There’s less and less overtaking in MotoGP and that’s a problem


Sunday’s Spanish Grand Prix at Jerez highlighted a problem in MotoGP – technical developments are making it more and more difficult to overtake

Marc Marquez slides in the 2022 MotoGP Spanish GP

Márquez loses the front at Turn 13, allowing Espargaró and Miller to pounce

Red Bull

Here’s an interesting fact about yesterday’s Spanish Grand Prix at Jerez: if it hadn’t been for Marc Márquez there would’ve been only one overtaking manoeuvre among the top seven after the first of the 25 laps.

Márquez initiated three of the other four passes. After 21 laps chasing Jack Miller’s Ducati, unable to find a way past, he finally crept inside at Turn 5 but then lost the front at the last corner. At that same moment Aleix Espargaró blocked passed Miller and then swept past Márquez, who was busy saving a crash with his left knee and elbow.

Márquez made the fourth and last pass on Miller at Turn 8 with four laps to go.

“It’s even more difficult to overtake now with aerodynamics and rear devices”

And that was that.

Was it a boring race? Not really, because there was high tension between leaders Pecco Bagnaia and Fabio Quartararo throughout and the battle for third had its moments.

But the race certainly confirmed what many riders have been saying recently – that it’s more and more difficult to overtake in MotoGP, so there are fewer and fewer passing manoeuvres. And wasn’t this why MotoGP was always better spectacle than Formula 1 car racing – because there were so many battles, with riders going back and forth?

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I recently compared changes of position among the top three at five different circuits in 2017 and 2021, which revealed a 25% reduction in overtakes.

“It’s even more difficult to overtake now in MotoGP, with the aerodynamics, the rear devices and all these things,” said Márquez at Jerez on Friday. “Normally in the race, when you take the position, you stay there.”

MotoGP owners Dorna have spent the last dozen years rewriting the technical rules to narrow the gap between the fastest and slowest bikes, by making all the bikes basically the same, with 81mm-bore four-cylinder engines, same-for-everyone electronics and same-for-everyone tyres. The gap is now much, much narrower than it’s ever been, which is why the racing is closer than it’s ever been.

Line of mid-pack riders in the 2022 MotoGP Spanish GP

The mid-pack accelerates onto the Jerez start/finish. There was more overtaking here than at the front but not much


But there is nothing like the amount of overtaking there was a few years ago, because the bikes are becoming too good – they’re running lots of downforce aero, they’re using shapeshifters, the factories have got their heads around the spec software and so on.

Improved torque-demand maps, wings and shapeshifters make the bikes accelerate better, so the more talented riders struggle to make the difference exiting corners to give themselves more speed down the straights. The wings also make the bikes more stable on the brakes, so riders can brake later, so it becomes more and more complicated for riders to overtake.

Witness the long battle between Márquez, Espargaró and Miller. They were nose to tail, lap after lap, but none of them could pull off a pass until the last few laps. Usually at Jerez riders can divebomb each other at the Turn 6 and Turn 13 hairpins but even this proved just about impossible.

Many 800 races were so boring that I nearly broke my jaw yawning

The downforce aero also makes overtaking difficult because the motorcycles now create such a large vacuum in their wake that it’s impossible for a rider to brake behind another rider, because there’s no air resistance helping him to stop and he’s got no downforce on the front tyre. Plus there’s dirty air too, washing around either side of the vacuum. All in all, this makes it difficult for riders to get close enough to set up a pass on the brakes.

And then there’s the issue of front-tyre temperature. Three-hundred horsepower engines create a huge amount of heat, which trails behind them, warming the front tyre of any rival trying to get on the rear wheel of the rider in front. When the tyre gets hot its performance drops. Also, tyre pressure increases, which changes its profile, reducing grip.

Basically, it’s a perfect storm, because, as seven-times MotoGP king Valentino Rossi once said, “overtaking is the most important part of our sport”.

Miller Marquez and Espargaro in line during the 2022 MotoGP Spanish GP

Miller, Márquez and Espargaró were like this for 20 laps, unable to make a pass, even into Jerez’s hairpins


For different reasons MotoGP is getting back to where it was with the 800s at the height of their development. Those bikes had tailor-made factory software that adjusted traction control and so on during the race and they had Bridgestone tyres, which worked in a certain way that transformed the motorcycles into one-line bikes. Many 800 races were so boring that I nearly broke my jaw yawning.

Is any of this a real problem?

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Some fans want to see unbridled technology in MotoGP, so they can marvel at the work of clever engineers, who push forward with downforce aero, shapeshifters and other amazing technologies. Others want to watch mad fights. And you don’t need me to tell you which fans are the more numerous.

Therefore this is a problem for Dorna, who want exciting races that encourage people to turn on the TVs to boosts revenue.

So what should Dorna do? I’m no expert but perhaps they should get MotoGP’s director of technology Corrado Cecchinelli working on CFD (computer-flow dynamics) programmes and in wind tunnels, trying to write new aero rules that allow enough downforce to keep the front wheel in contact with the ground at high speed, but not so much that getting close enough to a motorcycle to try an overtake becomes extremely different.

Also, Michelin needs to improve its front tyre. The French company is working on a new front that’s less sensitive to heat and pressure changes but this might not be ready until 2024 or 2025.