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GP Week : Issue 18
Donington deal accentuates the ‘them-and-us’ So, the whisper at the British Bike GP two weeks ago has become reality. The circuit in the heart of the shires, since 1987 home to the British Motorcycle Grand Prix, will be getting the F1 GP from 2010. The initial reaction from the bike fraternity was amazement. How on earth would Bernie’s precious spick-and-spans tolerate track and paddock conditions that are third-world, compared with everywhere else, even on the bike calendar? This year again the Donington paddock flooded, though not to the ankle-deep proportions enjoyed several times previously. The second reaction was to jump for joy. Of course down-at- heel Donington, with its mud and jam-ups and distant car- parks would not be tolerated. F1 would inevitably mean a major upgrade, a programme of works that will fully justify the £100-million promised in the official announcement a fortnight later. The third reaction was for the heart to sink. Guess what: the bikes probably won’t even get the chance to enjoy the new Donington. Instead, Silverstone has made a counter-bid to take the Bike GP. Once again, in an encounter with F1, the bikes would come off second-best. It’s always been this way when bike and car racing come together. It always seems to end in disagreement. For example, there are long- standing disputes over safety – as when the Armco barriers and catch-fences once favoured for F1 actually increased the dangers for motorcyclists. And there have been many examples, going the other way, of how F1 practices and engineering fail on two wheels. The ill-fated Ilmor and the Cosworth-developed three-cylinder Aprilia 990 are just two of the most recent examples. On the chassis side there was John Barnard’s Proton, offering no advantage at a massively increased cost; and longer ago a series of Elf-sponsored suspension experiments now best forgotten. Bike racing and car racing, you see, just don’t mix at this top level. They turn out to share very little. This is a lesson Dorna might do well to apply to some other thinking. Using F1 as the business model just isn’t working. Moving bike racing upmarket hasn’t worked, because it misses the whole point. Dorna has aimed at increasing exclusivity of the MotoGP class in particular. Inevitably, this formalises the role of the 250s and 125s as paddock juniors. This is not something which suits, for example, the 250 and 125 teams run by Jorge “Aspar” Martinez. Running five riders compared with the one or two of MotoGP teams, this squad is one of the most professional and best-sponsored in the paddock. But it is not in MotoGP, and is condemned to outer darkness. Almost literally so. For the past year or so there has been a special paddock- within-the-paddock; an inner sanctum, open only to MotoGP teams and their over-size hospitality units. Them, and their VIP guests. It is a sorry spectacle. Like sponsorship, party-going guests of the right stature have proved thin on the ground. The VIP paddock is more like a ghost town than the social hub of a vibrant sport, while the sense of rejection felt by the 125 and 250 teams is complete. At least they still have a bit of fun, in the outer zone. There are people walking around, and sometimes even talking to one another. It’s a bit like bike racing used to be. Will it ever be like that again? Or will the social and business aspirations drive the sport ever further from its origins, of natural cameraderie that cuts across all classes in every sense of the word. Certainly the latter, if Dorna keeps following F1 everywhere. Well, everywhere except the new Donington, anyway. Michael Scott MotoGP editor o p in io n 22