2010 – 2019: MotoGP's Long Decade Of Change, And What It Means For The Future

2020 sees the start of a new decade (convention has it that decades are zero-based, going from 0-9, so please, numerical pedants, just play along here), and if there is one thing we have learned from the period between 2010 and 2019, it is that a lot can change. Not just politically and socially, but in racing too. So now seems a good time to take a look back at the start of the previous decade, and ponder what lessons might be learned for the decade to come.

It is hard to remember just how tough a place MotoGP was in 2010. The world was still reeling from the impact of the Global Financial Crisis caused when the banking system collapsed at the end of 2008. That led to a shrinking grid, with Kawasaki pulling out at the end of 2008 (though the Japanese factory was forced to continue for one more season under the Hayate banner, with one rider, Marco Melandri), and emergency measures aimed at cutting costs.

The bikes entered in the 2010 MotoGP season

That meant that in 2010, MotoGP had only 17 permanent riders on the grid, from four different manufacturers. Hondas filled the grid, supplying six of the riders with RC212Vs, while Ducati were providing five riders, including one to the newly joined Aspar team. Yamaha supplied four bikes then, as now, though the Tech3 Yamaha team received satellite bikes, rather than the factory spec M1s the Petronas team has now. And Suzuki still had two bikes on the grid, though 2010 was the last year that happened. A year later, they were down to a single bike, and in 2012, they were gone.

All change

Compare that with the 2020 season. This year, there will be 22 bikes on the grid, six manufacturers supplying bikes to teams. Now it is Ducati carrying the biggest load, supplying three teams with six bikes in total, while Yamaha, Honda, and KTM will have four bikes each on the grid, and Suzuki and Aprilia two bikes each. In 2010, Suzuki was close to pulling out of MotoGP. Coming off two wins in 2019, Suzuki is actively considering expanding its presence.

Of the 17 riders on the grid in 2010, only three are left in 2020: Andrea Dovizioso was entering his third MotoGP season in 2010, and Aleix Espargaro was entering his first full season after replacing Niccolo Canepa and Mika Kallio on the Pramac Ducati in 2009. In retrospect, perhaps the most surprising name still on the grid from 2010 is Valentino Rossi. We have talked about Rossi retiring from MotoGP for many years now: at the end of 2005, when he was looking at a switch to F1. In the first couple of seasons after his return to Yamaha from his misadventure with Ducati. Now, in 2020, Rossi really looks like entering his final year, or at most, couple of years, in the premier class.

The 2010 MotoGP riders

Who was on the grid in 2010? Andrea Dovizioso partnered Dani Pedrosa at Repsol Honda, while Jorge Lorenzo was proving to be a real thorn in Fiat Yamaha teammate Valentino Rossi's side. Nicky Hayden was starting his second season with the factory Ducati team, while Casey Stoner was returning from figuring out his lactose intolerance, and coming back for what would turn out to be his last year with the squad. Alvaro Bautista joined veteran Loris Capirossi in the Rizla Suzuki team.

The Ben Spies Rule

Bautista's arrival at Suzuki was controversial, in part because a new rule had been instituted to prevent rookies from joining factory teams. The rule was dubbed 'The Ben Spies Rule', as it was widely reported that the point of it was to prevent the American from going straight to the factory Yamaha squad fresh from his triumphant rookie year in World Superbikes, in which he won the title at his first attempt. With Suzuki not having a satellite team, they were able to sign rookie Bautista directly. Yamaha had Tech3, and so a satellite squad for the American to spend his rookie season.

Ben Spies and crew chief Tom Houseworth

Ben Spies joined veteran Colin Edwards in the Tech3 Yamaha squad, while Marco Melandri had another sensational rookie, Marco Simoncelli, join him in the Gresini Honda team. The last ever 250cc World Champion Hiroshi Aoyama moved up to MotoGP with the Interwetten Honda team. Randy de Puniet was the sole rider in the LCR Honda squad. Aleix Espargaro joined Mika Kallio in Pramac Ducati, while Hector Barbera joined the Aspar Ducati team.

