There is good news and bad news for MotoGP fans. The bad news is that the MotoGP schedule has been changed - again. The good news is that the season now starts a day earlier, as the Qatar MotoGP round will once again be spread over four days instead of three, and start on Thursday, April 5th, 2012.
The decision sees the race following the same schedule as in 2011. Last year, the race was switched from a three-day to a four-day format to avoid the problems with the track becoming slippery late at night, which had caused several big crashes during testing in 2010. Having an extra day of practice makes it easier to fit all three classes into the period between sunset and the time the temperature starts to approach the dew point. Riders have repeatedly complained of the track becoming treacherous from incipient dew forming on patches of the track between 11pm and midnight. Spreading practice over four days means that all of the riding gets done before 11pm.
But Qatar continues to form a problem, in a number of different ways. The Losail Circuit has a contract to be the first race of the season, and took a decision to race at night both as a showcase for the Gulf state of Qatar and to avoid the heat which can prevail in the desert during the day. Unfortunately, the combination makes life very difficult: running the race at night means that the race can only be run in a very limited time window. During the winter, the cool nights mean that dew starts to form early on, making the track treacherous; during the summer, temperatures do not drop to bearable levels until much later in the evening, meaning practice could not start until 10 or 11pm.
So the window of opportunity for running a race under the floodlights at Qatar is restricted to April/May or mid-September to mid-November. Having Qatar start the season means that the race can only be run in April, meaning that the MotoGP season kicks off much later than World Superbikes and Formula 1, its main rivals for TV viewers. While MotoGP fans have to wait until Easter for MotoGP to start, the World Superbike season gets underway 7 weeks earlier, at the end of February, and will be getting ready for its third round.
Spreading the event over four days instead of three may solve the problem of running a night race in April, but it creates a particular problem for the Moto2 and Moto3 riders. Warm up for those two classes takes place on Saturday night, at the end of the evening, as there is no time to fit their warm up in before the race on Sunday. This means the youngest and most inexperienced riders go out to race on Sunday having only seen the track during the sighting lap, and then getting one full warm up lap before the lights go out for the start of the race. This is far from ideal for the Moto2 and Moto3 riders, but is forced upon them by the schedule.
A better solution would be either to start the season in early March and run the race during the day, when the weather is much more amenable to racing, or else for Qatar to drop its preferential status as season starter, and hold the night race in mid-September or mid-May, when the temperature at night does not reach the dew point and make the track greasy. But with Qatar paying a premium on top of its sanctioning fee - sufficiently large to pay for all of the transport costs for the series for the entire season - the situation will continue for as long as Qatar is willing to pay up.