In the early stages of Saturday morning’s third practice of the weekend (officially designated as FP2), Espargaro and Morbidelli came together on track.
Morbidelli had just passed the Aprilia at Turn 5 before Espargaro tried to do the same at Turn 6, with the pair connecting as they tried to turn in.
Both ran wide at Turn 6 before an irate Espargaro struck Morbidelli’s crash helmet as the Italian gesticulated to the Aprilia rider to calm down.
The incident was placed under investigation by the FIM MotoGP stewards, who have hit Espargaro with a €10,000 fine and a six-place grid drop for the grand prix for what it deemed was unsportsmanlike behaviour.
A statement from the stewards read: “On 18 November 2023 at 15:07.19, during Grand Prix of Qatar Free Practice 2 session, you were observed to have behaved in an aggressive manner including physically striking number 21 [Morbidelli].
“This contravenes Article 220.127.116.11 of the FIM Grand Prix World Championship Regulations [stating] ‘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’.
Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images
Aleix Espargaro, Aprilia Racing Team
“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 Grand Prix of Qatar MotoGP Race (in accordance with articles 3.2.1 and 18.104.22.168.”
Espargaro’s grid penalty will apply only to Sunday’s grand prix and not Saturday evening’s sprint.
It will means he will drop from 10th on the grid to 16th, promoting Brad Binder, Augusto Fernandez, Marco Bezzecchi, Fabio Quartararo, Enea Bastianini and Jack Miller up a place.
LCR Honda’s Iker Lecuona has also been hit with a three-place grid penalty for impeding Bastianini during Q1 in qualifying on Saturday.
This will drop the Spaniard from 21st to last on the grid for Sunday’s race.