Why was Hickman - and not Bridewell - DQ'd for near identical O'Halloran clash?

Opinions were already flying about the BSB clash between Peter Hickman and Jason O'Halloran that got the former excluded. But then came Tommy Bridewell... 

Peter Hickman, Jason O'Halloran - FHO BMW, McAMS Yamaha [credit: Eurosport]

UPDATED: Original article published 25 September before BSB Race 2 from Oulton Park which saw O'Halloran crash at the same corner after contact, this time with Tommy Bridewell. Article updated on 26 September to reflect this. 

Peter Hickman has reacted angrily to the decision to exclude him from the first British Superbike Championship race at Oulton Park as punishment for an incident that eliminated Jason O’Halloran.

That was the introduction leading into this article as written on Sunday morning before Race 2. Sitting here editing it on Monday afternoon, it's fair to say the perspective of this weekend's incident-packed BSB race weekend has altered somewhat, even if the viewpoints shared below do not.

Suffice to say though, regardless of whether anyone feels compelled to apportion responsibility, a huge amount of sympathy goes out to O'Halloran. After all the hubbub that came as a result of his tangle with Hickman on the last lap in Race 1, it's incredible to think almost exactly the same fate would befall him on the opening lap of Race 2.

Throw in the memories of his slump in form at this critical title-fighting juncture this time 12 months ago and you understand the anger. Suffice to say, McAMS Yamaha - a team so dominant en route to the 2021 BSB title - felt the incidents, decisions and bitter aftermath deeply.

“Oulton Park was one of the worst weekends we have had in 30 years of racing," team manager Steve Rodgers said on Wednesday [27/9]. "It was a hugely testing round for the entire team to see out hard work over the last eight rounds go up in smoke after taking ten race victories and 20 podiums this season.

“Jason is one of the strongest and most talented riders on the Superbike grid. Over the last two years, he’s won more races than any other rider so for his title hopes to take a hit like that is crushing. Fortunately, he escaped relatively unscathed and can brush himself off, get back up and continue at Donington Park this weekend.”

O'Halloran's despair notwithstanding, however, the incident adds another dynamic to the original debate over whether Hickman deserved to be disqualified, not least because Bridewell's punishment was a ride-through penalty from which he recovered to second via a series of unusual circumstances.

Peter Hickman vs. Jason O'Halloran - Race 1

Let's tackle Race 1 first then. McAMS Yamaha rider O'Halloran - one of the eight Title Showdown contenders and chief rival of points’ leader Bradley Ray - crashed out after clipping Hickman's BMW as the FHO Racing rider attempted a pass for third on the final lap at Druids.

Hickman went on to finish fourth but was later judged to be at fault and subsequently removed from the results, given two points on his racing licence and demoted three spots on the grid for a Race 2 he was due to start from pole after setting the fastest lap in Race 1.

Reacting to the DQ, Hickman maintained he is ‘gutted’ O’Halloran crashed out but says he was ‘shocked at Race Direction’s decision’. He goes on to add that his ‘disqualification… is absolutely way over the top (because) we are racing, not playing tiddlywinks!”

Naturally, O’Halloran and McAMS Yamaha took a different view, so from an outside perspective, were Race Direction justified in throwing Hickman out of the race results?

Tommy Bridewell vs. Jason O'Halloran - Race 2

One can imagine there were plenty of thoughts racing through O'Halloran's head as he lined up on pole position for Race 2... though it's doubtful he was pondering whether history would repeat itself the next time he reached Druids.

While the physics of O'Halloran and Bridewell's coming together wasn't entirely identical to that of Race 1, the premise was very similar.

With Bridewell coming from behind to strike at an aggressive angle, the bikes made a point of contact fairly flush side-to-side. However, it was a second point of contact - caused by what looks like an unfortunate snag of bodywork - that forced O'Halloran wide onto the grass and into his crash. Bridewell, meanwhile, clung onto the asphalt and continued on his way.

With Race Direction no doubt under pressure to maintain precedence after its controversial Hickman decision, a 'like-for-like' punishment would have been a black flag. Instead, Bridewell was given a ride-through penalty.

By all accounts this should have wrecked his race, even if he had the pace to recover some small points given the clash happened in the early stages. At least it would have done had it not been negated by not one, but two red flags.

Indeed, while Bridewell was down in 22nd at the first stoppage, his subsequent 22nd on the grid for the restart - around 100m off first place - is significantly better than being 22nd behind a train of hard to pass bikes. He then got another bonus with a second red flag, though to his credit he was already up to tenth by that point, which became seventh - on both the timing screens and the grid for the final restart - as a result of the three retirements ahead.

Just cause, avoidable effects?

Full post-race exclusions and ride-through penalties over a single incident are very rare, both in BSB and wider motorcycle racing.

In fact, it has become even rarer now officials can deviate to the milder but still effective time penalty of varying lengths or a long lap penalty (arguably one of the best ideas introduced to racing) not least because most of these incidents can be considered poorly judged rather than malicious.

It’s what makes Hickman's disqualification especially somewhat querysome and raises a debate over whether its highly-charged, high profile nature played a factor where there shouldn’t be such bias. 

After all, it certainly wasn’t a malicious pass, so the question is whether it could have been avoided.

For your information, this was the decision communicated to the media:

“During the British Superbike Race 1 on Saturday, you [Hickman] caused an avoidable impact with another rider which resulted in the other rider falling, whilst you continued”

Every incident is ‘avoidable’ in my personal opinion if you boil it down to its literal meaning, so let’s revert to the question: Was the pass poorly judged? 

