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Similar in concept to World Superbike’s Superpole Race and Formula 1’s sprints, the new format brings a revised schedule to race weekends, with less practice and set-up time for teams.
We’ll see the impact at the first race of the season in Portugal this afternoon. Read on for full details of MotoGP sprint races, and what you can expect to see in Portimao.
What is a MotoGP sprint race?
Sprint races will take place at all 21 race weekends in 2023, running on Saturdays for half the grand prix distance, with the grid set by qualifying. Half points are awarded to the first nine finishers and the results have no bearing on the grid for the grand prix.
Qualifying sets the grid as before but, with the sprint race replacing FP3. Times in the first two practice sessions will determine which riders go straight into Q2 qualifying, and which face a Q1 shoot-out to progress.
The results will set the grid for the sprint race, as well as the grand prix. All riders will take part in both races.
Races will run to half grand prix distance — exactly half when the main race has an even number of laps, and rounded down when there are an odd number of laps. In Portugal, where there are 25 laps in the Grand Prix, there will be 12 laps in the sprint.
Half distance means half points for the first nine riders. Could that encourage riders to take greater risks, knowing that an error is less costly than in a grand prix, or are the rewards too meagre to outweigh the increased risk of a crash and injury? It’s one factor that should prove fascinating over the first few rounds.
MotoGP sprint race championship points
Although the distance might be half — or just under half of a grand prix, the fuel allowance is more generous at 12 litres, compared with 22 for a full race.
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Tyre rules are the same, and we can expect a genuine sprint to the flag as riders run flat out, on what are expected to be soft tyres at many races, with few concerns over fuel use or tyre wear. Given the reduction in laps, riders will only be allowed to stray beyond the track limits three times (as opposed to five) before being given a penalty.
There are no changes to engine allocation because the mileage of a 2023 race weekend is calculated to be the same as last year.
Will sprint race victories count as a grand prix win?
Officially, sprint race wins will be classified separately to grand prix victories, so they won’t count towards records.
MotoGP sprint race advantages
More races, more drama and more entertainment on Saturday: the draw of adding sprints to the grand prix package are clear. Add to that the success of World Superbike and Formula 1’s sprint formats, and it was pretty much inevitable that MotoGP would follow, wrote Mat Oxley, when the new format was confirmed last summer. Organiser Dorna hopes that it will result in more people watching MotoGP on Saturdays, and more social media chatter too.
This season is an important landmark, not only because it’s MotoGP’s 75th anniversary championship but because it introduces the biggest schedule shake-up in history. So will Saturday’s sprint races be MotoGP’s saviour, or merely a case of quantity over quality?
For fans, a reduction in practice offers less time for teams to hone their set-up, potentially making the races more unpredictable, and the Saturday action could be spectacular, thanks to less need for tyre and fuel management over the shorter distance. With fewer places offering fewer points, there’s greater impetus for riders to be in the top nine but also less ground lost in the championship if riders make a mistake. As the sprint race result has no impact on riders’ grand prix starting position, the format looks to encourage risk-takers.
Arguments against MotoGP sprint races
“The risk is going to be too high,” said Aprilia rider Aleix Espargaró last year. “I think that 42 starts in a season is too many. They [Dorna] say that we will have the same track time, so nothing changes, but this is bullshit, because there’s a big difference [in risk] between FP4 and a race, where they give points for the championship.”
More competitive laps seems certain to result in more falls and crashes for already injury-plagued riders, who have no other setting but to give their all when the lights go out.
Losing your championship chances in a sprint race tussle over a handful of points will be an ongoing nightmare for riders, but also for Dorna, which won’t want to see its big names sidelined for any amount of time.
Dorna did itself no favours by announcing the sprint race proposals without consulting with riders first — springing on them the greatest change to the race format for decades.
Manufacturers weren’t over the moon either at the reduced practice time, cutting down their ability to test new components and technology, which is one of their justifications for taking part in the series.
How will the MotoGP weekend work?
Sunday’s grand prix remains the focus of MotoGP race weekends, but the lead up to it is substantially different in 2023. There’s one less practice session, which reduces preparation time ahead of qualifying on a busy Saturday, which sets the grid for that afternoon’s sprint race. Qualifying positions are also used for the grand prix grid on Sunday.
2023 MotoGP Portuguese Grand Prix weekend schedule
Only shows times for MotoGP sessions
There’s a delayed start to the first 45min practice session, which starts just under an hour later on the Friday. That is followed in the afternoon with a second hour-long practice session, extended by an extra 15min compared with last year. It makes up for some of the practice time lost (see below), but that still leaves teams with 30min less time on track before qualifying.
Last year, there were two practice sessions on Saturday: one in the morning and another just before the afternoon qualifying session. But with a sprint race to lever in to that day’s schedule, one of the practice sessions has been dropped.
That means riders move from a third untimed practice session at 10.10am in Portugal, and then go straight in to qualifying, which finishes at 11.30am.
The familiar qualifying format remains, with the two timed Friday practice sessions promoting the fastest ten riders straight into Q2. The rest face a Q1 shoot-out where the quickest two will also go through to the final Q2 round to determine the first 12 grid slots. Those eliminated start from 13th and below, based on their Q1 times.
The new sprint race starts just over three hours after qualifying.
On Sundays, MotoGP race weekends effectively reset back to the end of qualifying: the riders line up in the same grid positions and the race starts as if the sprint never happened.