WATCH: The finest edge on which the 2021 WorldSBK title could be falsely decided

Why Jonathan Rea is not the villain of the piece that led to Toprak Razgatlioglu losing his WorldSBK win... but why the penalty is entirely wrong as well

Toprak Razgatlioglu, Jonathan Rea

Every millisecond, every millimetre, every point counts in motorcycle racing… just ask Tommy Hill and John Hopkins!

However, if the 2021 WorldSBK Championship is decided by a six point swing in Jonathan Rea’s favour it will write new rules as to just how marginal the fight for glory can be when the gloves come off and the elbows are out.

The basic facts of the decision that led to Toprak Razgatlioglu being demoted behind Jonathan Rea are relatively solid, albeit balancing on the finest of lines. 

Indeed, while many initially thought it was Razgatlioglu’s fight back against Rea on the final lap of the Superpole Race at Magny-Cours that drew the ire of the stewards, it was in fact earlier in the lap on the run to the quick Imola chicane that caught the Turk out with replays showing his two wheels tickling the slightest of green Astroturf strips to his left.

In fact, the Astroturf is almost so inconsequential that you have to wonder why it is there in the first place since the kink left is a flat acceleration section and there is no advantage to be gained.

Moreover - and this is perhaps the most alarming part of the decision - Rea lined up a pass up the inside at the next corner. In short, Razgatlioglu was penalised for gaining a supposed advantage but it was Rea that actually benefited in the moment.

Of course, Razgatlioglu fought back with a robust pass at the penultimate corner to win, but Rea didn’t miss a beat in marching over to Pere Riba to report what he had seen. It’s almost impressive that Rea clocked the indiscretion while lining up the overtake.

Jonathan Rea hasn't done anything wrong, but...

First things first, Rea hasn’t done anything wrong and has acted well within his rights. Crying foul for something that had no bearing on the final result isn’t perhaps in the spirit of the sport, but ‘spirit rules’ aren’t forged in ink for a reason.

It is perhaps a sure sign of the pressure Rea is feeling against Razgatlioglu, not least because Magny-Cours laid bare a problematic situation for the Kawasaki man. So long the master of consistency, Rea’s flawlessness has been dented in 2021 with some sloppy errors, often the result of pushing too hard in response to his increasingly empowered rivals.

But he remained level on points with Razgatlioglu coming into the French road and the playing field couldn’t have been more plateaued come the three races. Both riders were evenly matched, their battles were straight fights and overtakes were achieved cleanly and respectfully - but Razgatlioglu beat Rea on each occasion.

For the first time in his Kawasaki career, Rea has a rival who can match him for consistency and has weapons in his armoury that surpass his own. Moreover, while it is a testament to Yamaha that it has chipped away at the R1 with vigour, you would be hard pressed to say it is a quicker bike than the Kawasaki ZX-10RR.

So the margin for error is coming down to rider on rider - as it should be - and right now it is very hard to split the two friends turned rivals.

And, by the letter of the rules, Razgatlioglu was in the wrong, though you have to wonder how he could have possibly gained an advantage even if he’d used it to line up a pass himself. 

That said, World Championships have been won and lost on the strength of six points or fewer over the years, frankly it would have been a mistake for Rea not to have actioned Kawasaki to protest it.

How the FIM Stewards got it completely wrong

If you’re angry at the decision, then there are grounds to point your ire away from Rea and towards the stewards for fluffing both the process and the decision.

Firstly, the penalty came remarkably late in the day with a decision called after Race 2 had been completed (around four hours later). Previous track limits decisions came in the direct aftermath of the race, raising the question of why it took Kawasaki to protest for stewards to pay attention to the indiscretion. 

It is also hard to believe that Razgatlioglu was the only rider not to use that tiniest bit of green turf  over the course of the weekend, so does this mean it is now it is up to the riders to police this?

Furthermore, the decision was entirely wrong. 

On the results sheet it says ‘Penalized to Drop 1 Position - Exceeded Track Limits (Final Lap)’.

Track limits penalties almost always come in the form of a time penalty, unless said track limit overstep was used to line up a pass, in which case the rider in question either gives it back in the race, or they are swapped on the timesheets.

Except Razgatlioglu didn’t gain a position. Nor did he gain an advantage. Nor did it help him defend against the overtake that came two seconds later. It makes no sense to penalise a rider where no discernible advantage is gained in the heat of battle, much less one where they actually lost out.

It’s the same principle as a rider being forced to cut a corner by an aggressive overtake and then penalised even though they still lost the position anyway.

The incident will strengthen calls to reform the way stewards make decisions and consider where it is placing Astroturf, which once upon a time was laid in the interests of improving safety but is now becoming a complicated battleground where races are decided by unseen men and women relying on prompts when they should be in charge.

Yes Rea is going to be very unpopular outside of his fanbase if he wins the 2021 WorldSBK title by, say, five points but it is the bungled way in which it was handled that deserves the sharpest of scrutineering.

If it wasn’t already, the fight for the 2021 WorldSBK is very very much on!