What marked the class of 2010 as special was the influx of rookies. Two reigning champions – Spies in World Superbikes and Aoyama in 250s – and the three riders who finished second through fourth in 250s in 2009. What's more, both Simoncelli and Bautista were world champions in their own right, Simoncelli in 250s in 2008, Bautista in 125s in 2006.

Marco Simoncelli

The demise of the Rookie Rule

2020's rookie class is not as large, but is almost as illustrious. Iker Lecuona is the least decorated of the trio, joining the Tech3 KTM squad. Reigning Moto2 champion Alex Márquez joins brother Marc in the Repsol Honda team, while Moto2 runner up and former Moto3 champion Brad Binder joins the factory KTM team. The restrictions on rookies joining MotoGP were dropped in 2012, to allow Marc Márquez to enter the Repsol Honda team.

The reasoning behind the rookie rule was ostensibly to help satellite teams attract riders of the quality of Ben Spies, riders who would previously have entered factory teams straight away. The thinking was that by having big-name riders enter satellite teams, that would help those teams to raise sponsorship. There was certainly an element of truth in that, but it was obviously not a rule which would hold when a generational talent entered the class. When Marc Márquez moved up to MotoGP, it was obvious he would be heading to a factory team, and so the pretense was dropped.

You could argue that the world had changed when the rule was dropped for the 2013 season. The global economy was starting to recover from the 2008 crash, and sponsorship was starting to appear once again. More importantly, the rule changes which started in 2010 were starting to pay off. By 2013, the grid had grown to 24 riders, as the so-called CRT bikes swelled the numbers on the grid. The switch to 1000cc bore-limited four cylinders, and a vicious mixture of bargaining and blackmail had helped change the face of MotoGP. By 2013, the series was on the upward trend which would bring it to where it is today.

MotoGP reimagined

The decade dawned with major shakeups already in the air. The 2008 financial crash had compounded a weakness which MotoGP had already shown. The capacity reduction from 990cc to 800cc, combined with a reduction in the fuel allowance, had placed a premium on horsepower, electronics, and corner speed. The spec Bridgestone tires just made that worse: the front had almost endless grip, but the rear was too hard, and had little feel. With just two compounds to choose from – and the hard rear often way too hard to be used in the race – everyone ended up with virtually identical tire choices.

The combination of tires and electronics led to processional racing. Qualifying was not only crucial, it was pretty much predictive of the race. Once past the melee of the opening laps, the finishing order was set. To win, you needed to get a good start, and ride as precisely as possible. The bikes lacked the torque to compensate for a missed pass, so overtaking became a rarity.

In 2009, Dorna realized something had to change. The problem was that the agreement between the factories and Dorna meant that the factories had control of the technical regulations. And the factories, led by Honda, showed no inclination to want to change. They liked the restrictions on fuel and open electronics, as it allowed them to work on fuel management strategies which taught engineers about running as efficiently as possible, while getting the best possible throttle response at partial throttle openings.

The rear exhaust of the Ducati Desmosedici GP10

But the factories could also see that they were losing marketing value from a series which lacked excitement. A group inside Dorna devised the outlines of a plan, and Carmelo Ezpeleta, head of the company which runs MotoGP, put it into effect. At the start of the next five-year contract period, which was to start in 2012, something would have to change.

The end of the perfect motorcycle

Dorna had already learned from the end of the 250cc class. In many ways, the 250cc two-stroke twin was a perfect racing motorcycle: 100+ hp in a 100kg package made for a bike which was fast and yet manageable, while still rewarding rider skill. But with only Aprilia taking the championship seriously, they had a near monopoly on the 250cc championship. If you wanted to win 250cc title, you needed an Aprilia RSA, which produced 110hp, rather than the cheaper RSW which kicked out around 103hp. And to get your hands on an Aprilia RSA, you needed to pay Aprilia €1 million.

