A hundred years ago, the world was accelerating faster than ever, thanks to the arrival of the internal combustion engine, the telephone, electricity and other new technologies which energized lifestyles people.
At that time, Russian ballerina Anna Pavlova wrote that new ways of living (and dancing, from sashaying to waltzing to the fast, syncopated rhythms of ragtime music) were “the result of today’s need for excitement, such as telephone, car, photography and cinemas. We become incapable of subtle sensations. We need excitement.
A century later, the Internet is here, swarming 24/7/365, flooding us with too much information, changing the way our minds work and making us hungry for more and more indirect sensations. Thanks to TikTok, Twitter and all other social media platforms, motorsport fans, like everyone else, want more thrills. Or so we are told.
The goal is more clicks and money, end.
That’s why Touring Cars, World Superbike, Formula 1 and now MotoGP are trying to deliver more thrills every weekend.
Considering the fact that all the other major racing championships had already decided to offer multiple races, it was practically inevitable that MotoGP would follow.
The idea is that more people will show up to races on Saturday and more people will turn on their TVs and scroll through their phones on Saturday. The goal is more clicks and money, end.
When we arrived at the Red Bull Ring last week and heard all the rumours, I didn’t greet the idea of MotoGP sprint races on Saturday afternoon with much enthusiasm. I have immense respect for the history of Grand Prix racing – because none of us would be here without those who came before – and here we are trashing three quarters of a century of tradition, of drivers and teams working to win Sunday’s Grand Prix, the GRAND PRIX.
All the secrecy and intricacies of two days of pit-lane and circuit strategies, slowly burned towards the big day, gone in a flash. The weekend sped up and maybe dumbed down. Purity exchanged for profit. But that’s modern sport, it’s big business, no more, no less.
Some people in the paddock argued that Dorna could do better by cutting back on the latest technologies that take the thrill out of MotoGP racing: too much downforce, shapeshifters, etc. But Dorna’s leaders know that would involve years of trench warfare with the builders.
On Friday, we were rumored that the sprint race would also count as a grand prix – that’s at least 42 GPs per season! – so might as well throw the history books in the trash and forget about Giacomo Agostini, Mike Hailwood and all the others, whose accomplishments would soon be swallowed up by the statistics of the 21st century. Later we were informed that in fact the sprint races would not be classified as grand prix. Big sigh of relief.
I was also worried about the format for the weekend – how the drivers were going to handle the stress of Saturday morning’s FP3 session, which is basically Q0.5, followed by potentially two qualifying sessions and a race.
MotoGP is already more intense and more stressful than it has ever been. You only need to compare the accident statistics of the last decade to understand the additional risks that cyclists now take, because every thousandth of a second counts. In 2010, there were 183 crashes in the premier class over 18 races. Last year there were 278 crashes out of 18 races.
Last August, KTM test rider Dani Pedrosa contested one of MotoGP’s races at the Red Bull Ring and was stunned by the experience. Although the format for the weekend is the same as when he retired at the end of 2018, the Spaniard says everything has changed. Lap times were tighter than ever, overtaking was harder than ever, everything mattered more than ever, so the intensity, stress and pressure were through the roof.
So how would the riders cope with FP3, Q1 and Q2 and finally a points race, all just hours apart, with the big race coming the next day? It seemed like too much to ask of the riders, most of whom spend the whole season in pain – nursing recent injuries or dealing with old ones.
As Pol Espargaró said some time ago: “Every qualifying round is like losing one of your lives.”
Then we were given the new format for the weekend and things didn’t look so bad, although manufacturers, teams and drivers will have less preparation time which means less time to try new ideas. , less time to develop technology, which is still a big reason why manufacturers are here.
From next year, Friday’s FP1 and FP2 outings will be longer and will be the only sessions that decide the qualifying line-up – who goes straight to Q2 and who has to go through Q1.
Saturday’s FP3 session, which currently helps decide the Q1/Q2 line-up, will be the new race pace session, like the current FP4 outing, when riders can focus on the bike and themselves, rather than to throw everything they have to do the fastest lap possible with the aim of entering Q2 directly. The only downside is that FP3 will be in the morning, so conditions won’t be directly comparable to race time, and there’s less setup time.