‘MotoGP is getting closer to F1 – the rider can’t make the difference’

Last season many fans agreed that the racing at the front of World Superbikes was better than MotoGP, which is why some MotoGP riders and engineers are worried by recent developments – so what’s to be done?

2022 Dutch GP Motot GP race

June’s Dutch TT – Pecco Bagnaia led from start to finish and there were only three changes of position within the top three in 40 minutes of racing


It’s no secret that MotoGP isn’t as exciting as it used to be – recent technological advances and their unintended consequences have made overtaking more difficult, so fans rarely get to enjoy the battles they enjoyed a few years ago.

Last season six races were won by riders who led every single lap – that’s one third of all the dry races. Compare that to five years ago in 2017, when downforce aerodynamics was in its infancy and ride-height devices hadn’t been invented, when there was just one start-to-finish winner.

There are exceptions, of course, like the Australian Grand Prix, where Phillip Island’s flowing track layout allowed multiple changes of lead and had the first seven riders crossing the finish line covered by less than a second.

However, in general MotoGP bikes are getting so good and so efficient that it’s become more and more difficult for riders to make the difference.

2022 Australian GP Motot GP race

Phillip Island’s flowing layout created 2022’s most exciting race, with Álex Rins and Marc Márquez taking first and second ahead of six Ducatis


“Before, everything was more manual – it’s easier now,” says Marc Márquez, who won the MotoGP title six times between 2013 and 2019. “Before you could only put full torque into the bike in fourth, fifth and sixth gears, but now with the ride-height devices and the [downforce] aerodynamics you can put full torque in third gear, or even in the last part of second gear at some tracks.

“Before you could make the biggest difference in acceleration – we were playing with the body, the throttle, everything, so it was more manual until fourth or fifth gear. Now from third gear it’s like Moto3 – you are inside the bike and this is the limit.

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“In the brake points the bikes are also very, very stable with the aerodynamics. When you are braking in a straight line and you start to go into the corner, you need to release the brakes quite a lot because with the aerodynamics the g-force is in a straight line. This makes a difference in riding styles but it also makes everything closer, over a single lap. And in races, when you see one rider catch another it’s so difficult to overtake.”

KTM’s MotoGP project leader Sebastian Risse agrees. He believes that the latest downforce aero makes it harder to overtake for various reasons, not least because the wake created by bikes armed with this aero causes riders to lose downforce and therefore grip when they get close to rivals.

“It’s getting a bit tricky because all the aero can limit how aggressively a rider can ride when he’s with other riders,” says Risse.

Andrea Dovizioso, who retired from MotoGP last September after 15 years and 15 victories in the class of kings, also believes that the championship is going in the wrong direction, just like Formula 1 many years ago, with fast-accelerating technology overriding rider talent.

“It depends on what the championship wants,” says the 36-year-old. “If the championship wants more battles, more fights, then, yes, it’s gone too far but it’s normal to arrive in this situation, because it’s related to technical development. The championship needs to decide which way it wants to go.”

2 Yamaha MotoGP rider Fabio Quartararo

Fabio Quartararo led every lap at Barcelona, while Jorge Martin and Aleix Espargaro swapped second place on four occasions


Tyre temperature and pressure also play a part in creating processional races. MotoGP’s current front slick has been so overloaded by downforce aero, ride-height devices, more top speed and better brakes that its temperature and pressure can reach unsustainable levels, which prevent riders from attacking and overtaking.

In other words, someone needs to take a long, hard look at MotoGP’s current technical regulations if the championship is to regain its reputation as the most thrilling motor sport of them all.

Diego Gubellini, crew chief to 2021 MotoGP champ Fabio Quartararo, is another concerned engineer.

“Honestly speaking, I don’t like so much the direction we have been following these last few years, because we are closer and closer to F1 style,” says Gubellini. “This is only my personal opinion, but motorcycles have always been different from cars, because the rider could make the difference, but now we are in the situation where the rider can’t make the difference anymore. For me this is not normal for our sport.

“Downforce aero and ride-height devices reduce wheelies a lot, so we are much more at the limit of everything – of tyres and of, let’s, say human performance. For that reason the difference between all the riders is much smaller.

