Written by Owen Bradley, Edited by Meghana Sree
MotoGP is arguably one of the most dangerous forms of motorsport and sports in general. It has seen five riders in fatal crashes since the beginning of the new century, with the most recent devastating fatality occurring at the Mugello circuit in 2021, which took the life of Moto3 rider Jason Dupasquier. MotoGP is a high-risk endeavour, and the riders and teams know this. They prepare for it their entire lives, and nobody ever thinks that they will be the one to get injured but unfortunately, not everyone can be so lucky as to go unscathed. However, alarmingly, with the new MotoGP sprint system, it has already seen multiple rider injuries, and we are only five races into the season.
After the opening round at Portimao, it left four of the riders injured and unfit to continue for the next race that was the Argentine Grand Prix. Amongst the riders injured in Portimao were Marc Marquez (injured in the main race), Miguel Oliveira (injured in the main race), Enea Bastianini (injured in the sprint race) and Pol Espargaro (injured during the second free practice). Now, most of these injuries occurred outside of the sprint race, but in just the first sprint race, we had many people crash out. Of course, the more the riders are on the bikes, the higher are the chances of an eventual crash.
At Jerez particularly, there were multiple heart-in-mouth moments, as 2021 World Champion Fabio Quartararo laid in the gravel, seemingly unconscious for a while, before paramedics were able to come to his aid. This was a very similar situation to Marco Bezzecchi, the VR46 rider and 2023 championship contender, as he laid in the gravel trap after a first lap collision in the Sprint race, again, seemingly unconscious.
With this extra track time in the form of a Sprint race, one has to argue that this is all being done for viewers and spectators, that is, for the theatricality of MotoGP and not for the sporting aspect or riders’ benefit. One could also argue that this benefits MotoGP as a brand in the long term, as there is more racing on multiple days, meaning more spectators are likely to show up for an entire weekend, not only the main Sunday race.
However, whilst the extra racing and growing audiences is very much a positive effect thanks to the sprint race system, should it be done at the cost of rider safety? Riders are now being asked to compete in an entire season of full racing, and now technically a half season as well, because the sprint races are half the distance of a full MotoGP race. This means that riders are now having to work much more in order to stay on top. This system mimics that of Formula One as well, as that motorsport has also introduced the sprint race system in recent years.
One of the major differences however, is that F1 has a limited number of sprint races, whereas MotoGP is doing a sprint race at every round of the year. Surely, this is not only causing an increase in risk for the riders, but also an increase in burnout from the riders.
Burnout from racing is something which defending F1 Champion, Max Verstappen, has stated before. Verstappen believes that with drivers in F1 being pushed to race more and more, it will lead to drivers simply competing in less championships than before. In the instance of Sebastian Vette who competed in F1 from 2007-2022, perhaps if there had been sprint races, one can assume that he would have retired a few years earlier, especially if there were some particularly tough seasons.
Another thing to consider, is the fact that MotoGP would like to have more rounds in the championship, which would then mean (if this sprint format is continued) that riders would be participating in another race, as well as more sprints. The Hungaroring circuit, which hosts F1, has previously stated interest in hosting MotoGP, as it is currently undergoing track renovations. Therefore we could be seeing many more rounds in the MotoGP season, meaning that riders will be at a higher risk of not only burnout, but also injury.
This also means that with MotoGP hosting 20 races in 2023, and therefore 20 sprint races, riders will be participating in 30 Full race distances over the course of 2023, more than any other MotoGP season. With this kind of season, it almost pushes into the same amount of races as there are in a NASCAR season, with 36 races every year. Surely, with motorcycles being more dangerous than cars, there needs to be a reconsideration regarding the sprint race format heading into the future for MotoGP.
Being a MotoGP rider is not a typical job. Whilst the riders of course participate in all the sessions of a MotoGP weekend, they also have media duties as well as feedback for engineers, fan interactions, and much more like their diet and training. With so much engaging racing, it can be easy as a fan to not think about the effects of this on the riders. With a lot of injuries already at this point in the season, we must question whether a sprint race is really needed at every single MotoGP round.
MotoGP is a sport which is obviously incredibly physical, with more electronics on the motorcycles than ever, it is becoming increasingly difficult to be consistent in MotoGP. This is also due to the fact that MotoGP is an incredible, but unpredictable sport itself.
Therefore, perhaps a sprint race format would be more beneficial to MotoGP, if they followed the Formula One route, having multiple sprint race weekends, at different tracks throughout the season - but not every single track.
Well, let us know what you think in the comments down below, has MotoGP gone too far with sprint races?
That’s all for now, thanks very much for reading!
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