If there is one complaint made about MotoGP it is that it is an almost entirely Spanish sport. The three title candidates in MotoGP are all Spanish, the three title candidates in Moto3 are all Spanish, and Scott Redding has his hands full holding off another Spanish rider, Pol Espargaro, for the 2013 Moto2 title. Spaniards dominate in all three classes, and it has been a long time since the Spanish national anthem hasn't been heard on a Grand Prix weekend.
So at first glance, the news that the Spanish CEV championship is to fall under FIM control and host rounds outside of Spain looks like increasing the stranglehold the Spanish have over Grand Prix racing. By raising the importance of the Spanish championship and therefore diminishing the status of other national championships, the FIM is making the situation worse, and handing even more control to Dorna, who run both the MotoGP and the Spanish CEV championships.
Though superficially attractive, there are some fundamentally wrong assumptions underlying that analysis. At the heart of the fear is the misconception that Dorna's main aim is to promote Spanish riders. The opposite is true: Dorna's main source of income is the sale of TV rights, and selling them as broadly as possible. Having too many Spanish riders in the series makes it hard to sell to broadcasters outside of Spain, hence Dorna's push to get more non-Spaniards into the series, especially in the Moto3 and Moto2 classes. Riders from outside of Spain are receiving preferential treatment in MotoGP, while pressure is being put on teams to reduce the number of Spaniards in the top class. The signing of Pol Espargaro has been a major bone of contention between Dorna and Yamaha, the repercussions of which are not yet fully worked out.
Dorna's promotion of the CEV Spanish championship is part of that drive to get more non-Spaniards racing. For the past 10 years, the CEV has been functioning more and more as an incubator series, a place where talent - both rider and team - is nurtured and prepared for the step up into Grand Prix. The Spanish championship has increasingly seen an influx of foreign riders, using it as a place to hone themselves against strong competition and showcase themselves in front of the top GP teams.
Most of the top non-Spanish riders in all three GP classes have spent time racing in the Spanish championship - Bradley Smith, Scott Redding, Casey Stoner, Stefan Bradl, Takaaki Nakagami, Jack Miller, Miguel Oliveira, the list is very, very long - and even now, the series is full of riders from outside of Spain. The CEV Moto3 class - for many riders, the entry point into Grand Prix - was being led by Dutchman Bryan Schouten up until last weekend, and 8 of the top 15 riders are not Spanish.
The CEV has taken the place of the European Championship, a series which had been struggling for years, and became defunct when two strokes stopped being raced. As the European Championship waned, so the CEV grew, matched only in competitiveness by the German IDM championship and the Italian CIV championship. That the CEV should gain the upper hand over the other national series is hardly surprising. With Dorna running the series, the CEV already had stronger TV contracts than either the Italian or German series, and much greater promotional backing. The CEV had first low alcohol beer brand Buckler as title sponsor, and now Spanish petroleum giant Repsol. Neither the IDM nor the CIV had either the financial backing or the organizational support, being run by national federations. The CIV was the stronger of the two series, with backing from Italian oil company ENI, but even then, the level of competition inside the CIV was not the same as in the Spanish championship.
The disappearance of the European championship left a vacuum, which the CEV has stepped up to fill, in part at first, but no doubt with the intention of expanding to become a fully-fledged European series later on. The existence of a European feeder series is important, helping groom young talent and allow talent to develop outside of the intense scrutiny of a world championship. Young riders get a chance to get better, and late developers have a chance to prepare themselves physically and mentally before taking the next step to Grand Prix.
To this end, it is also important for an international series to have races outside of Spain, as the newly proposed series promises to do. By including races at circuits outside of Spain, it allows non-Spanish teams and riders to offer their sponsors exposure and networking opportunities in their local markets, making it a more attractive sponsorship proposition. It will offer teams from national championships an easier and cheaper chance to wild card, gaining exposure and experience to help them to prepare to move to the next level.
The downside, for both Spanish and non-Spanish teams, is the increased cost of participation. With races around Europe, transport costs increase, travel duration and the amount of time spent away from home and paying jobs is increased, and the barriers to entry are higher than before. Competing full time becomes a more costly undertaking, placing higher demands on teams, riders and sponsors. Though racing as a wild card will become much more attractive, participating full time is a greater challenge than before. Dorna will have to start offering improved financial support if the series is to expand.
There is also a risk that the FIM, which controls international motorcycle racing, is handing too much control to Dorna. The Spanish company already controls both the MotoGP and World Superbike championships, and by giving the Dorna run Spanish CEV championship international status, Dorna will have a virtual monopoly of international motorcycle racing. That in turn risks giving Dorna too much leverage over the FIM, and the power to influence FIM internal politics.
