MotoGP milestone: the first motor sport world championship to race 75 seasons!


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?

2023 Ducati MotoGP

Pecco Bagnaia charges into Turn 1 at Aragon last September, on his way to the world title


This is an historic year for MotoGP, which becomes the first motor sport world championship to contest its 75th season. That’s three quarters of a century of riders fighting for the honour of being called king of the world of motorcycling. MotoGP reaches this milestone before Formula 1, which starts its 75th season next year.

The 2023 MotoGP championship is historic for two other reasons. Firstly, this will be the first premier-class season to get underway with every single rider a grand prix winner. Secondly, this is the first time any GP class has switched to a two-race format, thanks to Saturday’s new sprint races.

Sprint races throw up a crazy statistic: there will be 42 MotoGP races in 2023, which is the same number as during the first five and three-quarter seasons of world championship racing, from the 1949 Isle of Man TT to the 1954 Swiss GP.

Lightweight TT for 250cc machines gets underway on the Isle of Man 1949

Seventy-five seasons ago! The 1949 Lightweight TT for 250cc machines gets underway on the Isle of Man

Getty Images

What can we expect from the sprint races? No one knows for sure, but VR46 Ducati rider Luca Marini, who topped two of MotoGP’s three off-season test sessions, thinks they will be great.

“When you start a normal Sunday race you know you have to do 25 laps, so you ride in a little bit different way,” says the 25-year-old Italian. “During the first three laps you fight with other riders, you try to overtake, and you try to put yourself in your position, because you know everyone has a certain pace.

“If you have the fifth fastest pace, you try to put yourself in that position and make your race, while paying attention to your rear tyre, paying attention to always push in braking, so you don’t get overtaken, and trying to stay in the next rider’s slipstream, but not so much because otherwise your front tyre pressure will go too high.

Related article

“In the sprint races, for ten laps or so, I think it will be like this: give it everything in every corner, because your tyre pressure will be OK and your tyre wear will be OK. With the current level of bikes and riders I think it will be a very big group at the front, maybe seven or ten riders.

“We don’t know for sure, but it will be a very big fight, because also the bikes that usually struggle a bit on Sunday will be able to use softer tyres and do something more.”

Hopefully Marini is right. And it will be interesting to see how riders approach the sprint races, both this Saturday at Portimao and as the season develops.

2023 Ducati MotoGP 3

Marc Marquez leads the pack at Phillip Island last October


For example, what kind of risks will riders want to take while, say, fighting for third on Saturday, which offers only one more point than fourth, when they know Sunday’s risk/reward ratio is twice as good? Because keeping yourself in one piece for the Sunday points bonanza will surely be the focus of any rider with more than half a brain.

My concern is for the riders, their mechanics and other frontline team staff. Recent changes in the Saturday qualifying format and the increasing importance of qualifying, due to the difficulty of overtaking, have pushed riders and their crews to the limit. I fear that we were already squeezing the last drops of blood, sweat and tears from these people, so how will they cope with a longer-than-ever world championship, twice as many races and a crazy Saturday format?

In the last few years, qualifying has become insanely close, with riders risking everything for that few hundredths of a second that might put them on the front two rows, where they need to be if they want a chance in the race.

“Qualifying can be more stress than the race – because every corner is rolling the dice,” Danilo Petrucci told me a couple of years ago.

Already the accumulative physical and psychological stresses leave riders totally used up by the end of the weekend.

“There’s a lot more pressure now, because the racing is so crazy close, because we have so many engineers and so many meetings and because when you’re on the bike you have so much to do,” Aleix Espargaro told me last summer. “For example, the stupid ride-height device, which you have to activate for every f**king acceleration, plus the buttons for the TC, the fuel, so it’s super-demanding. When you arrive home from a race you are destroyed.”

Injuries must also be considered. Most MotoGP riders aren’t 100% fit at most races because they’re carrying new injuries, old injuries or more likely both. And doubling the number of races will surely mean more injuries. And don’t forget, the riders are doing all this for zero extra money.

“People say to me, ‘F1 was boring and MotoGP was amazing, now it’s the other way around’

The situation is similar for hard-worked mechanics. One factory spanner-man with whom I spoke during pre-season testing told me that had he signed his current contract with his employers before last August’s sprint-race announcement. “I wouldn’t have signed otherwise – it’s just too much,” he said.

Fair enough, MotoGP is an extreme sport, so it’s meant to take people to the limit and beyond, but there is a potential safety issue here, because you can only squeeze riders and mechanics so much before they crack. No wonder Marini has already asked for Sunday races to be shortened, for safety reasons.

In fact that may make a lot of sense. After all, if Saturday’s short races turn out to be more exciting than Sunday’s long races, why not shorten the main race to create the same kind of thrills? Because if we are going to mess with a format that’s kept fans happy for three-quarters of a century, why not go all the way? And then we’ll be where World Superbike was a few decades ago.

Related article

My own feeling is that quality is better than quantity. It’s pretty obvious that the main reason behind the introduction of sprint races is to inject extra excitement into race weekends, because MotoGP currently produces processional races which are so different to the races we enjoyed five years ago.

In recent months I’ve had several people, both inside and outside the paddock, say to me, “Five years ago F1 was boring and MotoGP was amazing, now it’s the other way around”.

“I worry for the riders and mechanics”

And all that’s changed during that time is MotoGP technology, so the people in charge need to think hard about how they can fix the unholy trinity of big aero, ride-height devices and front-tyre pressure problems, so that riders can race like they did a few years ago to provide the kind of entertainment.

Ever since I started covering MotoGP in 1988 I’ve always woken up on Sunday mornings like this: “YES, AT LAST IT’S RACE DAY!”.

I’ve always looked at Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays as quarter-finals, semi-finals and the final, with the tension steadily increasing before that 2pm explosion of noise, aggression and thrills.

Perhaps I will be convinced by sprint races, awakening on Saturday mornings and saying, “YES, IT’S HALF-RACE DAY!”. But, like I said, I worry for the riders and mechanics.