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  • Writer's pictureAdéla Pavlovská

Wild card system in MotoGP


The system of wild cards is very popular and often used in MotoGP. How does it even work?
 

The wild cards system might be unfamiliar to F1 fans as there is no such thing. In MotoGP, it has a long history - back when the series was known as 500cc. Teams used to nominate a local rider to compete for them - next to their full-time riders - in chosen venues. Thanks to their great knowledge of the circuit, it raised team's competitiveness. The most famous example is the usage of Japanese riders during the races in Japan. The riders were usually involved in one or two races in the season. Nowadays, the local factor has mostly disappeared - although in junior series, riders can get nominated by the local motorcycle federation. In MotoGP, wild cards - usually given to the teams' test riders - can help the bike development and increase track time. Many are convinced that the feedback from the wild card rider can improve the future performance of the motorcycle.


It's crucial to distinguish a wild card rider and a substitute rider, as there is a significant difference. A wild card is definied as a rider who makes an appearance at a race in addition to the official grid on a few selected venues. Each factory team is permitted to use three wild cards per season but not at consecutive events. There can be only two wild cards per race weekend, which forces the manufacturers to plan and cooperate. A substitute rider steps in to replace a rider unable to compete for various reasons. There is no limit on how many races can a replacement rider do.


The wild card system seems to be helpful since the amount of testing time available for the riders throughout the year is low - there are only nine days classified as the official testing programme. The majority of motorcycle development is the responsibility of testing riders. Nevertheless, wild cards are heavily underused. In 2022, out of six manufacturers, only Ducati used all their wild cards with Michel Pirro. Aprillia, who was allowed to have six wild cards since they were under a so-called concession status, used five of them with Lorenzo Salvadori. Honda used two wild cards out of three with Stefan Bradl and Tetsuta Nagashima. KTM, Suzuki, and Yamaha didn't use any. Why?


The first reason, unsurprisingly, is finances. Running MotoGP bikes is expensive, and a wild card brings

additional costs. The reason why Ducati could use all three given opportunities is their partnership with Aruba, which is their World Superbike sponsor. The Italian web hosting company paid for Pirro's appearances in the 2022 season. Another reason is injuries. Since the incorporation of sprint races, the championship got more demanding with higher risk of injuries. Wild card riders are usually test and also replacement riders if necessary. This could lead to them spending more time racing than testing, disrupting manufacturers' testing plans. Since they are no longer active riders - examples of Dani Pedrosa and Cal Crutchlow - with no desire to make a comeback, it can make the teams' lives less easy.


Even if there are very few wild card appearances throughout the season, it can still bring incredible stories. The brightest example is Dani Pedrosa's masterclass in San Marino. The Spanish rider, who raced for the first time since August 2021, was fourth in the sprint race and main race.


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