Motorsports

Austin: Vinales, Mir jump-starts reignite penalty debate

Hot on the heels of a controversial jump-start penalty for Cal Crutchlow in Argentina, Maverick Vinales and Joan Mir suffered the same fate in Sunday’s COTA race.

Once again, camera footage focused on their grid slots (see clips below) showed that both riders had moved slightly before the red lights went out.

But, as with Crutchlow, it was also hard to see any tangible advantage had been gained, calling into question the severe nature of the ride-through penalty automatically issued for such infringements.

For Vinales, who had qualified sixth, the misery was compounded when he misunderstood the penalty notice and took the new ‘Long Lap’ loop, before correctly serving the pit lane ride-through.

The Monster Yamaha rider took responsibility for the ‘Long Lap’ mistake and, while explaining that an overheating clutch may have caused the early grid movement, also said there are ‘no excuses’ since the rules are clear.

“Very difficult to explain. I think on the start the bikes get hot and I think the clutch [engages] before it’s released,” said Vinales, who recovered from 19th to 11th after the penalty.

“On the start I just put full gas [with the clutch engaged]. The first 2-3 seconds were okay, then in the last moment the bike started to move. I didn’t release the clutch, nothing.

“Then I misunderstand a little bit the [ride through] penalty. It was all my fault. I lose many, many seconds. Then it was a good comeback. I didn’t expect to finish 11th because I was so, so far from the guys, but I was catching some at two-three seconds per lap. I was feeling really good on the bike.”

Ironically, many have been calling for the lesser ‘Long Lap’ penalty (approximately 2-3s) to replace a pit lane ride through for such minor jump starts.

But perhaps surprisingly, Vinales doesn’t want the rules changed.

“No, it’s not severe. Finally it’s the same. If you move, you get the ride through. It’s like this…. There are no excuses,” he said. “We need to improve the clutch and we need to improve the setup of the bike for the start.”

Of the two COTA jump starts, Mir’s was the smallest and he joined those that feel a 30-second ride through penalty is too much.

“Sincerely, I didn’t realise,” said the Suzuki rookie, whose team-mate Alex Rins won the race while he crossed the line in 17th. “It was something that I don’t see even on the TV clearly that I move. I think that it’s too much penalty for what it is.

“I didn’t gain any time. This is clear. I don’t know what I have to say. But, it ruined my whole weekend. When I see my lap times every lap and the pace that I had, it makes me even more angry because sincerely we had today a great pace to fight for the podium or top five. But what can I say? Is a shame.

“If you gain time [by jumping the start], I see you have to go to the ride through. I think it’s a good penalty. But if you don’t see it clearly, you cannot put ride through. Come on. This isn’t like this. I want to see if this happens to another rider.”

Asked for his opinion on the jump starts, Crutchlow said: “I’m not glad that someone else got a jump start – that’s not what I’m saying – but obviously they are hot on it now.

“Maybe they haven’t been as hot as before. Maybe it’s because they thought I’d complain. I don’t know. But from what I heard Mir didn’t really do anything. It is what it is…”

Suzuki team manager Davide Brivio said the current penalty is so great that riders may as well retire after jumping the start.

“Of course [Mir] didn’t take an advantage but he very slightly moved. My opinion is that the penalty is too big for what you do,” said the Italian.

“I agree that maybe we can keep the rule that you don’t move. But once you move, maybe to throw away 30-35 seconds for the ride through, it’s almost like if you make a jump start you should retire and go into the pits. It’s the same.

“It’s a little bit too much. I think we have to find maybe a better balance. I agree you cannot move. That’s fine. But we have to find a fairer penalty.”

The problem is that the riders themselves were not united about reducing the jump start penalty when it was discussed in Friday’s Safety Commission.

“At the end, nothing was clear,” Mir said.

Runner-up Valentino Rossi said Crutchlow wasn’t happy about changing the penalty mid-season, having already served a ride through.

“We talked about the Long Lap. A lot of people are agreed but at the same time Cal said, ‘Yeah, but I take already the bigger penalty, so now if we change the rule I am disadvantaged’. The discussion keeps going.”

However fellow podium finisher Jack Miller highlighted how the start procedure rules were changed immediately after Argentina last year, when he had been the only rider to make the correct tyre choice on the grid.

“The discussion keeps going. If we look back to the rules changing after people get f**ked over by the rules, look back to Argentina last year…”

“Maybe a good thing is try to change [the penalty] for next year,” Rossi responded.

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