“I also think that MotoGP should be something where we can explore new technologies and bring these technologies to street bikes. For example the holeshot device will never needed on a streetbike, because we don’t need this at traffic lights!”

Yamaha MotoGP rider Fabio Quartararo

Quartararo’s crew chief Gubellini believes MotoGP is becoming more like Formula 1


Ducati, which has pioneered so much of MotoGP’s new technology – from holeshot devices to downforce aero and ride-height devices/shapeshifters – disagrees.

“Honestly, I get quite pissed off when they ban technologies – it’s not fair,” says chief engineer Gigi Dall’Igna, who’s already had one of his creations – the front ride-height device – banned for 2023. “What’s important in MotoGP is that we develop new ideas and new methods.

“When you develop technologies like aerodynamics you can use them to increase the performance of your race bike and also to improve your production machines, by improving engine cooling or keeping hot air away from the rider.

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“It’s the same with ride-height devices – you can use them on production bikes; for example, to help smaller riders when they are riding in the city.”

Ducati has engineered itself into a position of dominance not seen since Honda ruled the final years of the 500cc world championship, with its NSR500, and the early years of 990cc MotoGP, with the RC211V.

The Italian marque and its engineers obviously deserve to be congratulated for what they’ve achieved. Manufacturers only go racing for one reason – to win – and last season Ducati won 12 of the 20 races, took the riders, constructors and teams titles and had five riders in the championship’s top ten.

Ducati worked its way into this position by thinking outside of the box, creating new technologies that have all been copied by rival factories. It also took advantage of a lack of commitment to the championship from rivals to put eight Desmosedicis on the grid.

2022 Spanish GP Motot GP race

Winner Bagnaia leads Quartararo and Jack Miller at Jerez, where there was one change of position in the top three in 25 laps


This combination of radical technologies and strength in numbers has proved unbeatable, making Ducati MotoGP’s undisputed leader. And Ducati absolutely should not be criticised for what it’s done.

On the other hand, there is the question of the quality of competition – and therefore of entertainment – that MotoGP currently offers. Decades ago many people complained about Honda’s dominance, but back then MotoGP was less obsessed with creating super-close racing to attract more fans and thereby bring more money into the sport.

Gubellini again… “Maybe there are no rules to stop Ducati having more bikes than everybody else, but for me, this is something that must be regulated by Dorna or the FIM, because all the manufacturers should be in same position with the same opportunities.

“If you have eight bikes on the grid you have more feedback from riders, more power in your strategies to force riders to help other riders and more political power. I understand that this is allowed and if Ducati went this way it’s clever, because if you do something that gets you advantage it means you are smarter than the other guys. But for me, this need regulating in the future because it’s not fair for the other manufacturers.”

Of course, you might not be wrong if you suggested that riders and engineers from Honda, KTM and Yamaha are only upset because they’ve been soundly beaten by Ducati, that their complaints are all sour grapes. After all, if Ducati’s rivals dug deeper into their budgets to put more motorcycles on the MotoGP grid there wouldn’t be room for eight Desmosedicis, would there?

What does Dorna – the rights-holders of MotoGP since 1992 – think about all this? Over the last year or so I’ve had a few conversations with Dorna staff and none of them see the problem. They all think the racing is wonderful. I suspect this is the insider’s view, and good insiders should always look at what they’re doing from the outside, not from the inside.

But perhaps Dorna does know that it needs to make MotoGP more exciting, hence the introduction of sprint races at every round for 2023. This is an attempt to spice up race weekends that a few years ago certainly didn’t need spicing up.

Will sprint races provide more action, overtaking and entertainment, or will they just be shorter versions of a grand prix race? We don’t know yet. Neither do we know how the racing in general will be next year. For example, will the reduction from three rear tyre options to two have a positive or negative effect? Will other tech developments help or hinder? We will have to wait and see.

However, if most races – half-distance on Saturdays, full-distance on Sundays – continue to offer fewer battles and less overtaking than before, then Dorna will need to think seriously about adjusting the technical regulations. Because its owners Bridgepoint and the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board want to make money out of MotoGP and they make more money when there’s more action, which attracts more TV viewers and fans.