After some scary crashes during the two races at the Red Bull Ring in Spielberg, Austria, MotoGP officials decided to implement a new system of alerting riders to red flags that they might otherwise miss. And it’s a simple as a radio message.
Many forms of racing use an in-helmet radio system for racers to talk to their pit crew, but MotoGP riders don’t have that direct line of communication. In fact, those lines of communication are expressly forbidden in the rulebook. Instead, riders rely on a combination of the classic pit board signs and their on-board displays to receive any necessary information.
Ultimately, it’s feared that a radio would cause a rider to lose concentration. While it’s not great to have a lapse of attention in, say, an F1 car, it’s especially bad for a rider in the middle of a corner. In bike racing, the racer is more physically prone.
That said, riders have also been struggling to catch changing marshal flags, such as when a race changes from green-flag to red-flag conditions. The series is exploring a more immediate form of conveying that information via pre-recorded messages.
Dorna’s sporting director Carlos Ezpeleta made sure to keep expectations tempered regarding the ultimate purpose of the test:
It was really just a very first preliminary test let’s say, basically to test two things. One, to know if riders could hear messages on the ear phones. And two, to see if they were distracted by a message that could arrive mid-corner or in moments of more concentration.
Most riders felt the test ultimately proved to be positive, but the big criticism was that, between the engine noise and the rush of wind, it could be difficult to receive all messages.
Andrea Dovizioso noted the problem to the media later in the week.
We tried and it’s good because the sound was clear and I can hear what they say. But unfortunately there is… they have to change the inner-ear because it was like I didn’t have ear plugs, so the [wind] sound was so high and I can’t hear the engine too much.
Other riders noted that the headphones that provided the message are unlike the noise-cancelling ones they currently wear in that they let in a lot of ambient noise. The sensation was too much for Pol Espargaro; he came into the pits after trying out the system because “it was too noisy and impossible to ride.”
Ezpeleta is confident that the noise isn’t a deal breaker. Instead, it signals the fact that some changes need to be made but that the system is working as it should.
“Now it’s just about listening to the riders and seeing what are our requirements for the future,” he noted. “If there’s going to be a cable or no cable; the size of the receivers on the leather suits; the ear phones and how much noise they cancel from the bike.”