Espargaro penalised over MotoGP practice slap

The Aleix Espargaro-Franco Morbidelli slap. Image: Fox Sports

The Aleix Espargaro-Franco Morbidelli slap. Image: Fox Sports

Aleix Espargaro has been issued a six-position grid penalty and EUR 10,000 fine after slapping Franco Morbidelli in a MotoGP practice session in Qatar.

A statement from stewards advised, “On 18″ November 2023 at 15;07:19 during QATAR AIRWAYS GRAND PRIX OF QATAR Free Practice 2 session you were observed to have behaved in an aggressive manner including physically striking number 21.

“This contravenes Article of the FIM Grand Prix World Championship Regulations “any corrupt or fraudulent act, or any action of prejudicial to the interests of the meetings or of the sport, carried out by a person or a group of persons occurring during an event”.

“It is therefore an infringement of the FIM Grand Prix World Championship Regulations, being detrimental to the interest of the sport.

“For the above reasons, the FIM MotoGP Stewards Panel has imposed a fine of 10,000 Euros and 6 Grid Positions penalty for the MotoGP QATAR AIRWAYS GRAND PRIX OF QATAR MotoGP Race.”

Despite occurring in Free Practice 2, the penalty applies only to the Grand Prix race and not the Sprint.

It means that Espargaro and Morbidelli will now start from opposite sides of Row 6 of the Lusail starting grid, assuming the former is fit to start after fracturing a leg in a crash in the Sprint.

The slapping incident occurred early in the Saturday morning practice session in an apparent battle for track position.

Morbidelli had ridden down the inside of Espargaro at Turn 5, only for the latter to respond in kind at Turn 6, where they made contact.

Espargaro than gesticulated at the Yamaha rider, who put out a hand before copping a slap on his helmet from the Aprilia pilot.

Morbidelli recounted, “This morning I was having my practice and then Alex Marquez crashed in Turn 2 and there was a yellow flag, so [Jorge] Martin slowed down in front of me.

“I slowed down but, by the time we reached Turn 4, Aleix overtook me. Then I overtook him back because I wanted to get back my original position.

“Then he overtook me like crazy into Turn 6, almost crashing and almost making me crash.

“When I was trying to tell him to take it easy because, after he banged on me, he got angry and started to make bad gestures, as he always does.

“When I was telling him to take it easy, to chill out, he did what you all saw. It’s a huge disrespect action towards me.

“It’s difficult to take, but I take it and the stewards have been analysing everything and took the countermeasures that they thought was right.

“According to me, they did nothing because what they did actually was to put him by my side for tomorrow’s race and make him race in today’s race as if nothing happened.

“So, for me they did nothing. What he did today was such a big disrespect towards another competitor, in other sports it would have been treated in a much different way.

“So, it’s okay, I keep going.”

Espargaro expressed his regrets in a subsequent post on his Instagram account.

“It has been a day to forget, first of all the incident with Morbidelli,” he wrote.

“I had a very bad reaction. He was walking in the middle of the track, he almost hit me twice, he was on the line, he didn’t let me enter again and I lost my temper with a totally disproportionate reaction.

“And for that I received a penalty. From my point of view [it is] too much, but I accept it because, obviously, the image is not good.”

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