By Neil Morrison
Editorial Note: The following is a transcription of a press conference held by Dorna Sports CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta in Qatar on the MotoGP World Championship, how the Coronavirus/COVID 19 is affecting it, and what Dorna Sports is doing going forward to salvage its 2020 season.
Good afternoon and thank you everybody. Arriving this weekend I have had many questions from many journalists so we decided it is better to do a press conference to say where we are, what has happened and what we are preparing to do between now until the end of the season.
First of all it is important to clarify the collaboration between the Qatar authorities has been really very good. The situation has been changing day by day and we have tried to accommodate ourselves with an agreement from all the people in the paddock to try to do the maximum we can. During Saturday we started to see some problems for some nationalities to come to Qatar. First of all, we have been very lucky the test for Moto2 and Moto3 has been a week before and everyone was already here, that made it easy for us to make the two races here this weekend. That is something we decided from the beginning with the Losail International Circuit and the Qatari Federation and the authorities of Qatar to do the Moto2, Moto3 races and the Asian Talent Cup also.
We were discussing day by day between Saturday morning and Sunday afternoon with the Qatari authorities, we were discussing different possibilities until Sunday morning everything more or less was okay but many people coming from Italy were arriving into Doha without problems but then suddenly in the middle of the day and because the situation in Europe changed it meant the situation changed here, so when it was clear the people coming from Italy or other countries needed to go into quarantine here in Qatar and obviously this is difficult and we cannot do that so we thought of other possibilities.
Of these possibilities one was to try to organise a chartered flight for all the Italian living people because it is not just for the Italian nationalities but also people living in Italy. We tried to organise a flight from France or wherever to try to bring the minimum amount of people to participate, try to get an agreement between the manufacturers or teams to be obliged to have a maximum number so we agreed between teams to have the same number [or people] for all MotoGP teams.
We tried to deduce that and on Saturday afternoon we almost agree on that. Everybody was coming very soon as they were allowed into Qatar but suddenly in the early afternoon on Sunday a flight from Rome was forbidden to come here. They gave two possibilities; go back to Italy or quarantine for 14 days. Obviously not any of the possibilities were good for us. We tried to organise a flight from Nice and here and to accept some positions from the MotoGP community, the mechanics and teams, to have one place to go to and then come here [the track] and back but also this in the afternoon of Sunday we saw it was not possible.
It is very important to say the collaboration with Qatari authorities, I was talking with the ministers of sport, they were talking to the ministers for health, we and Qatar were trying to make the race and this is the situation right now. What happens for the future? Well, it was not something we could prevent and it depends as the situation changes every single day around the world and we will try to do everything possible whether that is postpone or do whatever, our aim today is to work together as we have been doing all this time to try to make a championship in the best possible conditions but to try to maintain the championship and the maximum number of races that we can. We were prepared to do that.
The next Grand Prix is the United States but we don’t know nothing, we are waiting to send all of the materials until the last moment. If the situation changes between now and that moment we will take the decision. It was also clear that we tried to move the United States to the end of the year changing with the Spanish races but due to the short time we have to make these races at the end of March it was impossible for a circuit to organise a MotoGP race from now to the end of March. The situation now is that we announce today the change of the date of Thailand thanks to the help of the Aragon government to move one week early the Aragon Motorland race. We will do one week later the Thailand round.
We have a lot of possibilities and are considering everything but the main aim of the FIM, IRTA and Dorna is to maintain the championship.
Secondly, we ask all the MotoGP community, to not pay attention to the rumours please because the people are very happy to start to say what is forbidden or what is not forbidden. We are together, we are talking to all the people around the world. We will try to do the championship. The first article we have with the promoters is to respect the laws of the country. If there are laws in place we can do nothing, if the law forbids us to go anywhere we won’t continue, when the law permits it we think in the future to change. Our aim, I hope we’ve clarified everything, our aim as FIM, IRTA and Dorna is to maintain the championship with the maximum number of races. The rest we will take measures like here at the Losail International Circuit regarding the presence of the people, spectators about being in the paddock, regarding the possibility about something happening because if it was to happen with some cases in the MotoGP paddock we are prepared to create the specialist equipment to do that and we have split between the Moto2 and Moto3 teams some kind of measures to permit the situation to get better. We have the local authorities, the World Health Organisation all connected to try to do the maximum thing. The main interest from our side is to tell everybody that we want to do the Grands Prix and I am sure we can do it. Obviously it will not be a normal championship and maybe we will change things but always we want to maintain two things; the sporting side to be equal for everybody and secondly to try to accommodate ourselves for the situations. This is very clear.
