Unless you’ve been living in the Tora Bora cave complex, you’ve already heard all about Romano Fenati’s famous ‘brake grab’ in the Misano Moto2 race.
Fenati got into it with Stefano Manzi after Manzi pushed him wide a corner or two earlier. Manzi was not completely innocent; race direction imposed a penalty on him, too. But Fenati’s retaliation was pretty spectacular. He caught up to Manzi on the straight, reached over with his left hand and grabbed Manzi’s front brake. Manzi didn’t crash, though he might have done.
The incident was captured on Misano’s CCTV system. Fenati was black flagged, and soon after we got word that he’d received a two-race ban.
That sparked its own outrage, by riders and racing insiders who argued – especially in light of Fenati’s history of, shall we say, anger-management issues – that he should have received a much harsher penalty. Cal Crutchlow vehemently declared he should be banned for life. Frantic motorcycle journalists further degraded the signal-to-noise ratio by saying Fenati should be charged with attempted murder.
In the end, the two-race ban was moot; Fenati was dropped by his current team and, for good measure, MV Agusta reneged on his 2019 contract. But wait, there’s more: the Italian motorcycle federation took away his racing license, effectively putting his entire career on hold. Then, the FIM called him onto the carpet. Fenati, overwhelmed, announced he was quitting racing altogether and going back to school.
Predictably, while those dominoes were falling, I read a few comments to the effect of, “Well, maybe a lifetime ban is excessive”; “Could he get counseling?”, and; “You know, other racers have done some daft and dangerous things without such draconian punishment…” Finally, even Stefano Manzi released a statement suggesting that a lifetime ban was certainly too strong a reaction to Fenati’s intemperate grab.
I say, “So what?” I don’t give a shit whether that two seconds of bad judgement permanently derail Romano Fenati’s career, and it’s not because I think the offense was so egregious as to make a lifetime ban the only appropriate punishment, or because I think Fenati lacked the talent to be in a World Championship in the first place. (I do not think either of those things, BTW.)
The reason I don’t give a shit is, up-and-coming careers are derailed all the time. A young rider’s climb from youth racing, to national and then international racing, up the pyramid towards MotoGP – that climb is inherently incredibly precarious.
Young riders’ careers are derailed when they have an ordinary fall but an unlucky bounce, ending their career before it starts by injury. Or because by sheer fluke they’re paired on a team with an even greater prodigy who makes them look slow only in comparison, but that impression taints them when teams are recruiting for the next level. Or when a team manager makes the wrong frame choice. Or, more likely, when their dad simply can’t afford the massive, six-figure investment that has to be made to get a young rider the experience they need to even seek sponsorship.
Before Misano, no one looked at Fenati and thought, “He shouldn’t be here.” He already had a reputation as a hothead, but he was a fast hothead. So what? On his rise through the ranks to Moto2, he managed to swim while other riders – who were every bit as talented and probably slightly more worthy human beings – sank.
Fenati’s dream, I’m sure, was to make it to MotoGP, win races, get a factory ride, and win the Championship. That is not something that talent alone can possibly guarantee. Along the way, careers get derailed all the time, often for random reasons utterly beyond a rider’s control. Only a handful of the dozens of Moto2 riders in that Misano race are destined to get a call-up to MotoGP and of those, most will only linger at the back of the grid and bottom of the points table for a season or two and then they’ll be forgotten.
So who cares whether the initial ban was too lenient, or the Italian Federation went too far pulling his license altogether, or MV Agusta went too far tearing up an entire year’s contract? All around the world, in classes from Metrakits and underbones to World Superbikes and MotoGP, riders’ careers have been – and will continue to be – derailed for less.
Fenati, at least, was the architect of his own misfortune. We’re only talking about him because the moment his career came to a premature end was captured on video. Did he deserve a de facto lifetime ban? That’s irrelevant; young racers’ careers are derailed for random reasons, deserved or not, all the time.
If you can’t handle that, you need to take a cue from Romano Fenati; quit and go back to school.