until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League


Our verdict on MotoGP’s spectacular but fraught first sprint

by Matt Beer
5 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

MotoGP’s sprint race revolution began with an absolute thriller of a 12-lap thrash at Portimao, won with a last-lap move by reigning champion Pecco Bagnaia.

Has that won over sprint format sceptics or made no difference to their concerns? Was it everything that was expected or did it surprise us?

Here are our writers’ snap verdicts:

Fun, but won’t change the title battle

Simon Patterson

The first ever MotoGP sprint race wasn’t much different from expectations: a rather intense affair with close pack racing, lots of crashes, and both Jorge Martin and Jack Miller featuring prominently at the sharp end.

There might be early damage to a title contender’s season as we await official news on Enea Bastianini’s condition, while both Fabio Quartararo and the factory Aprilia duo Aleix Espargaro and Maverick Vinales are prime examples of how short races give little time to recover from mistakes, even those made by others that affect you.

In the end, though, the other truism that we expected also happened: the cream rose to the top and reigning world champion Pecco Bagnaia came out on top.

Sprint races will be fun, they’ll be chaotic, but it’s hard to say that they’ll have a really conclusive effect on the championship standings as the regular faces continue to feature at the front.

Detaching it from grand prix helps

Glenn Freeman

That was good fun to watch. It was action-packed, the riders didn’t hold back, and the race distance was just about right to prevent things stringing out once the quickest guys got to the front.

I suspect the sprint race being a standalone that has no impact on Sunday’s event helps in that regard. If you drop it on Saturday, you dust yourself off and start from your qualifying position again on Sunday.

I’m still curious about having the same grid on both days, although that should be much less of an issue than it would be in car racing. MotoGP starts and the early laps tend to shuffle the pack quite a lot. So it seems unlikely that the same grid will produce the same running order in the first part of the grand prix on Sunday. But I’ll reserve slight judgement until we see how the start of the main race goes.

My only other doubt about this format is the commitment required to follow so many races. As a fan I made the effort this time to watch the first one live. Can I guarantee I’ll be able to do that for the Saturday of every race weekend this season? Unfortunately not. I’ll be hoping MotoGP or UK broadcaster BT produces a nice highlights package for YouTube – no spoilers in the title, please! – so I can keep up.

This showed the best and worst consequences of the sprint idea

Toby Moody

The build-up to any race is always exciting and that was fun to have that hit for the first time since Valencia last November.

The history books will say Bagnaia took it but it won’t record the fact that it was a great 12 laps of entertainment, so that’s the bonus.

However, on the other side of the Ducati garage the worry of these short races reared its ugly head immediately with Bastianini already in the medical centre after a huge off through no fault of his own and four people affected by such collisions in the first two laps.

Now this is the ‘Saturday afternoon slot’ when we all used to watch qualifying. It will be interesting to see how many people really watch Saturday morning qualifying going forward, won’t it?

I might still struggle to not call it a race, as it was a race, but we’ll get used to the new name. However when MotoGP is at Austin, it’s an open door for it to be sponsored by Sprint!

Entertaining but unnerving

Valentin Khorounzhiy

From an entertainment point of view, this was absolutely impeccable. No notes. If there was any fear riders would ride conservatively, it did not come to fruition.

But the fact riders were trading places so much, seemingly more than in your usual grand prix, is a worry. Not only are an extra 21 race starts already an obvious risk, but the Portimao sprint suggests these will be starts where riders risk it even more than usual.

It was very chaotic and more than a little frightening. And at least one rider, Bastianini, did pick up a significant knock, and looks set for a spell on the sidelines.

The undulating Portuguese track is more fearsome than most, but I generally fear the health toll going forward. The show itself though was gold-standard.

Shorter is better

Matt Beer

If you’re used to Formula 1 (or endurance racing!) then a standard MotoGP grand prix already probably feels pretty short. But I grew up in motorsport terms with rallycross and Formula Ford, so for me short and intense races are what this sport is really about and the MotoGP sprint felt just right!

I absolutely accept my colleagues’ concerns about the increased injury risks of these intense extra races being shoehorned into every single weekend and wouldn’t want to diminish those.

But that race was utterly brilliant from start to finish. Even the best MotoGP race tends to have a mid-distance lull as everyone gets poised for the final lap battles. None of that in the sprint, it was wall-to-wall action throughout and I loved it. If MotoGP can sustain a season-long title battle, I can’t wait to see the late-season sprints when every point feels even more important.

Great entertainment but at what cost?

Dre Harrison

It’s hard to deny it was hugely entertaining, but that was probably expected. The sprint was meant to be an antidote to the championship’s clear problems with the excessive aero and tyre limitations that have come as a result of it.

Riders like Jack Miller going soft/soft and throwing caution to the wind in terms of tyre wear made for great action, but again that was predictable.

But with Bastianini in the medical centre as we write and a couple more nasty crashes involving Marco Bezzecchi and Joan Mir going for a lunge that was never really on, I do wonder if the excessive (and probably necessary) extra aggression will make this new format sustainable in the long run.

The sprint was great at face value. But at what cost? We’ll probably find out tomorrow.

No need to overcomplicate this: that was great

Jack Cozens

That was an excellent, instant hit of entertainment.

Short enough for packages that might not have the all-round efficiency to stay in the fight come Sunday (via some standout rides from Marc Marquez and Miller too), long enough for the likes of Maverick Vinales to be properly in contention (even after a delay). Having four brands in the top five at the finish was an auspicious sign too for anyone – this writer included – wary of Ducati domination.

I suspect some of the enjoyment comes from this being the first appearance of the sprint. With 20 more to come this season, that novelty might be expected to wear off. But if they’re all like that, maybe it won’t.

Even if it does, let’s not worry about that now. Sometimes it’s fine to simply call something that was good exactly that – this feels like one of those occasions.

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