Well, yes and no.

Looking at the replay - and it should be noted I and you are going off replays and not telemetry - it’s fair to say Hickman comes from a long way back, but he does get most of his BMW past the Yamaha. More than Bridewell did, anyway, even if the Ducati rider doesn't come from as far behind.

Moreover, while the tight line is at such an angle so as to suggest O’Halloran probably could have switched back through on the exit towards Old Hall had they not made contact, Hickman isn’t coming so hot that he wouldn’t have made the corner either.

Instead then, perhaps we should be pondering whether Hickman “should’ have been trying to pass at Druids… except then we are getting into grey areas of common sense or ‘unwritten rules’, which at the end of the day, aren’t actually rules.

In defence of O’Halloran - at this stage in Race 1 - there was no reason for him to do anything differently on this lap as he had done on the previous 13 laps. Indeed, 99 times out of 100 he’d have probably have found himself bouncing off and out of the race if Hickman had performed the same move each time. How ironic would that statement become around 24 hours later.

As O’Halloran points out, he didn’t see or hear Hickman coming, which makes sense since it’s an unconventional place to pass around a largely, single racing line bend. Of course, no corner is immune from a passing attempt and as ‘gentleman’s agreement’ as it might be, there is no rule saying you can’t pass on any piece of asphalt.

It’s why you can forgive Hickman for highlighting Ayrton Senna’s notorious ‘‘if you no longer go for a gap that exists, you are no longer a racing driver’ quote in his comments on social media

As such, it’s plausible to suggest the outcome would have been the same with any rider on any lap from the distance Hickman came from... who knew we'd get to put this theory to the test so soon.

Why was Hickman - and not Bridewell - DQ'd?

If O'Halloran was at the front of the queue to (metaphorically) clip Bridewell around the ear after Race 2, chances are BSB Series Director Stuart Higgs was next in line. Not so much for the nature of the incident, more that he'd put Race Direction in a situation so awkward it was almost funny.

No two incidents are exactly the same... but when you have two collisions at the same corner involving one rider on the same receiving end resulting in the same outcome, as far as two incidents go, it's hard to get more a more cut-copy-paste example.

The key evidence on this occasion is Bridewell corroborating Hickman's claim that O'Halloran's entry line and pace at this point in the circuit left the door open to push. To an extent, both should have perhaps learned some lessons from Saturday with O'Halloran recognising he was vulnerable at this bend - rather than being the victim of an aggressive shove - and Bridewell realising the door could definitely close before he had slipped through.

It might go some way to explaining why Race Direction resisted giving Bridewell the same exclusion penalty as Hickman, which in live race conditions would take on the form of a black flag. Indeed, by all accounts it was probably satisfied that it had mirrored the punishment enough by consigning Bridewell to a ride-through penalty he'd struggle to recover many if any points by the flag.

However, not only did the two red flags negate his punishment, they spurred him on to a second place finish. Great for Bridewell's energised title bid, salt for the wounds of O'Halloran.

It's likely Race Direction will learn some lessons from these incidents, so as to at least avoid being put so obviously on the spot,

In the moment though, there remains a case for Race Direction's different decisions from two very similar cases. Whether or not they'd have made the same ones with the benefit of hindsight is open to conjecture... but hey, we all have 20:20 hindsight vision.

After all, Hickman - who had maintained a watching brief in fourth from the start - attempted a lunge that bore the hallmarks of being a spontaneous misjudgement that often occurs on the last lap. That, coupled to O'Halloran being cruelly denied third place finish just two corners from the flag after all that hard work, was arguably reflected in Hickman's punishment, albeit - in this writer's opinion - too harshly.

By contrast, Bridewell's move came amid the busy jostling of an opening lap when overtakes are more messily ground out than neatly executed. With another 16 laps to go, Race Direction took advantage of having more options available to it believing the net result of the Ducati rider's penalty would sufficiently mirror that of Hickman, without having to commit to the same penalty itself.

But then racing - particularly BSB - has a habit of being predictably unpredictable...

One rule for one, another for a BSB title contender?

It's a tough job being a race steward. No matter what, someone is going to be pissed off with whatever is decided.

So you can sympathise with them to an extent. After all, who could have possibly predicted such a precedence being tested so (im)perfectly the next day.

It does question, however, whether the decision might have been influenced by the riders involved and the disparity in what’s to be gained and lost at this stage in the season.

After all, had the incident occurred out of the camera’s gaze and involved, say, Josh Owens diving down the inside Dean Harrison for 18th place, resulting in the latter crashing out, what outcome would have arisen from riders battling over zero points?

We can’t really answer that question and even if we did ask it of Race Direction, the answer would of course be yes… so we’ll just let the question hang there as a rhetorical one and let you form an opinion if you so wish.

On Saturday, this article finished off with the line 'at the end of the day, nobody wins... unless your name is Bradley Ray'.

This time, somebody did actually win with Bridewell taking victory in Race 3 to complete his surge from eighth to second by the end of the weekend. O'Halloran didn't even take to the grid for Race 3 despite McAMS Yamaha's intimation he 'could' have done. Either way, the atmosphere in the Oulton Park paddock was awkward come Sunday evening.

Indeed, while all is fair in love and racing, its been a long time since the sweet smell of success has been offset by such a bitter aftertaste in BSB...