Races like Austin and Argentina if hit by coronavirus, room to postpone them too or have to cancel?
Today, yes, both the United States and Argentina are okay. But I cannot say what happens in the future. Today we have all possibilities to save the problems. For me the thing is after the United States and Argentina we will be in Europe and it depends on the situation in Europe. That’s the most critical part. Today, some of the authorities have banned certain sizes of spectators coming together and the situation inside the paddock regarding nationalities who have been forbidden. We are thinking of solutions for both those things. Even on that we are thinking about possibilities to talk about everything and when any measures do come, we have some ideas to react about these measures.
Possibility of races with no spectators?
Everything is possible. The most important thing for us is to have any solution all together with everything. We say always that Dorna, in agreement with IRTA and FIM, is a company that makes races and this is our obligation despite any other things. For us it is more important than the economical side or whatever, it is to make races, I assure you with the collaboration with IRTA, the MotoGP, Moto2 and Moto3 team managers we will try to do as many races as we can.
I will not say now if I am optimistic but the only thing I promise to you is that we will work hard for any solution to happen make the 19 remaining races.
Qatar MotoGP race for 2020 after this weekend?
Qatar MotoGP race is cancelled. It is clear, all the teams here in Moto2, Moto3 and MotoGP will receive [payment] because they already spent the money to come here. The MotoGP race is cancelled because we have no other opportunities. Also, Qatar is committed to make it work for next year and they need to start as they are already contracted.
If at the end of the season there is a possibility then we will see but today we will have Moto2 and Moto3 races this weekend and in principle the Qatar MotoGP is cancelled.
After I was saying, whatever possibility has happened and whatever possibility ahead we will contemplate. Obviously, as this is a sporting battle between participants, when we published the calendar and rules it is set for everybody. Any changes are possible if everyone agrees but in my conversation with all the teams everyone wants as many races as we can with equal conditions and competition.
Qatar WorldSBK, postponement?
Absolutely, the reason Qatar WorldSBK has been cancelled for next week is because it is the exact same situation and there are a lot of people coming from Italy for WorldSBK. We will see if it is possible to do it later, especially in Qatar, as we moved WorldSBK from the end of the year previously as the traditional end of the year to the beginning of the year, just to permit to have it open to the future.
Chance for Dorna to promote Moto2 and Moto3 now?
We are trying to promote Moto2 and Moto3 always as they are very important categories. We always maintain the MotoGP championship is three categories and I think that is one of our biggest assets. This weekend the focus will be more on Moto2 and Moto3 than MotoGP because MotoGP is not happening, normally it is the opposite but it is a good move and we are happy, the riders and teams were already here so it permitted us to do it. If we knew the situation before then it would have been very simple to tell the MotoGP people to stay here. They left five days before and then we could have had everything but I will repeat one of things of this crisis of the coronavirus is the situation changes every day. You say what is happening, why can’t you prevent that but it is clear we are thinking from now, last weekend, to as much imagination about what we can do in any case.
Repeat, for us it is very important to maintain the calendar and secondly make the maximum number of races, leaving the sporting possibilities for everybody.
How many people on the chartered flight and blood tests a possibility?
We are considering if it was possible, to around 150 people coming from outside, the race would be possible but the problem was they banned all the people, people coming from Italy or who have been in Italy in the past 14 days.
We were thinking but we followed what the Qatar health ministers said. We will contemplate it for the future situations, we could say come two days early if it helps, obviously here for 14 days was not possible, we think we have possibilities and in special cases we have just the MotoGP class not coming but in the future there are many more people in Moto2 and Moto3 from Italy so we need to consider the minimum number to make a Moto2, Moto3 and MotoGP race which is more than 1,000 people.
Worst case scenario for minimum races to make full championship?
Contractually with the FIM there are 13 races but our aim is to do 19 remaining races. There are possibilities even in the worst case, even with more cancellations and that we will have time. Maybe we will race in hot countries at Christmas! We are like that, our duty is to make races and we will do races. I was talking with the FIM President today who is coming tomorrow and maybe they need to postpone the FIM Prize Giving ceremony but the most important thing for us is to make races.