You can almost always count on MotoGP for 45 minutes of exciting racing, and last Sunday’s round at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya certainly didn’t disappoint. It was an event full of tense action at the front, with Miguel Oliveira snatching the early lead of the race from Jack Miller, who’d already swept it from pole-sitter Fabio Quartararo.
That drama continued for the remainder of the 24 laps, Oliveira masterfully holding off late attacks from Johann Zarco and Quartararo — though, the latter was, to be fair, a bit preoccupied with a very unusual problem in the waning moments of the race.
Quartararo’s leathers inexplicably split open with four laps left to go, forcing the Frenchman to finish the race unzippered and his chest and stomach entirely exposed. At one point, Quartararo was seen tossing the breastplate of his suit because it was presumably too uncomfortable to ride with it flapping about. After it was all over, he seemed as confused as anyone watching.
Fabio Quartararo drops to sixth place after a 3-second penalty for riding without his chest protector and his leather suit.pic.twitter.com/5qgoiMxTDj
— Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya (@Circuitcat_eng) June 6, 2021
This saga was extraordinarily weird as it unfolded and is still perplexing as of Tuesday, because Alpinestars — the suit’s manufacturer — found nothing wrong with Quartararo’s leathers in its initial evaluation, according to Motorsport.com. The company says it will conduct further testing once the suit is back at its laboratory.
In a statement, Alpinestars said: “Following Sunday’s MotoGP race at the Circuit de Barcelona-Catalunya, the Alpinestars’ Racing Development team commenced an investigation into the integrity of Fabio Quartararo’s racing suit.
“Upon initial analysis post-race in the Alpinestars Racing Development truck located in the MotoGP paddock, the team found the suit to be in normal working order with all zippers and fasteners fully functioning.
“Furthermore, all the suit’s componentry, including the Tech-Air® Airbag System, was intact and fully functioning. The Tech-Air® Airbag System did not deploy during the race, it functioned as expected, as there was not a crash situation.
The first explanation that spread suggested the airbags in Quartararo’s suit were somehow triggered while he was riding, though that apparently didn’t happen. Others wondered if he improperly zipped his leathers before starting, but onboard footage from before the incident appeared to show everything good and fastened. In fact, Quartararo’s crew chief, Diego Gubellini, said as much on Facebook:
Before the start of the race Fabio close the leather suit properly (as on board camera confirmed),
the leather suit suddenly opened during the braking of turn 1, 4 laps to the end,
Fabio went out at 1, 3 laps to the end losing 0.7sec,
in an attempt to close the suit, the front protection flew off because of the speed.
I’d still be inclined to think something wasn’t quite right with the way Quartararo zipped up his suit, if only because it’d be the easiest explanation. But according to The Race, which cites “contacts in the MotoGP paddock,” the going theory is apparently that Quartararo’s chest protector slid up within his leathers at some point, and in trying to shove it back down he may have inadvertently unfastened his suit.
Weirdly, Quartararo was not black flagged during the race for riding nearly shirtless, which you’d think would be an instant DQ in MotoGP. Sure, the situation was no intentional fault of his own, but if the previous weekend’s tragedy in Moto3 wasn’t a reminder enough, riders need to be as safe as possible behind the handlebars. Even the man himself later admitted he shouldn’t have been allowed to finish:
“First of all, I think looking back at what happened, now that the story is finished I can be happy,” he told the media. “It’s difficult to admit, but yes, it was a black flag. It’s true that I put myself in danger, and after what happened last week it would have been the correct thing to do. But I got lucky.
Quartararo was ultimately given a three-second penalty, which comes across as a bit of an unfair move from the stewards in retrospect. I understand the need to set a precedent, but the officials shirked their responsibilities by not removing Quartararo from the race the moment his suit burst open. Handing him a time penalty after the fact does nothing. In tandem with another penalty received for shortcutting the course, Quartararo lost six seconds in total, dropping him from third to sixth in the final results. A weird end to a very weird episode we may never know the full story behind.