racing. Thanks for your sportsmanship, Aleix. 🤝 #KTM #ReadyToRace #IndonesianGP 🇮🇩

— Red Bull KTM Factory Racing (@KTM_Racing) October 14, 2023

“I made a mistake,” Espargaro conceded. “I tried to overtake and I didn’t have any room so I had to brake on the dirty track, and I’m very sorry for Brad and everyone at KTM. I tried to avoid it, but to not collide with him I locked the front on a dirty part and I lost the front.

“I don’t want to make an excuse because I’m really sorry for Brad. I made a mistake and I ruined his race. It’s my fault. But you have to overtake, and there is only one line. So the risk is there.”

But while it might have been a risky move that eventually ended his change of fighting for the podium, Binder was in agreement with the stewards afterwards that it was simply a racing incident – and that Espargaro deserved not to be punished more than he already had been by failing to finish.

“Unfortunately with this track it’s a bit difficult to overtake,” he explained. “Aleix was trying to get past me and obviously he locked the front and I got collected. Not really ideal, not a good day for us.

“To be honest, on this track the line is so narrow and it’s so hard to overtake. It’s racing, at the end of the day. I was just unfortunate to be collected, but it is what it is and I can’t complain.”

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