The MotoGP championship faces one of the biggest shakeups in recent years in 2023. The biggest change is of course the introduction of sprint races (or "Sprints", as Dorna is trying to insist on calling them). That change, allied with a calendar expanded to 21 rounds, has a lot of knock-on effects in the championship.
All of this is likely to confuse regular fans who have committed the former schedule to memory. And it will confuse new fans, who are still struggling to work out what happens when during a MotoGP weekend.
To help you keep track of the new schedule and the sprint races, here's your handy FAQ for the most important changes to MotoGP for the 2023.
What The Actual Sprint?
What is this "sprint race" you speak of?
Sprint races are a new, shorter race added to the schedule. Only the MotoGP class will have sprint races, Moto2 and Moto3 will have just the one main race on Sunday, as last year. Dorna wants you not to call them "sprint races", but to refer to them as "Sprints". This request is almost certain to fall on deaf ears, especially as the FIM sporting regulations refers to them as "Sprint races".
When does the sprint race happen?
Saturday, 3pm local time. Sprint races will have a big impact on the schedule. I'll explain more later though.
How long is a sprint race?
The rules state it will be "approximately half distance". For the first sprint race at Portimão, the sprint race will be 12 laps. The full race for MotoGP on Sunday will be 25 laps. This is a good indication of race distance at other tracks.
Half distance means half points?
Almost. The top 9 finishers score points, just as for the Superpole race for WorldSBK. Here's the points on offer:
How much fuel will the riders have?
Riders will have 12 liters for a sprint race. This is a bit more than half the 22 liters for a full-distance race.
Will there be special tires for the sprint race?
No. But it is a racing certainty that everyone will race the soft rear at most tracks.
More fuel and soft tires – so it's flat out, right?
Pretty much. Some factories have special smaller fuel tanks, others don't. But teams won't have to worry about fuel, and riders won't have to manage tires, so it will be pretty much flat out from the start.
An extra race flat out. Will the riders get extra engines during the season?
No. The changes to practice mean that the mileage done on a race weekend will be pretty much identical to previous seasons, roughly 1100km per engine. So the engine allocation remains unchanged. For 2023, it's 8 engines per season, but engine #8 can only be used from the 19th race (which is Sepang in 2023).
Even in the unlikely (but possible) case of races being canceled, the riders will have 8 engines. But they will only get their 8th engine at the 19th race. If there are fewer than 19 races, then no 8th engine.
Will the sprint races need a special set up?
The races are long enough that the bike will still need to have the right balance. The electronics will be set up for power rather than fuel management. Suspension will be almost the same as for the full race. Set up will be somewhere between qualifying and the full race, but quite close to the full race.
Is there a separate qualifying session for the sprint race?
No. The grid is set in Q1 and Q2, as in previous years. The grid is the same for both the sprint and the full race.
Are we really going to call it a "full race"?
Terms you are likely to hear include "full race", "feature race", or "grand prix".
Two races from the same grid position makes qualifying even more important, right?
Absolutely. While the nature of full races is unlikely to change, sprint races won't really have enough time to allow the race to develop. Qualifying on the front two rows will be vital. Getting a good start will be even more important.
So Ducati are going to clean up, based on last year's results?
Probably. For now. Until the rest catch up. But you never know. As Nicky Hayden used to say, that's why we line up on Sunday. Or in this case, Saturday.
Will winning a sprint race count as a win?
Dorna has said that they are going to keep separate statistics for sprint races and feature races. Only winning on Sunday will count as a "grand prix victory". While this may be laudable, experience in WorldSBK says this effort will not last. When WorldSBK introduced the Superpole race, they pledged to keep separate statistics as well. This effort did not last the season.
The reason such an attempt will be ditched is simple. Keeping separate statistics will confuse all but the most hardcore of fans, so most people will just keep track of all wins. You might try to keep the numbers straight over your first drink after meeting your MotoGP friends at the bar, but six drinks in and as the debate heats up, nobody is going to distinguish between the two.
