MotoGP and a 21-race World Championship: more show or too much crash?

Pros and cons of choosing the premier class to increase racing in search of new earnings. But with Rossi’s departure and the costs rising, some doubts emerge

Massimo Falcioni

The 2021 World Championship is about to end with the last two rounds of November 7 in Portimao and November 14 in Valencia. In total 18 GPs which will become 21 in 2022. Thus, from 6 March to 6 November 2022 there will be the longest season ever, 21 races in eight months, after 73 years of MotoGP. In fact, the motorcycling world championship follows the line drawn by the F1 car, ready to compete in 23 world championship races in the next season, already planned this year but not reached due to the calendar upset by the pandemic. Why so many races in one season? A business matter: in the logic that if the Circus earns 1 in one round, it earns 10 in ten rounds and 20 in twenty rounds by dividing the ever-larger pie (not equally), among the protagonists. But is it really like that or is there a point of no return beyond which, by increasing the competitions dramatically, the game is no longer worth the candle and on the contrary becomes a boomerang?

The tricolor races

Since 1949, the World Championship has been the center of motorcycling, a sport useful above all for the promotion of the manufacturers involved and also for the technical development of series production. But unlike the last two / three decades, at least from the post-war period up to the epic of Giacomo Agostini and towards the 1980s, the World Championship did not occupy the entire motorcycling scene: just think of cross-country racing in Italy (Motogiro and Milan -Taranto) and then to the enlarged Emilian-Romagna Mototemporada that fueled people’s interest and business well beyond the perimeter of the sector, starting with tourism. They were “tricolor” races with international significance (in fact pre world races) that anticipated and closed the racing season with the “world championship” at the center, actually placed in the summer season, with rounds that could be counted on the fingers of both hands. World of great races (5 displacements), great riders, great manufacturers with super motorbikes, a large audience in the stands (like and more than today), but without the support of live TV, therefore little interest from the sponsoring companies with the consequence that the convent was poor and the friars too.

Paying drivers

Until the end of the 1970s, the Italian drivers participating in the entire championship could be counted on the fingers of one hand. Only (our) official drivers managed to be “professionals” (ie to live off racing), the others, that is, over 90%, paid for everything out of their own pockets. This is why, lacking competitive bikes and money for travel, the Italian riders (not only them) deserted the world championship, in any case for years a “European championship” as it was done on circuits in Europe. Going back in time, the World Championship born in 1949, in its first 12 editions has never reached 10 seasonal rounds (from a minimum of six to a maximum of nine), reaching 11 rounds in 1961, 12 in 1963, 13 in 1965 , reaching 15 GPs for the first time in 1987. Even at the beginning the championship took place over three months (from early June to early September), increasing to four months and then to almost five, as in 1952 with the beginning on May 17th and ending on October 5th.

First time in November

The first time that the championship extends until November happens in 1963 with the Suzuka GP in Japan (the race that cost the 250 title to the Italian pair Provini-Morini) on 10 November. Until 1960 all the races were held, as mentioned, on European circuits with the first race overseas in 1961 in Argentina in a championship lasting almost six months, from 23 April to 15 October. The first time the world championship lands in Japan in 1963, in Europe it is the middle of winter, on February 2, 1964: never again will we race so soon, if not at the French GP of Le Castellet on March 30, 1975. Then we go down again: in 1977 the world championship starts on March 20 with the Venezuelan GP, ​​one day before the year after and yet another day before two years later, 1979. In the mid-90s, since 1994, the championship gets longer starting on March 27 in Australia and on 9 October in Catalunya: even more so in 1996 with the Australian GP on 20 October, surpassed in 1998 with the Argentine GP on 25 October. Two records in 1999: the championship counts 16 rounds, for the first time above the ceiling of 15, ending with the Argentine GP on 31 October, never so far since 1949. Another record in 2001, the last year before the end of the class 500 and the MotoGP debut: the championship ends with the Brazilian GP on November 3, never so far! In 2018, the 70th edition of the world championship takes place between 18 March and 18 November on 19 tests, never so many! In 2020, in the storm of the pandemic, 15 GPs will be disputed with the closing in Portimao on November 22, never so late. The rest is news. Now, pandemic permitting, the World Championship is looking for new spaces, new audiences, new sponsors presenting itself in the main strategic areas of the globe.

Business matter

The show-business motorcycling of the last twenty years has allowed an overall qualitative leap for the entire Circus with advantages for all the protagonists and also for the fans. There is no going back but there is a risk that the racing car will “flood” because, even in this case, “too much is good”. Too much technology, too much speed and power, too many costs, too much desire to flatten (even technically) for a concept of show that, if exasperated and made more and more virtual, risks confusing the Circus of speed with the equestrian circus, the real race with that of the play stations. Examples already exist: just think of the single-make Moto2, the (almost) single-make Moto3, and also the MotoGP which, despite the presence of Yamaha, Ducati, Honda, Ktm, Aprilia, risks becoming “monotonous” at least technically. The late Ferrari president Sergio Marchionne harshly recalled Chase Carey of Liberty Media, the US company that owns F1, saying that the Maranello-based company refused a Formula 1 type Nascar, the all-American show-business championship played with essentially identical cars. .

Risk of indigestion

One of the limits of that championship, said Marchionne, is also given by the calendar, with more than thirty rounds per season, with the risk of indigestion from racing. If on a technical level it seems that the new F1 regulations do not flatten the cars too much, on the calendar the promoter aims at an extension of the championship, beyond the 23 races in 2022, to exceed 25, in the end emulating the American Nascar. An idea that also hovers in the MotoGP-MotoGP with a central and fixed base of GPs, on which to rotate other circuits in a planetary logic. Business is business, they will say. Sure and it is legitimate. But there is the risk of blunders, with an after Valentino Rossi with consequences all to be verified with respect to the interest of a MotoGP without the “Doctor”: how many people remain in front of the TV, how many people return to the stands of the circuits, how many sponsors they continue to pay out important sums to cover the huge costs of the manufacturers that run and to pay the drivers, especially those over 10 million euros per year. The answers are not as obvious as they seem.

More races, more costs

Extremely increasing the number of races means for Case and Team increasing costs, even leading to a rotation of staff (to be increased) and reorganizing the racing structure at home and in the garage, balancing the tasks of each and doing the accounts well so as not to sink. . Not only. The core is the “value” of every single race and of the entire championship, today and tomorrow, not referring to the past. Since races are also a marketing product in the show-business logic, it remains to be seen whether by inflating the market that product maintains the same appeal and the same value. How many tens of millions of viewers, besides the hard core of aficionados, are really interested in spending hours in front of the TV two days a week for twenty weeks or more? In short, quality matters more than quantity. Too much is good and the exclusivity of the event remains the value to be preserved and consolidated.

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MotoGP and a 21-race World Championship: more show or too much crash?

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