MotoGP’s plans to introduce sprint races at every weekend of the 2023 season were officially announced in a press conference on Saturday at the Red Bull Ring.
While the series is clearly proud of the idea, the press conference proved somewhat terse when it came to questions of consultation with riders and the potential added impact on their health.
The riders themselves have offered mixed – and very surprised – reactions when informed about the incoming format the day prior – but MotoGP claims it has “unanimous” support from the teams.
While series promoter Dorna already has experience with sprint races in the World Superbikes championship it also runs, the introduction of the format to MotoGP will lead to inescapable parallels to F1 – which has been using sprints at select events since 2021.
That format has proven divisive – some F1 sprints have proven quite exciting, while others were best-described as processional – and in any case the optics of MotoGP ‘borrowing’ from F1 have seemingly not gone down well on social media.
Yet there’s an argument to be made that, however much of a cue MotoGP took from its four-wheeled counterpart, it actually should’ve borrowed more.
There are key similarities between F1’s current sprint execution and what MotoGP is officially planning – MotoGP’s sprints will also come at the expense of extra practice, they will also come on Saturday afternoons and they will also award a reduced points allocation (“half points”, but an unspecified exact amount and scoring range, compared to F1’s 8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 sprint allocation).
The big differences that have already been firmed up is that MotoGP will have the sprints at every track, and that the sprint race – unlike in F1, where it is actually called ‘sprint qualifying’ – will be a standalone points-paying entity instead of something that forms the grid for Sunday.
For this author, this is an inelegant solution in an otherwise good initiative – and, in fact, simply borrowing wholesale from F1 in this regard may have been preferred.
The standalone nature of the MotoGP sprint quickly sprung up the following question – will a sprint win count as a MotoGP win in the record books? That may feel like a trivial matter, but it is nothing of the sort for those who aren’t indifferent to the history of the premier class.
In World Superbikes, its take on the sprint – the Superpole race – was initially introduced as one that doesn’t ‘count’ in the record books, but this was ultimately corrected. Superpole wins and podiums are officially fully-fledged World Superbike wins and podiums.
This is a satisfying way around it, but WSBK did not have the major problem of diluting a ‘grand prize’ – it has long run multiple races per weekend. MotoGP, much like F1, benefits from the prestige of a single grand prix win, the understanding that there is one ultimate winner in every weekend and that any GP triumph is a monumental milestone.
Asked about whether sprint wins would count towards MotoGP win tallies, FIM president Jorge Viegas said: “I think we can better think about this – but I would say, a victory is a victory. There’s a podium, there’s a race. So why not count?”
When the argument was put to him that it was a lesser, half-distance race and that treating it as an equal in the history books risked devaluing the Sundays, he said: “We’ll think about it.”
This is a fine answer – it is something to think about, but it is not a sticking point. However, the way F1 has circumvented this has been fairly effective.
As someone who regularly covers both MotoGP and F1, I have found F1’s take on the sprints to be a band-aid idea, a first draft that was never meaningfully improved upon. Yet it is also virtually undeniable that F1 sprint weekends have been more enjoyable to follow, simply because the share of meaningful tracktime versus practice tracktime is considerably bigger.
MotoGP will enjoy a same knock-on effect. Friday practices will now be more palatable because they will have a much bigger impact on deciding Q1/Q2, and given MotoGP qualifying is never as important or prestigious as F1 qualifying just because of the inherent nature of bike racing, adding something of increased competitive importance on Saturday afternoon is a no-brainer.
Yet F1’s way of having the sprint form the grid for Sunday is just so much more natural for grand prix racing. It turns the sprint into an appetizer of sorts for Sunday, a de facto extension of the main grand prix, rather than a standalone exercise for points.
Many believe that this provision for the Sunday grid makes Saturdays less exciting because drivers are less willing to take risks. Even some F1 drivers seem to very much believe that.
But whether that logic is applicable to F1 or not is not so relevant, because it would definitely be less applicable to MotoGP.
Passing might not be as easy as it used to in MotoGP but it’s still so much easier than in F1. And unlike in F1, there are machines and riders with massive deviations in one-lap performance and race pace that will go absolutely all out to improve their grid positions for Sunday. The departing Suzukis are the most obvious example, but what about the KTMs, now very much in a similar boat and actually staying on the grid for 2022?
Making the sprint grid-forming would also make it easier to not count it as a victory, while still making it a meaningful part of the grand prix weekend format escalation we’ve grown accustomed to.
It is a minor aspect, yes, but it is an elegant format solution – far more suiting to MotoGP than it is to the actual series that uses it.