The most likely outcome here is that fans remember two numbers: wins, and grand prix victories.
Why have Dorna decided to introduce sprint races?
You'll have to wait for the long version of this reply, but basically, it's to make a race weekend better value for spectators at the track. More excitement on Saturday means more fans are likely to turn up, rather than just show on Sunday. This is good for the circuits (more tickets sold), and for the economy of the local region (more fans staying for longer and spending more money), which in turn is good for Dorna, because tracks will be willing to pay more to host a race.
But it is aimed at existing fans. It doesn't solve the underlying problem of attracting new fans and growing the sport. Only TV can do that.
Sprint races mean a new schedule, right?
Correct. Sprint races mean the schedule will be shaken up significantly. The biggest change is that MotoGP will follow Moto2 for all sessions, rather than preceding it. The other big change is that Moto3 and Moto2 lose warm up on Sunday morning, as this gives way to fan activities. There will be a Rider Fan Parade for the MotoGP riders, and a chance for fans to meet the Moto2 and Moto3 riders. Again, this is all about making it a better experience for fans at the track.
Here's the new schedule:
|10:45-11:30||MotoGP||Practice 1 timed for Qualifying|
|15:00-16:00||MotoGP||Practice 2 timed for Qualifying|
|10:10-10:40||MotoGP||Free Practice not timed for Qualifying|
|10:00||MotoGP||Rider Fan Parade|
Wait, what's "Practice 1 and 2"? Why is there only one "Free Practice"? Where did FP4 go?
Adding the sprint race meant losing a practice session. Which has meant restructuring the weekend.
Friday is now timed practice, and will determine who gets through to Q2. Practice 1 and Practice 2 (that's FP1 and FP2 to you and me) will count as before, with the top 10 riders in the combined times going through to Q2, leaving the rest to slug it out for the last two Q2 slots in Q1.
The session marked "Practice" on Saturday is what used to be FP4. It is an untimed session (technically, a session for which the times don't count toward anything) which the teams can use for bike set up.
The change to practice means qualifying happens earlier for MotoGP. Q1 immediately follows the Practice session, at 10:50am at most tracks. Q2 follows Q1 as before.
The afternoon sees qualifying for Moto3 and Moto2, and then the sprint race at 3pm.
Doesn't having untimed practice in the morning make it pretty meaningless if you want to choose tires?
It does. Which is why practice on Friday has been extended. FP1 is 45 minutes as it was before. But FP2 is now 1 hour, giving teams more time to work on testing tire wear in the conditions which are likely to be similar to those during both the sprint and the feature race.
Saturday morning practice will still be useful, though more for working on set up.
Does this make life more complicated for the teams?
It absolutely does. They have less time to work on set up, and to figure out which tire will work best. Some of that work will be done in the race on Sunday, where tire wear will be very evident.
It is also questionable just how much difference having 60 minutes of practice on Friday afternoon will make. With points only for the first 9 places in the sprint race, it is imperative to be in Q2. That makes it worth a rider's while to throw tires at FP2 in pursuit of a quick time. A significant portion of the extra 15 minutes of practice are likely to be spent pushing for fast laps, rather than working on setup.
So teams and riders will be going into the races blind?
To an extent, yes. Having a working base set up will be absolutely key here. Having something which is 95% of the way there at every track is far more valuable than having a set up which is 99% at half the circuits and 75% at the other half.
This applies especially to the sprint races. But the sprint races will provide very useful data for setting the bikes up for the Sunday race.
Won't this be tough for the riders, going into races not knowing if their set up will work?
Yes it will. And while officially, Dorna will point out that the rules are the same for all the riders and teams, and everybody is in the same boat, unofficially they will be happy. The less time teams have to set up their bikes, the more chance of teams getting it wrong, or getting it right. That should throw up a few surprises during the season. At least, in theory.
Anything else we need to know about?
Yes, tire pressures.
Why should I care about tire pressures? Isn't that something for the crew chiefs and tire specialists to figure out?
