MotoGP’s sprint races – good or bad idea?


Next year Dorna will try to jazz up MotoGP by introducing sprint races on Saturdays. Inevitably paddock opinion is split by the plan

2022 MotoGP start at Silverstone


A hundred years or so ago the world was accelerating faster than ever, thanks to the arrival of the internal-combustion engine, the telephone, electricity and other new technologies that turbocharged people’s lifestyles.

At that time Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova wrote that the new ways of living (and of dancing, from sashaying to the waltz to gyrating to the fast, syncopated beats of ragtime music) was, “The outcome of the present-day need for excitement, like the telephone, car, photography and cinemas. We are becoming incapable of subtle sensations. We need excitement.”

A century later the internet is here, churning away 24/7/365, inundating us with too much information, changing the way our minds work and making us hungry for more and more vicarious sensations. Thanks to TikTok, Twitter and every other social-media platform, motor sport fans, like everyone else, want more thrills. Or so we’re told.

The aim is more clicks and cash, end of.

Which is why touring cars, World Superbike, Formula 1 and now MotoGP are trying to deliver more thrills per weekend.

Considering the fact that all the other major racing championships had already gone down the road of offering multiple races, it was pretty much inevitable that MotoGP would follow.

The idea is more people will turn up for races on Saturdays and more people will turn on their TVs and scroll through their phones on Saturdays. The aim is more clicks and cash, end of.

When we got to Red Bull Ring last week and heard all the rumours I didn’t greet the idea of Saturday-afternoon MotoGP sprint races with great enthusiasm. I have huge respect for the history of grand prix racing – because none of us would be here without those who went before – and here we are trashing three quarters of a century of tradition, of riders and teams working towards winning Sunday’s Grand Prix, the BIG PRIZE.

All the secrecy and subtleties of two days of pit-lane and racetrack strategies, slow burning towards the big day, gone in a flash. The weekend sped up and maybe dumbed down. Purity exchanged for profit. But this is modern sport – it’s big business, nothing more or less.

2022 Mugello podium

Sprint races will end with a podium, but these won’t count for a rider’s usual podium stats


Some paddock people argued that Dorna might do better by reducing the latest technologies that are taking the thrill out of MotoGP racing: too much downforce aero, shapeshifters and so on But Dorna execs know this would involve years of trench warfare with the manufacturers.

On Friday the rumour mill told us that the sprint race would also count as a grand prix – that’s at least 42 GPs per season! – so we may as well throw the history books in the bin and forget about Giacomo Agostini, Mike Hailwood and everyone else, whose achievements would soon be swallowed by 21st century stats. Later we were informed that in fact sprint races won’t be classified as grands prix. Big sigh of relief.

I was also worried about the weekend format – how riders would cope with the stresses of Saturday morning’s FP3 session, which is basically Q0.5, followed by potentially two qualifying sessions and a race.

MotoGP is already more intense and more stressful than it’s ever been. You only need compare crash stats from the last decade to understand the extra risks riders now take, because every thousandth of a second counts. In 2010 there were 183 crashes in the premier class over 18 races. Last year there were 278 crashes over 18 races.

Last August KTM test rider Dani Pedrosa contested one of the MotoGP races at Red Bull Ring and was stunned by the experience. Although the weekend format was the same as it had been when he retired at the end of 2018 the Spaniard said that everything had changed. Lap times were closer than ever, overtaking was harder than ever, everything counted more than ever, so the intensity, stress and pressure were through the roof

So how would riders cope contesting FP3, Q1 and Q2 and finally a points-scoring race, all within a few hours of each other, with the big race still to come the following day? It seemed too much to ask of riders, most of whom spend the entire season hurting – nursing recent injuries or struggling with old injuries

As Pol Espargaró said a while back: “Every qualifying lap is like losing one of your lives.”

MotoGP pack battle

Many fans will prefer two battles per weekend


Then we were given the new weekend format and things didn’t seem so bad, even though manufacturers, teams and riders will have less set-up time, which means less time to try new ideas, less time to develop technology, which is still a big reason why the manufacturers are here.

From next year, Friday’s FP1 and FP2 outings will be longer and will be the only sessions that decide the qualifying line-up – who goes straight into Q2 and who has to go through Q1.

Saturday’s FP3 session, which currently helps decide the Q1/Q2 line-up, will be the new race-pace session, like the current FP4 outing, when riders can focus on the bike and on themselves, rather than throwing everything they’ve got at riding the fastest-possible lap in an effort to go directly into Q2. The only downside is that FP3 will happen in the morning, so conditions won’t be directly comparable to the time of the race, plus there’s less set-uptime.

Related article

MotoGP’s looming battles

MotoGP’s looming battles

If you’re disappointed about the current lack of great MotoGP battles, don’t worry, there are some fights on the way. You just won’t see them

By Mat Oxley

Overall track time and mileage will remain the same, so there will be no need for extra tyres and engines.

The sprint race will start at 3pm on Saturday, following qualifying earlier in the day, and will run for approximately half grand prix distance, with points awarded thus: 12 for first, nine for second, seven for third, six for fourth, five for fifth, four for sixth, three for seventh, two for eighth and one for ninth. Grand prix points will remain the same, from 25 for victory to a single point for 15th.

Inevitably, opinion is split. Some riders like the idea, others don’t. It was always thus.

But I think it’s a disgrace that Dorna cooked up this idea without talking to the riders. How can the rights-holders make the biggest change to GP racing in three quarters of a century without involving the people that make it all happen – those that ride the motorcycles? Riders aren’t merely performing animals, so they 100% deserve to be involved in any discussion that will affect their lives and livelihoods.

2022 MotoGP British Grand Prix start

The British GP about to get underway earlier this month


It’s mind-boggling but this seems to be Dorna’s current attitude: we say, “Jump!” and we expect everyone else to say, “How high?!”.

MotoGP title challenger Aleix Espargaró is one of the riders who isn’t at all keen on the sprint-race idea.

“I want to believe that the management of the championship thinks that this is the best thing for the sport, for the show, for the popularity of the championship,” said the Aprilia rider at Red Bull Ring. “I don’t share this idea, but it’s just my opinion.

“I’ll enjoy it – it’ll be all or nothing!”

“I think it’s not the solution because I think the risk is going to be too high. I think that 42 starts [assuming 21 GPs] 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.

“But they choose what they want and we have to adapt. Let’s try, maybe it’s a good solution…”

Espargaró has a point about the number of starts. During Friday’s media conference we were told that race starts are the most exciting moment of the weekend. That may or may not be true, but race starts are certainly the most dangerous moment of the weekend.

Unlike Espargaró, factory Ducati rider Jack Miller is very keen on sprint races.

“I’m a massive fan – it’s another chance of a bonus!” laughed the Aussie. “Why not try it? I’ll enjoy it – it’ll be all or nothing. As a rider it’ll make you want to risk more, but you won’t have to worry about tyres, or fuel, or physical condition, because in a lot of races you can’t push yourself to the absolute maximum the whole time, but for half-race distance you should be able to. For sure it will increase the risk but at the end of the day we race motorcycles, we don’t do ballet [Unlike Anna Pavlova]. Why not? Give it a crack and reassess at the end of the year.”

Reigning MotoGP king and current title leader Fabio Quartararo agrees with Espargaró but knows it’s pointless complaining.

“I will do what they tell me what to do,” he said, shrugging his shoulders.