To prevent that, MotoGP introduced the Moto2 class from 2010, featuring a spec 600cc Honda engine in a prototype chassis. From the start, the series was a roaring success, the first grid containing 40 riders and producing close, thrilling racing. It was affordable too: it proved impossible to buy success purely by having a faster machine. The rich teams still won, but that was mainly because they could afford the best riders, the best crew chiefs, and to go testing whenever they wanted. But all ten of the closest top 15 finishes in the intermediate class were during the Moto2 era: podiums were no longer a given.

Claudio Corti leads a close group in the 2010 Silverstone Moto2 race

But the basic idea behind Moto2 was that it would be a solid training ground for young riders, to prepare them for MotoGP. That appears to have been a success. All 10 Moto2 champions have moved up to MotoGP (though the first one, Toni Elias, had previously already been in the premier class), and Stefan Bradl, Marc Márquez, Pol Espargaro, and Johann Zarco have all scored podiums, and Franco Morbidelli and Pecco Bagnaia have both shown signs of real promise, Morbidelli making multiple front row starts. There have been plenty of other talented riders to come through Moto2 as well: Maverick Viñales, Alex Rins, Fabio Quartararo, Andrea Iannone, Miguel Oliveira, and many more.

Making MotoGP sustainable

Dorna took the process that went into creating the Moto2 class and applied some of the same ideas to MotoGP. What Dorna really wanted was a series that was economically sustainable, with technology reined in to cut costs. The ultimate aim was a rev limit and spec electronics (both hardware and software), to bring the racing closer and more affordable. That would prove unattainable, but they ended up getting very close.

In the second half of 2009, they presented a basic concept for the future of MotoGP, starting in 2012: 1000cc four strokes, with a maximum of four cylinders. In December of that year, the Grand Prix Commission announced that cylinder bores would be limited to 81mm. It was not a rev limit, but it was the most the united forces of Dorna, teams association IRTA, and the FIM could drag out of the manufacturers. It gave the engineers a challenge to pursue, to see how many revs they could coax out of a cylinder with a set maximum bore size. But it also restricted the marginal gains available as they pushed the limits of physics. Where the 800s were revving to nearly 21,000 RPM, the ceiling for the current crop of 1000cc bikes is around 18,500 RPM.

A bore limit had two other important effects. The first was that a fixed bore meant a longer stroke, and therefore an engine with more torque and a more rideable character. That also reduced the need for electronics to control the engine character.

Growing the grid

In 2010, the second important effect of a bore limit became apparent: it meant that engines based on production bikes were a slightly more viable prospect in MotoGP. In February, the Grand Prix Commission agreed to create a new subclass within MotoGP: the CRT machines. The CRT, or Claiming Rule Teams, would be allowed to claim engines from other CRT teams for a fixed price of €20,000. The idea was to fill the grid with affordable bikes, production-based engines in a prototype chassis.

Aspar's Aprilia RSV4--based CRT bike at the Jerez test in 2012

It worked. By the time the 2012 season came along, the MotoGP grid had grown to 21 bikes. The following year, in 2013, there were 24 MotoGP bikes on the grid, and more teams lining up to join.

Aleix Espargaro on the Aspar ART bike, a CRT machine, at Jerez in 2012

The CRT bikes were never competitive with the factory prototypes, but they proved a point. They showed the factories that MotoGP would continue, even if the manufacturers did decide to pull out in protest at rule changes. That concentrated the minds of the manufacturers, and brought them back to the negotiating table. Dorna wanted MotoGP to be affordable, and to have full grids. If the factories weren't willing to supply teams with bikes at a reasonable price, then Dorna would find a way to do it themselves.

