until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League


MotoGP may have undervalued its thrill-a-minute sprints

by Valentin Khorounzhiy
6 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

How many more Brad Binder-like heroics in MotoGP’s Saturday sprint races will it take for the series to decide that, actually, sprints are races too and should be treated as such?

Maybe the answer is ‘infinity’ and maybe that’s the correct answer. The reasons why the decision was taken, during the rapid gestation period of the new format, to make sprints their own statistical category and make sure Sunday remains the big points-payer are as valid now as they were then. In a grand prix weekend, it is natural to want there to be just one grand prix winner, and even more natural to want the Sunday finale to be the most valuable, with the highest stakes.

The fear of the Sunday show being devalued is, outside of safety concerns, easily the strongest argument against a Saturday sprint race. And judging sprints as their own thing is partly a protection against that. Intuitively, rationally, it is probably correct that the history books say the winner of the 2023 Argentine Grand Prix is Marco Bezzecchi and only Marco Bezzecchi, the rider that absolutely butchered the rest of the field over 25 gruelling laps in the wet.

And yet… what is Binder’s ride from 15th-to-first in the Saturday race if not a MotoGP win? Is he ‘Brad Binder, the winner of two MotoGP races and one MotoGP Tissot Sprint™’ or ‘Brad Binder, three-time MotoGP race winner’? Does the Termas triumph, which may well have been more difficult and potentially even more impressive than Binder’s maiden win at Brno or the mad slicks-in-rain Red Bull Ring victory, not deserve to stand proudly in the same category?

Brad Binder

Binder won’t have won on Saturday if it were a full-length race, I’m fairly positive of that. The package was not quite up to it relative to Bezzecchi’s Ducati. But was his feat easier than what Bezzecchi did on Sunday? Maybe, but if so, not by much at all. He certainly had more wheel-to-wheel battling to do.

It’s very easy, especially the way MotoGP riders talk about it, to view the new sprint as not a lesser challenge but a different one. A test of flat-out pace rather than a test of management. Some riders have suggested the sprint is even the more physical of the two, and many more have pointed out to the complete lack of down time. Pass or be passed.

World Superbike already faced this dilemma four years ago, when pivoting to its current three-races-a-weekend format meant the addition of a half-distance Sunday morning race.

The initial plan was to count the achievements in those races separately. That idea held up for exactly one weekend before the series decided that, actually, ‘nah’.

“We realised that the quality of such close racing that the superpole race provided was the perfect definition of our exhilarating racing experience,” the series’ sporting boss Gregorio Lavilla was quoted as saying at the time.

“For this reason, we have decided to give more value to the superpole race and include its results in statistics and historical data.”


That change obviously had an impact on historic leaderboards. Jonathan Rea has been able to boost his massive lead as the rider with the most WSBK race wins, while the other members of the current ‘big three’, Alvaro Bautista and Toprak Razgatlioglu, have elevated themselves to fifth and eighth respectively on the all-time list.

It’s maybe not so fair to some of the dominant champions of the past, but neither is simply having longer calendars.

And in MotoGP’s case, it might make even more sense to adopt that sort of approach. After all, WSBK’s sprint – like Formula 1’s – sets the grid for a full-length race to follow.

There is no argument whatsoever in F1’s case to have sprint wins count as the full thing. F1 sprints are clearly, obviously lesser compared to grands prix – no pitstops, much smaller distance. Effectively, it is very easy to regard them as just an extra stint of the race, brought forward a day and made to be points-paying.

MotoGP, in deciding not to make the sprints set the Sunday grid, cannot really have them viewed as such. So, assuming they stick around but aren’t counted in full for statistical purposes, either sprint successes will have to take on a prestige of their own or the sprints will become ‘points-paying FP4s with contact’.

Of course, the points factor is an important one here. Ultimately, everyone is here to maximise the points haul. But, be honest – that only really matters in a title fight, no? Not just in MotoGP but in any motorsport series, there tends to be the thrill of victory for the champion, the agony of defeat for their vanquished title rivals and the ‘we were also there, actually’ for the rest of the competitors filling out the standings.


Most MotoGP fans – and, honestly, I suspect even a very significant chunk of the riders – aren’t necessarily supposed to be aware where everyone is in the standings at any given time. For instance, where did Johann Zarco finish last year: seventh? eighth? ninth? 15th? And (ignoring any sort of specific contract clauses) would you rather be fifth in a championship with no wins or seventh with a couple of them? Feels like a pretty easy one to me.

Beyond that, is it even right that the sprint pays around half of what a race does? Should a win on Saturday really be one point fewer than fourth place on Sunday? Maybe that’s a good way to keep Sunday the much higher-stakes proposition, but it doesn’t feel intuitively right, even though it’s correct in terms of race distance.

None of the above is to say sprints should definitely get full race status. It feels like there’s no right or wrong answer here – but, two events in, one of the answers does start to feel slightly more justified.


Riders’ understandable safety and fitness concerns aside, MotoGP’s sprints have been a clear and obvious success. They’re an absolute thrill-a-minute, and riders clearly approach them as if they matter as much as any other race they’ve ever been in.

So maybe that’s already enough without trying to make any more decisions. Why meddle in the de jure when you already have the de facto?

But record books and legacies are a big part of why we watch and why they race. So, as to the question of whether Binder is already a three-time race winner and whether, say, Luca Marini is already a MotoGP podium finisher, they do feel like they’re worth giving another thought now that we’ve seen what a sprint race is really like.

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