Sprint races = MotoGP 2.0

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The MotoGP race at Spielberg offered a lot I could write about. There was the outstanding performance of Ayumu Sasaki, who took victory in the Moto3 class despite two long-lap penalties. Or the Moto2 race with the team-internal fight between Ai Ogura and Somkiat Chantra, which offered suspense until the end. I could also easily write about the dominance of Ducati in MotoGP and the very good performance of Fabio Quartararo. All these topics would have been good to fill a blog post. I realized very quickly, however, that there was another topic for me. A topic that had nothing to do with last Sunday’s race, but with the future ones.

Starting next season, an additional sprint race will be held every Saturday. With a shorter number of laps and only half points, it should be more exciting for the spectators. More exciting? Has MotoGP become boring? In the current season and the past two seasons, the field of riders was very close together. The races were exciting throughout. Or did it just seem that way?

The hope is that the new concept will attract more spectators to the race track. In Jerez, only 123,000 spectators were on hand for the entire race weekend (in 2019, there were 151,000). Even more frightening are the figures from Mugello, only 74,000 spectators counted the entire race weekend. That’s a drop of over 40% compared to 2019 with 139,000 spectators. If you only look at these spectator numbers, considerations for a change are understandable. In contrast, however, there are new record spectator numbers from Le Mans (2019 – 206,000 / 2022 – 225,000) and the Sachsenring (2019 – 201,162 / 2022 – 232,000). So if you also look at these figures, the question quickly arises as to why spectator numbers are falling in some places and not in others.

One reason is quickly obvious. The big names are missing, first and foremost Valentino Rossi. He drew spectators to the track like no other. In addition, Marc Márquez was always absent for a longer period of time. The big names (Rossi, Marquez, Lorenzo, etc.) of the MotoGP sport drew the spectators to the track. They had edges and corners, but today’s riders often seem colorless. It seems to be more difficult for them to draw the fans to the track. The exception at the French GP was only Fabio Quartararo, who drew his fans to the track. Leaving that aside, there are also significant differences in ticket pricing. At Mugello, the cheapest weekend ticket cost 150 euros. That’s almost twice as much as in France. So it was not surprising that the grandstands at Mugello remained empty. At race tracks such as Le Mans, Spielberg or the Sachsenring, spectators are offered a comprehensive supporting program. With autograph sessions, exhibitions, freestyle shows and concerts, it pays to buy tickets twice over. Entertainment is therefore guaranteed at these circuits, even away from the races. Is there any need for additional sprint races?

One thing should not be forgotten about the new sprint races. With the sprint races, the load on the drivers and teams increases. The bikes have to be tuned more quickly over the weekend so that everything is perfect for the sprint race on Saturday. There is a similar concept in the World Superbike Championship. With the main race on Saturday, the sprint race and the second main race on Sunday, there are even more races than are planned for the 2023 MotoGP season. But can MotoGP be equated with Superbike at all? I don’t think so. A MotoGP bike has a lot more electronics and parts to help the aerodynamics than a Superbike bike. That makes the bikes complex and time-consuming to set up and configure. The World Superbike Championship is a production-based championship, while MotoGP uses prototypes. So is it right then to take the Superbike system as an example? Especially if more tires or engines are not provided for the MotoGP teams. So the assumption that the MotoGP riders give even more in the sprint races than in the main race is not entirely correct. After all, with twice the number of races, the teams have to be careful with the resources they are given.

In addition, twice the number of races is also a big burden. Many tracks on the calendar already demand everything from the drivers, so a sprint race automatically increases the load. What if the worst happens and a rider gets injured? The rider will miss more races and be left behind in the world championship. What about the risk of the injured rider coming back too quickly so as not to lose too many points. We have all seen what can happen with Marc Marquez.

The riders are already complaining that the race calendar is getting more and more crowded. So it’s not surprising that the decision by Dorna and the FIM was not universally well received. But what was even worse was the fact that the riders were not involved in the decision-making process at all. It was only made known to them in the Safety Commission at the last race weekend at Spielberg. They had no opportunity whatsoever to voice their concerns. It was even worse. On Friday, the news about the innovation was already leaked to the journalists and the drivers were confronted with it right away. It’s understandable that they felt they’d been thrown out on a limb. They are the ones who are supposed to deliver the show in the end, and they weren’t even asked. But the ones who were asked were the fans. In a worldwide survey by Dorna, the fans were able to express their opinion on MotoGP. What immediately caught my eye as a participant in the survey was the recurring theme of sprint races. At the time, I thought to myself “They’re not seriously considering sprint races, are they?”. Yes they did. Too bad, I would have preferred better ticket prices.

Whether the innovation will really create more excitement remains to be seen. Just as open is whether the sprint races will also be counted as GP victories. If so, the ancient records of Agostini (122) and Rossi (115) will fall very quickly. It also remains open whether the qualifying sessions will be combined to minimize the burden on teams and riders. Let’s hope that the open points will still be clarified. It is also to be hoped that the drivers will form an association so that they will no longer be ignored. Let’s hope that the sport will continue to be in the foreground in MotoGP.

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