Yes, but the minimum tire pressures are going to be enforced this year, and punishments handed out.
Wait, they weren't in previous years?
No. Tire pressures were monitored and logged, but there were no consequences if teams didn't stick to the minimum tire pressures.
No consequences... didn't that just open the door to cheating on a massive scale?
Cheating is such an ugly word. Yes, there were some anomalous pressures recorded. There was much tutting and shaking of heads.
But that changes this year, right?
Yes. Probably. The bikes now have to have a compulsory spec tire sensor fitted in their rims. The minimum front tire pressure is 1.88 bar, the minimum for the rear is 1.7 bar. Tire pressures have to be above those minimums for at least half the race.
How much is 1.88 bar in psi?
No idea. The FIM regulations use metric units. You'll have to do the conversion (1 bar =~ 14 psi) yourself.
What happens if riders are under the minimum pressure for more than half the race?
Officially, they will be disqualified, although this rule will not be applied at the first three races. Michelin and Dorna want to be sure the system is working properly first.
What's so difficult about putting the right pressure in a tire?
Putting it in is easy. Making sure it stays that way throughout a race is hard. Front tire pressures can vary a lot, depending on whether you are riding on your own or in a pack. On your own, there is cool air on the front tire, meaning the pressure remains stable. Ride in a pack and front tire temperatures can rise, and so do pressures.
What this means is that teams have to figure out how much pressures are going to rise by for a given temperature increase.
That's the easy part. The hard part is trying to guess whether their rider will be riding on their own for most of the race, or battling in a group with three or more other riders. That is based in part on qualifying position, and in part on crystal ball gazing.
The punishment for getting it wrong can be severe, however. If you start from 9th and expect to have to fight your way forward, you might choose a lower pressure expecting it to rise as you battle. But if the first couple of rows get tangled up in the first corner and let you through, you can find yourself with a front tire pressure that is far too low for most of the race, and face disqualification.
Alternatively, if you start from pole and expect to run away, but miss your braking point into Turn 1 and find yourself caught up behind a big group, the higher pressure you chose is likely to go well above a usable pressure, giving you less front grip.
So high tire pressures are bad?
Yes. Higher tire pressures mean a smaller contact patch and less deformation. That means less grip, and a very different feeling. Riders will tell you they are much more likely to crash once the pressure of the front tire goes above 2.2 bar.
Why do Michelin put the minimum at 1.88 bar? Why not at a lower pressure?
Because they are afraid that running at too low a pressure can cause the casing of the tire to be damaged, and therefore fail catastrophically. That would be bad.
Has that ever happened?
Not since Michelin's first year as official tire supplier in MotoGP, back in 2016.
What about the rear tire?
That's much less of an issue. The rear tire sits directly behind the engine, in a pocket of hot air. That's not good, but at least it's predictable, as it makes no difference whether you are riding in a group or not.
This is all well and good, but what about the big question: who is going to be 2023 MotoGP champion?
With an aesthetically pleasing 777 points (525 from feature races, 252 from sprint races) at stake, that's a harder question to answer than normal. A good finish in a sprint race is valuable, but you still need to finish top five in the feature race to stand a chance of scoring enough points to wrap up a title. Riders and teams have a choice of strategies they can pursue: focus on sprints and play it safe in feature races, or go for the win on Sunday and mop up whatever points you can in the sprint races.
I notice you didn't answer the question. Who is going to be 2023 MotoGP champion?
Pecco Bagnaia. Or maybe Fabio Quartararo. Or possibly Enea Bastianini. You know, Jorge Martin has had a good preseason. Alex Marquez has been surprisingly strong, and he's only just got on the Ducati. The Aprilias are looking good, and Aleix Espargaro was outstanding until the flyaways last year. Miguel Oliveira is coolly confident and in a much better place on the Aprilia RS-GP than hhe was on the KTM last year. And you can never write Marc Marquez off, no matter what he's riding...
You STILL didn't answer the question!
As the late, great Nicky Hayden said, that's why we line up on Sunday; you never know what's going to happen.