The art of persuasion

Dorna's objective was still to introduce spec electronics, and the CRT adventure had greatly strengthened their hand. For the 2014 season, the MSMA, the association of manufacturers, agreed to part of Dorna's demands. They agreed to the use of a spec ECU, though the factories would still be allowed to write their own software for the Magneti Marelli hardware. They also agreed to supply cheap machinery.

The CRT class was dropped, and replaced by the Open Class, bikes which had more fuel, but had to use spec ECU software and hardware. Importantly, the factories also agreed to an engine homologation procedure, which meant that engine designs would be frozen at the start of the year, and no updates allowed. This was yet another measure aimed at cutting costs.

The Open Class rules, in combination with the factory engine freeze, proved to be the catalyst that would see Dorna finally achieve its goal of spec electronics. Gigi Dall'Igna, who joined Ducati at the end of 2013, had arrived after overseeing Aprilia's World Superbike program, and crucially, also turned Aprilia's CRT into a bike that was capable of regular top tens, and beating some of the factory prototype machines. Dall'Igna had been hired to help Ducati win races and MotoGP titles, after three years in the wilderness since Casey Stoner had left the Italian factory, exposing just how bad the bike really was.

Gigi Dall'Igna speaking at the Valencia test in 2013, after joining Ducati

Dall'Igna knew that the Ducati would need constant development if it needed to progress. The chance to change the engine through the season, offered far more opportunities than Ducati would lose by running the spec ECU hardware and software. Ducati had plenty of experience with Magneti Marelli ECUs, and believed they could make the system work. Dall'Igna announced that the factory Ducati team would be entering in the Open Class, instead of the factory prototypes.

Revolution is nigh

That announcement precipitated a host of changes. A system of concessions was introduced, to allow factories which had not had wins or podiums in recent years to ignore the engine freeze and continue to develop during the season. That system of concessions would be tweaked further in the intervening years, allowing factories more testing, after testing was also limited.

At that point, the writing was on the wall for the factories' proprietary software. Ducati had broken the solidarity within the MSMA, something which the organization has never really recovered. The MSMA held a monopoly over the technical rules for as long as they were unanimous. Once Ducati signaled they were not opposed to spec software, Dorna was able to force Honda and Yamaha to accept it. Fully spec electronics, where both the ECU hardware and software were supplied by Magneti Marelli (albeit with input from the factories) was introduced in the 2016 season, the same year that Michelin took over from Bridgestone as spec tire supplier in MotoGP.

There was plenty of carrot to go with the stick, however. The MSMA agreed to supply bikes to the satellite teams at a maximum price of €2.2 million starting in 2017, with Dorna paying the teams €2 million per rider. That was money which would effectively find its way back to the factories, while helping satellite teams to survive.

Brave new world

This process, the move away from a series based around the demands of the factories to a series based around the desire of the teams to go racing, has truly changed the face of MotoGP. Spec electronics made the racing closer, but it also made it much more affordable, and lowered the barrier to entry for new factories by a considerable amount. In 2010, there were two factories with bikes capable of winning, and one factory with Casey Stoner. In 2019, there were four factories with bikes capable of winning (or arguably, three factories capable of winning, and one factory which ought to be capable of winning, but has Marc Márquez to save them), and two factories making rapid progress toward being successful.

Alex Rins on the podium after winning the 2019 Americas Grand Prix at COTA in Austin

Without the spec electronics, and without the concessions that allowed them to test and develop during the season, Suzuki would never have caught Honda and Yamaha and beaten them. Ducati would have struggled to turn the Desmosedici into a bike which has finished second in the championship for the past three seasons. Aprilia would have long ago abandoned any hope of competing with the financial might of Honda and Yamaha. And KTM would have had to spend twice as much money to catch the others half as slowly.

Measuring progress

The fear when the change to a more restricted series, with spec electronics, tight limits on R&D, and a single tire supplier, would halt progress. MotoGP would stagnate, lap times stuck in a rut as technical developments stalled.

