How MotoGP’s medics are keeping pace with a change in the nature of crashes

There can be upwards of 50 medical staff at each round
There can be upwards of 50 medical staff at each round Picture: Tony Goldsmith

This year’s MotoGP season saw an increase of 34% in crashes year-on-year which have been attributed to changes in the spec-tyre manufacturer and the single ECU.

A tendency for riders to be pinged over the high-side has slowly been replaced by front-end falls and the series’ trauma team are working to keep pace with the changes by introducing a second medical car on track and making airbags in leathers compulsory.

The crash data is interesting. From 215 falls in 2015, the number has increased to 288 in 2016, with an average from 12 to 16 per race weekend. Ten years ago, the total falls per season in the premier class numbered only 98 incidents.

But it hasn’t been limited to the blue riband class. In Moto2 and Moto3 where there have been no big changes, the increase has been more gradual. In total this year there were 364 in Moto2 and the biggest number in Moto3 with 410 incidents with an average of 23 falls per race weekend. Last year there were 235 in Moto2 and 314 in Moto3. Ten years ago: 235 in 250cc and 314 in the 125cc.

To explain the situation of this season, we need to consider that weather complicated the situation in Australia, Holland, Germany, England, Czech Republic and Malaysia. However, Phillip Island was the circuit with saw the most falls (90) followed by Motegi in Japan (84), Sachsenring (81), Sepang (69) and Silverstone (68). The circuit with the least crashes was Mugello with 34.

Every year, bikes are faster and faster and that new lap records are made. But focusing on the 2016 season, can the introduction of the single ECU and the switch to Michelin tyre explain such an increase in falls? And how has the nature of crashes changed?

We spoke with Doctor Xavier Mir, the MotoGP Traumatology Specialist and upper extremity specialist surgeon, about safety and what kind of work Dorna is doing to improve safety in the tracks.

First of all, which is your role in the MotoGP structure?
“I’m head of orthopaedics and then there is Doctor Angel Charte, head of medicine. I have been in this position for the last five years. In particular, I’m a specialist of the arm, that is to say from the collarbone to the hand. We have done a research to study which are the areas that are most affected by crashes, and we realized that 70 per cent of the injuries involve the upper extremity (from collarbone to the hand).

“This research analyses the data of all categories (MotoGP, Moto2 and Moto3), including Red Bull Rookies Cup and Asian Talent Cup. It covers the last five years and takes into consideration the tracks and the corners where more incidents occurred. This is important also to understand if these turns or the asphalt are dangerous and which measures can be taken. Among the 70 per cent, the most affected area is the collarbone.”

Which is the circuit with the record number of falls?
“This year it was Phillip Island with 90 falls, followed by Motegi (84), Sachsenring (81), Sepang (69) and Silverstone (68). An important factor that plays a role for some circuits, like Phillip Island, Sepang or Silverstone is the weather. But according to the statistics, the most serious incidents occur in dry conditions. In fact, the falls in wet conditions are smoother.”

Which are the corners with most falls?
“It depends also from the weather condition. Looking At Silverstone this year, we had for example 11 falls in turns 10 (Club Corner) and 12 (Farm Curve). The weather conditions varied a lot during the race weekend. If we look at Phillip Island, there were a total of 32 falls at turn four. The weather conditions were also changeable, dry and wet during the race weekend.”

How the way of crashes have changed in the last seasons?
“In the past there were more high-sides, while this year we saw more riders losing the front. What is true is that every year the speed increases. Also the kind of fractures have changed. For example, with the introduction of the airbag there is an area that is less protected. This happens because the airbag dimensions vary according to the riders, but they are not really custom-tailored. This the main issue. Just think of the size of Loris Baz, for example, with his 191cm versus the 160 cm of Dani Pedrosa. For this reason we are studying the airbag together with Dainese and Alpinestars to work on the development of this important safety device.”

Speaking of Pedrosa, how can you explain that he suffers an injury almost every time he crashes?
“Dani is an exceptional rider. He is a great talent but for his size and his muscular structure he has a disadvantage. His muscles are not so strong. And then, I have to say, that he also has some bad luck.”

This year, there were several cases of riders who suffered vertebrae fractures…
“Yes. Andrea Iannone, Jack Miller, Julian Simon… We are also studying how the airbag can be a bit longer. Another key point is that the airbag starts to work before the rider touches the soil and in these fractions of seconds the body position can change a lot. The idea is to introduce the compulsory use of the airbag starting from 2018. To achieve this, it’s necessary for a further improvement of the airbag and it has to be tailor-made according to the size of each rider.”

Talk us through the recent safety measures that have been introduced
“The introduction of the two medical cars that are fully-equipped to intervene directly on the track has been hugely important. These first two medical cars go into action when a rider is unconscious. They are able to be on the spot of the incident in one minute once the race is red-flagged and the doctors can attend the rider on track.

“This is the same procedure of the Formula 1. After this first intervention, the rider can be transported to the medical centre or by helicopter to the nearest hospital. In the first lap, when there is a higher risk of incidents because the riders are all together, there is a medical car behind the group plus the other two medical cars ready to enter into action in case of multiple incidents. In each medical car there is a professional driver, one doctor and one paramedic. When the incident with Marco Simoncelli occurred, there were not these medical cars equipped to assist the unconscious rider directly on track, the rider had to be transported to the medical centre or to the hospital”.

Which is the most risky moment?
“The start.”

How many doctors are on track?
“The number changes according to each racetrack, it depends on the layout and the length of the circuit. In Valencia, for example, we had the following structure: 21 doctors and 21 paramedics on track, then four doctors and four paramedics in the cars plus the staff at the medical centre. Regarding the vehicles there were seven ambulances on track plus two ambulances at the medical centre and two helicopters.”

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