In 2019, we talked to Dorna’s Event Director for MotoGP, Norma Companys, to hear about her career with MotoGP. After Norma’s team put together the impossible 2020 season, we caught up with her again between the two races at Losail International Circuit while she had a brief moment of down-time on Friday, to learn more about organizing MotoGP races in this crazy age.
© All photos provided by Norma Companys
Paddock Sorority (PS): 2021 season is less hectic than 2020, how did the winter go? Could you still do the visits to circuit like previous years?
Norma Companys (NC): We had a short break for holidays, for a week, I was at the sea-side one hour from home. Then I spent Christmas at home. There was a visit to Finland (KymiRing) in the beginning of December, I didn’t join the visit though. KymiRing is a new circuit on the calendar. The (pandemic) situation there at the time was better. So they were able to visit the circuit.
We were in contact with the other circuits remotely on video calls via zoom or teams. We started talking mainly with the circuits for winter tests at the beginning of the season. We started to talk to Sepang International Circuit. We talked about the protocols, but in the end, the government decided not to go ahead (with the tests). Then we started to talk to Losail International Circuit. We have been focused mainly on Qatar because we have the MotoGP test, then Moto2 and Moto3 test, then one race, then it expanded to another week of race here. It’s been more than one month here in Qatar. All the protocols here are very demanding. We’ve been working with the government and the circuit to prepare everything, from paperwork to labs to everything we have to follow. We’ve been focusing on this during the winter. In addition to this, we also prepared the promoters’ manual for all the circuits and the Covid-19 contingency plan. We’ve been in touch with all the circuits. But it was just for initial contacts with the other circuits.
PS: Seems like the Sepang tests was canceled because the local government pulled the plug, was it the same case for the circuits we couldn’t go to last year?
NC: Mostly yes. The pandemic situation in every country was different. Also we couldn’t have spectators last year, some of the circuits didn’t plan to host an event without spectators. But mainly it was based on the situation in each country and the rules of every country. It was a difficult year for everyone last year. It was an unknown situation for everyone. So in the end, some of the circuits wanted to go ahead, and we could do those 15 races.
PS: The races in Argentina and the US have been postponed, are the other races on the calendar definitely confirmed?
NC: We postponed Argentina and Austin to see how the situation would evolve there. We have to wait and see. The pandemic is not something in our hands. Sometimes it looks like it’s getting worse. The current idea is still to go ahead with all the races, but it will depend on each countries’ situations.
PS: Some of the circuits on the calendar have hosted races last year, some of them haven’t. Would it be easier this year with the ones already familiar with the protocols last year?
NC: For sure we will be more comfortable with, for example, the next races in Portugal and Jerez, because we already raced there last year. But, for example, we didn’t go to Mugello, so they may have to adapt a little bit with our new protocols. There are actually many countries we didn’t go to last year with this new situation.
PS: Would the protocols be the same for the fly-away races?
NC: We have our internal protocol, our internal contingency plan. We control the access to the paddock, we need everyone to get tested. But then we also have to adapt to the rules of the country. In Europe, because we are mostly in the Schengen space, it’s more or less the same rules, and we have an agreement with the labs in Spain and other European countries. We have contracts with the labs for every circuit here, and it has been a very nice collaboration. They have been really helpful for us to keep the paddock safe. We have to see how it works at the overseas GPs. We’ve started the conversations with those countries. For example, here at Qatar, we had to adapt to the rules here.
PS: Is your team involved in arranging the vaccine shots for everyone? It must be very complicated for this many people to all get their two shots within the window.
NC: Yeah it’s complicated to organize the process. It’s voluntary for people in the paddock to take them. It’s a really nice offer from the Qatar government. The government is giving the vaccine shots. Our department is helping to organize it. We need to inform everyone when they need to do it, especially the second dose, because it has to be 20 days after the first one. Our team is preparing all the schedules. We are in touch with the labs, the government, and the circuit to arrange everything, including the transportation to the vaccination center.
PS: To organize the season last year, there must be a lot of challenges, what are the biggest challenges? Do you see these challenges coming again this year, especially in fly-away races?
NC: The biggest challenge is to keep the paddock safe, to keep our bubble, as we decided to move only between the hotels and the circuits. All the health issues, the medical staff, the labs, related procedures, were new for everyone. So that was the most challenging situation. Maintaining the rules within the paddock was also challenging, for example, wearing the masks, keeping distances, how to proceed with the new protocols we weren’t used to. For this year, we have to see, as we haven’t talked in depth with the oversea circuits. Let’s wait and see how they want to proceed with the protocols. We know more or less in Europe the situation. This is new for everyone, but last year we were able to do 15 races and we were used to this new way of work.
PS: Last year, some of the races didn’t fall in the same time of the year as previous years and it caused some performance issues for the teams. Was it also a problem for your team to organize the events when it’s a different time of the year?
NC: For our team it’s more or less the same job. For sure depending on the season, it could be more rainy, hotter or colder, with shorter day-light, we also need to adapt the time schedule because there is less hours for track activities. In general our job is more or less the same, we just need to work in the different weather conditions.
PS: Portugal was added to the calendar last year, this year we will have Finland and potentially Indonesia. What extra work from your team goes into organizing a new Grand Prix?
NC: Last year we visited Portimao twice before the actual GP weekend. We did a test there. Lucky for us, it was a nice race track, and they are very well prepared. So it was very easy to organize a first Grand Prix there, not complicated at all. The circuit is familiar with Dorna because of WSBK, it helped a lot. We just needed to visit in advance to check all the on-site places and facilities. Indonesia is a different situation, the circuit is still under construction. We have visited a few times and have planed more visits. We will see how it works.
Notes: After Dorna and FIM’s inspection of Mandalika International Street Circuit, it has been announced that the target remains for the circuit to host the WSBK round in November, while the MotoGP Grand Prix would be included in the calendar early 2022. If MotoGP is able to hold events in South East Asia in 2021, efforts will be made to undertake a possible test of the MotoGP Class Teams at Mandalika International Street Circuit.
PS: There were many races held back-to-back at the same circuit last year, this year at Losail as well. Does it mean slightly less work for your team the second week? Have you found a fun way to spend the week in between those back-to-back races?
NC: For our department, because we are in charge of the set-up days too, depending on the circuit, it was much easier the second week at the same track. The first week is a lot of work, but the second week we can have 1-2 days off, to relax in the hotel, maybe planning the future races. For example, here in Doha, we had the opportunity to stay at the hotel on Monday and Tuesday and have some relaxed time. So for our job, it’s good to have back-to-back races at the same track.