until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League


MotoGP sprint impasse would be strike territory in other sports

by Simon Patterson
4 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

We’re now only a month away from the start of the 2023 MotoGP season and, if the latest paddock gossip is to be believed, there’s still no end in sight for the three-way debate that has been going on between the racers, teams and series promoter Dorna over just how much the riders are going to get paid in 2023.

The issue was to be anticipated, given the secrecy leading up to Dorna’s shock announcement last summer that this year there would be sprint races not only at a select few rounds – as is the case in Formula 1 – but at every single event on what was already the series’ longest-ever calendar, a decision that has swollen the total number of races to an incredible 42.

Proclaimed to great surprise at the Austrian round of last year’s championship, the decision was one riders only found out about when questioned by members of the media, after the agenda of a secret meeting between Dorna and the team principals was leaked.

A process that series boss Carmelo Ezpeleta has since admitted was a mistake, it means that effectively riders are now being asked to do double the work, given the extra stresses that all of them will tell you comes from a race start (even if the new weekend schedule doesn’t mean any more time on track thanks to the cancellation of FP4).

MotoGP Moto2 Moto3 riders

However, it does present an interesting problem for the teams in particular. With the sprints coming out of nowhere after most of the grid had already signed contracts for the coming seasons, those contracts presumably stated terms for things like win and podium bonuses.

If you’re a MotoGP team boss with a rider already signed up on an ironclad contract and the budget in place to run (and reward) them, the last thing you want is double the number of opportunities for those riders to claim that bonus.

We’re not talking small figures here: a factory like Ducati, which had a bike on the podium at every single round of 2022, could easily have forked out somewhere in the region of €10million in bonus payments, thanks to its (admittedly unusual) system of paying lower than average wages coupled with high enticements.

Ducati MotoGP champions

So, considering the root cause of the problem stems from the way in which Dorna went about its sprint race decision behind closed doors, what is it doing to solve the problem?

Well, recent comments from Ezpeleta to Spanish newspaper AS indicate it’s not something he believes he needs to get involved in – and he shot down comments made by veteran rider manager Carlo Pernat suggesting a rider strike could be imminent.

“That is a problem of the riders with the teams,” Ezpeleta insisted. “I have nothing to do with the money that the team riders earn. That is a problem for each rider with his team, and let them think about it.

Carmelo Ezpeleta Dorna CEO MotoGP

“As for what Pernat said, Carlo is Carlo and I can’t take it much more seriously either. It’s funny, because he has my phone [number] and he doesn’t say anything to me. He never calls me, so something must be wrong with him for him not to call me. All those fears… It’s very easy to say those things.”

That attitude represents yet another example of how Dorna regards its most precious commodity: the riders. Whether there is a genuine possibility of strike action (something that admittedly seems unlikely), it comes across as almost another shot fired at a group who, while disunited, nonetheless contains members all too willing to talk about concepts like a racers’ union.

And, to be honest, in this case it’s hard to fault them from considering such action if their teams are willing to play hardball.

MotoGP grid Sachsenring

Strike action isn’t an entirely unfamiliar concept these days in professional sport, with Major League Baseball seeing a two-month stoppage in 2022 after teams and players couldn’t agree new terms and with Welsh rugby players considering similar action mid-way through this year’s Six Nations tournament.

There is, of course, a middle ground that can be met between teams and riders in MotoGP – and given the circumstances in which this issue has arisen, it wouldn’t be ridiculous to hope that Dorna could play a role in at the very least mediating or even putting its own hand in its pocket to make up at least some of the shortfall.

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