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  • Writer's pictureAdéla Pavlovská

MotoGP sprints explained

To increase interest in MotoGP, Dorna has come up with a revolutionary idea never seen in the series before: sprint races.

It's no secret that unlike Formula 1, MotoGP has struggled to gain popularity that got weakened because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Dorna has been trying to find ways how to draw people in again. After the MotoGP Unlimited series made by Amazon didn't live up to expectations, the MotoGP owner, Dorna Sports, launched a global survey with over 100.000 responses from the fans.

Based on this research, Dorna decided to make a revolutionary change in the race weekend structure. Starting this year, there will be sprint races taking place at every round on Saturday afternoon. MotoGP choose the same route as Formula 1 and Word Superbikes did, but the concepts differ. In F1, the grid for the sprint is set by the qualifying results. The sprint itself then determines the Grand Prix's grid. In WSBK, the sprint Superpole race decides the top nine for the second main race. Sprint races in MotoGP won't replace qualifying sessions, which will still determine the grid for the Sunday race. As a bonus, it will also decide the grid for sprints. A rider on pole will have two chances to win instead of one.

"We think that after two years of Covid, when all of us made incredible sacrifices to keep having this important Championship, it’s time to give more exposure, in the TV, but also to the spectators. We need more spectators, we need a better show, and we need to fill the Saturdays." - FIM president Jorge Viegas.

To fit the new feature in the race weekend, a few changes have been made. Two Friday practices (now called P1 and P2) will be extended and the riders with the best lap times will directly move to Q2 now taking place on Saturday mornings. Until now, this has been determined after FP3 on Saturday (which will be reduced). The rest of the riders will have a shoot-out in Q1 and the two fastest from this session advance into the final stage, also known as Q2. FP4 was dropped from the schedule as well as the 20-minute warm-up on Sunday. Instead, the riders will get 10 minutes on track for some final tweaks. The junior series, Moto3 and Moto2, will still go on with a single race on Sunday. However, the order of track action has been standardised for this season. Moto3 will always be followed by Moto2 and MotoGP will be the last event of the day.

The sprint race will always be the last Saturday on-track action. It will take place at 3 PM on Saturday and is to be half the normal race distance (e.g. if a Sunday race has 20 laps, the Sprint will be 10 laps long). The sprint race will have a 15-minute grid procedure, and the sporting rules will be the same as a full-length Grand Prix race on Sunday. The first nine riders will be awarded points in this order:

P1 - 12 points

P2 - 9 points

P3 - 7 points

P4 - 6 points

P5 - 5 points

P6 - 4 points

P7 - 3 points

P8 - 2 points

P9 - 1 points

There will be a podium celebration for the sprint race in the parc ferme but it won't count for the total number of wins and podiums the riders have under their names. So there will be a difference between winning the Sprint and Sunday race. There will be separate statistics for podiums, wins, and fastest laps from sprint races.

“It has been the aim of the championship to try to improve everything as much as we can, working in all areas. We have been looking at other sports, different possibilities, to offer a better show. It has been discussed with the FIM, the manufacturers and teams." - Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta

What do the riders think?

Sprint races have divided the racing field into two groups. "I think it’s stupid," Fabio Quartararo made his opinion clear, "yes, it's the same mileage. But the amount of risk and the amount of energy you give for a race or to do 14 laps in FP4 is not the same. I do what they tell me to do... at the end, I think it's great that qualifying will still be the position that you will start the real [Sunday] race."

Aleix Espargaro is also sceptical, stating: "I really want to think, I really want to believe that the management of the championship thinks that this [Sprint] is the best thing for the show, for the sport, for the popularity... I don’t share this idea, but it's just my opinion," he sides with Quartararo and adds: "I think it’s not the solution. I think that the risk is going to be too high. I think that 44 starts [a season] in MotoGP are too many. They say it's going to be the same track time, so nothing changed. But FP4 and a race are not the same! But I will try. They choose what they want and we have to adapt. Let's try, maybe it's a good solution.”

But some riders support the idea. "Massive fan of it [the idea]," says Jack Miller, "it’s another chance for a bonus! But no, why not try it. I think a sprint race would throw a good element into it, where it’s all or nothing. Half points makes you want to risk more I guess and you don’t have to worry about tyres, about fuel or anything like that. Also, physical condition because a lot of these [normal] races you can’t push to your absolute max the whole time. But for half race distance, you can kind of hold your breath and get it done. I think why not give it a crack. I think it will be an amazing addition and would be something the fans love to see.”

The Frenchman Johann Zarco is also a fan, commenting: "it would be a good challenge. It’s very interesting, it’s always a good show and it would be nice for the public. It’s nice to watch in Superbike so why not in MotoGP. [But] I think it should be almost the same points as a long race because it’s the same intensity but just shorter.”

Apart from these, some riders are somewhere in the middle, not having a clear opinion. One of them is Joan Mir. "One part I like is the Friday for me makes more sense, because it [decides who] passes directly to Q2. That is something great. Now on Saturday morning, straight away to go to FP3, which is a qualifying, I don't like so much. But then if we make 24 races, going out of Europe and also double races, it will be tough psychologically. This is difficult, but we have to try."

Also, Pol Espargaro is not 100% sure whether or not Sprints are the right way. "Now, with the full information, you see things in a different way. Yesterday, for sure I was super against this, but today, there is some benefit of doing that, in the way they explained it to me and the way they want to do it. So if I put it into the balance, I want to try this, I want to see what's going on. For sure, on the other hand, it's going to be harder for everyone, physically and psychologically, and we are going to take more risk [for] the same money. Me, riders, and also the mechanics. But on the other hand, if we are able to improve the show, money is going to come back in a different way [because] sponsors will invest in the sport, so overall, we need to do something, and I think it's not a bad way to do it. But I think that if you explain it better, then everything flows much easier."

With this ground-breaking change, points will be scored on Saturdays for the first time since the 2015 Dutch Grand Prix. Dorna hopes that sprint races will offer better value for fans both watching from the track and home, attract more sponsorship and boost overall worldwide exposure. We'll have to wait and see to make the final verdict ourselves. The first opportunity to judge comes this weekend in Portimao, where sprints will debut for the first time ever.


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