Yet outside of Dorna, there are few alternatives for the FIM. Competent motor sports promoters are very thin on the ground. The decline of the AMA Superbike series is a warning of how things can go wrong: the relatively successful series was handed to the Daytona Motorsports Group, a company well versed in promoting racing, having come from NASCAR and promoted the Grand Am series, as well as other two- and four-wheeled series. After the DMG took over AMA Superbike, a series of ill-advised rule changes were made aimed at making the racing more attractive. All those changes succeeded in doing is in alienating teams, manufacturers, riders, and more importantly, fans. TV audiences plummeted, as did attendance, and the series is now struggling for TV coverage. The plight of the AMA is so poor that top Superbike teams are electing to ignore their own series to race in the World Superbike series as wild cards, in pursuit of TV coverage and media exposure for their sponsors.
The lesson from the AMA is that it is safer to trust the devil you know than to throw in your lot with the unknown. Even the once so successful World Superbike series has declined in the hands of the Flammini brothers after the retirement of Troy Bayliss. It reached rock bottom shortly after being taken over by Dorna, but the rot had set in a very long time before the Spaniards got their hands on the series.
Will the promotion of the Spanish series to an international championship benefit all of motorcycle racing? That will depend on how good Dorna is at raising money for the championship, and at distributing it among the participants. Dorna has proven to be very good at generating money by selling TV rights, though at the cost of a broader audience, MotoGP having been sold to pay-per-view broadcasters and disappearing behind decoders. They have been far less successful at promoting the sport and generating sponsorship income, preferring to cannibalize income from teams rather than expanding to external sponsors. At least their record at distributing the spoils among teams is positive, as the payments to the teams in the Grand Prix paddock attest.
If Dorna can raise income from selling TV rights internationally to the CEV championship, then they can afford to support the teams inside the series. To sell those rights, they need to have broader international participation, with riders and teams from around Europe, and not just inside of Spain. If they succeed, then all of racing wins, by providing a broader and deeper talent pool. They must take care not to destroy national championships such as the IDM, CIV, FFM and Dutch ONK which serve as feeder series, both to Grand Prix racing and to the CEV itself. Most of all, they have to be careful not to destroy the series in Spain, by making it too expensive for Spanish teams to participate. The promotion of the CEV to an international series could prove most damaging to Spain itself.
Below is the press release from the FIM on the CEV Spanish championship:
The CEV Repsol comes under FIM umbrella
As from 2014, the CEV Repsol (Spanish Road Racing Championship), one of the most prolific feeder series to the MotoGP™ class, will be officially upgraded to an international Series, with events in other countries, and will move under the control of the Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme (FIM). The FIM Road Racing World Championship Grand Prix is a great demonstration of the CEV’s class, with the current leaders of all three categories – MotoGP, Moto2™ and Moto3™ – Marc Marquez, Scott Redding and Luis Salom, all having graduated from it.
The CEV Repsol championship has hitherto been run under the aegis of the Spanish Motorcycle Federation – RFME. The move to the FIM is the obvious next step for the Dorna-run series, which will continue to be conducted in close cohesion with MotoGP in terms of rules and procedures, so that riders and teams alike can be fully prepared for the step up to the international stage. The Championship will be run on the current Grand Prix circuits in Spain and also on other circuits in Europe.
Its high degree of organisational quality is visible not only in the current World Championship leaders but also in past and present talent, as the likes of Casey Stoner, Jorge Lorenzo, Dani Pedrosa, Stefan Bradl, Alvaro Bautista, Nico Terol and Julian Simon have all ended up as champion in at least one of the three categories.
With participants from 23 different countries, the CEV Repsol is a great platform that welcomes talented riders from all over the world to learn their trade in one of the most professional environments outside the FIM Road Racing World Championship Grand Prix. And with much of the current talent having already passed through the ranks over the years, the CEV Repsol and FIM partnership is sure to keep feeding talent for many years to come.
FIM President Vito Ippolito added: “The upgrade of the Spanish Road Racing Championship is a very positive move, which will give it a better exposure at world level. Many good riders take part in this Championship and then join the Grand Prix World Championship classes and show an excellent riding level. The time has come to give an additional force to this championship by making it into a real international series.”
Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta commented: “I am very pleased about the new stage that awaits the CEV Repsol. That this championship is open internationally and now comes under the scope of the FIM means that all the work done in previous years has clearly helped to strengthen this championship and will ensure that it continues nurturing great riders that can make it into all three MotoGP World Championship categories.”