The deeper issues exposed by Pol Espargaro's Portuguese MotoGP crash

A crash for Pol Espargaro in Portuguese GP P2 not only brought out red flags, but also highlighted deeper issues with the Portimao track and with MotoGP.

Pol Espargaro, 2023 MotoGP Portuguese Grand Prix. - KTM/Rob Gray (Polarity Photo)

A crash in the second MotoGP practice session at Portimao for Pol Espargaro caused a second red flag of the afternoon, and necessitated a trip to hospital for the Spaniard. 

Race track safety is curious in that maximising it requires the precise prediction of where people will crash. Crashing at turn 10 in Portimao, which hosts this weekend’s MotoGP Portuguese Grand Prix, is not completely bizarre, but it is far less common than crashing at turn one or turn five at the same circuit, for example. In fact, 2023 Moto3 rookie and 2021 Red Bull MotoGP Rookies Cup Champion, David Alonso, crashed twice in one session at turn five yesterday (24 March 2023) during practice for the Moto3 riders.

A while later, during MotoGP second practice, three crashes happened within a few seconds of each other. First, Raul Fernandez crashed at turn 13, and moments later two crashes happened just a few hundred metres behind him. 

At turn 10, Pol Espargaro crashed on the brakes, over the crest, and then Miguel Oliveira crashed on the on which turns 10 and 11 both sit. It is not  certain why Espargaro crashed, because his necessary transfer to the hospital very much de-necessitated him talking to the media at the end of the day. But, it is likely that it was for the same reason that Oliveira crashed, which was because of a cold tyre on his Aprilia RS-GP motorcycle

“I had a crash,” Motomatters reports Oliveira said at the end of the first day of practice in Portimao. “A heavy crash, when I went on my out-lap with the new tyres. I crashed because of a rear cold tyre.”

By the time Oliveira and Espargaro were heading out for their time attack runs at the end of the P2 session (no longer “FP2” for reasons), the time of day had surpassed 16:00. The sun was falling, and so the temperature - from the air and from the track - dropped with it. This is a feature of the new Sprint-race-induced weekend format for MotoGP, which has the premier class closing the day rather than being sandwiched between Moto3 and Moto2 in the Friday and Saturday schedules. It is also a consequence of a red flag early in Practice 2 for a power cut which severed the TV images in Race Control, meaning Race Direction had no view of the track, and had no choice but to red flag the session. That stoppage lasted around 30 minutes in the end.

By the time MotoGP arrives in Mugello in early-June, the timing of P2 will be less of an issue, but even southern Europe is prone to a temperature drop in the late afternoon towards the beginning of spring. 

The consequences of the late practice and the cold tyre for Oliveira were slight. He was uninjured, but he missed Q2.

For Espargaro, they were more severe. He hit the barrier at turn 10, because the run-off area there is quite small and the gravel is still quite hard; the stones still quite large. The gravel in Portimao has been an issue for a while, with Francesco Bagnaia being one of its most-frequent critics. reports Bagnaia told the media at the end of Friday in Portimao that “Without this gravel, [the crash would not have been] as bad. Because it was a bad crash, but [...] when Pol arrived on the gravel, he started to accelerate.”

The other issue with the track at turn 10 was made clear when Espargaro eventually did reach the barriers, since there is no airfence there, which now seems like an incredible oversight. It is also notable that neither riders nor media raised this issue at any point in the past, but, as David Emmett wrote in his Friday Round-Up on Motomatters, the ultimate responsibility for safety in MotoGP lies with the FIM Safety Officer, who this year is no longer Franco Uncini but Tome Alfonso. 

The latest information regarding the condition of Pol Espargaro is that he suffered a broken jaw, a fractured dorsal vertebrae, and a lung contusion. He was transferred to hospital in Faro on Friday afternoon.

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