The nice thing about motorcycle racing is that it produces measurable results. Has performance stagnated as technical developments were restricted? Although we will never know what performance the 800s might have reached without the technical limits currently in place, we can certainly measure what difference the changes have made. MotoGP is still racing at 15 of the 18 tracks that were included on the 2010 calendar. Comparing race and outright lap records gives us an idea of how much faster the bikes have become over the past decade.

Not all lap records standing in 2010 were set in that year, nor were all of the records standing in 2019 set this season either. But at all 15 circuits, times have improved. At some, of course, resurfacing has helped, and in the case of Aragon and Silverstone, 2010 was the first year that MotoGP raced at the circuit, and the layout at Silverstone has been slightly tweaked in the intervening period. Barcelona's layout was changed, adding the tight hairpin at Turn 10 instead of the long, sweeping left, making comparisons invalid, though the race record is now over 2.3 seconds faster than in 2010.

Taking just the results from the other 12 remaining circuits – Qatar, Jerez, Le Mans, Mugello, Assen, the Sachsenring, Brno, Misano, Motegi, Phillip Island, Sepang, and Valencia – the bikes are lapping just under 1.5 seconds faster, both in qualifying and in the race. That is an improvement of 1.5% (a consequence of the average race and pole records being 1:40.059 and 1:38.733 respectively, or around 100 seconds) in ten years.

No pattern in improvement

It is hard to see a pattern in where the biggest gains have come. The circuit with the smallest improvement is Qatar, where the pole record is just 0.5% faster, and the race record only 0.2% faster. Assen and Mugello have the biggest improvement in pole time, with 2.6% and 2.4% respectively. But the race record at Assen has improved by only 1%, well under the average. The biggest race record improvement was 2.2%, at Misano and Phillip Island.

Andrea Dovizioso and Michele Pirro at Mugello 2019

Race lap records have improved by more than average 1.5% at Jerez, Le Mans, Mugello, Misano, Motegi, Phillip Island, Sepang, and Valencia. Pole records are more than 1.5% faster at Le Mans, Mugello, Assen, Misano, Motegi, Sepang, and Valencia.

Tracks where both pole and race lap records have improved by less than the average are Qatar, Sachsenring, and Brno.

Valentino Rossi, Andrea Dovizioso, and Nicky Hayden at Qatar 2010

How this improvement compares with previous decades is hard to say. The changes to the series over the years make comparisons hard. In the year 2000, the premier class bikes were 500cc two-strokes, by 2009, they were 800cc four-strokes. In 1990, Grand Prix were still being held at terrifyingly dangerous circuits like the Salzburgring in Austria, Rijeka in what is now Croatia, Spa-Francorchamps in Belgium, Anderstorp in Sweden. Go back another 10 years and racing was organized completely differently. The 1980 Grand Prix season consisted of just 8 rounds. It is a reminder of just how much can change in a decade.

Calendar stability

Looking back, it is remarkable how little the calendar has changed in the last decade. The 2019 championship featured 19 races compared with 18 in 2010, 15 of which were held at the same circuits. Three tracks have been dropped over the decade, and four have joined, and the changes are instructive as to the direction the championship is heading in.

MotoGP has lost two US tracks, but gained two American circuits. Laguna Seca was dropped after the 2013 season, the circuit unable to afford the cost of hosting MotoGP, nor the changes necessary to make the track safe for Grand Prix racing. The Indianapolis Motor Speedway was dropped from the calendar for cost reasons as well after 2015, the spectacular facility unable to find a sponsor willing to cover the sanctioning fee. The viability of having three, or even two races in the US proved to be suspect, as the crowds which attended the three rounds tended to be largely the same hard core of US race fans.

Stefan Bradl, Valentino Rossi, and Marc Marquez at Laguna Seca, 2013

In its place came the Circuit of the Americas, a brand-new purpose-built facility just outside of Austin, Texas. COTA may have its faults (being built on land liable to subsidence is definitely a downside), but it has established itself as a regular fixture on the calendar.

A hint of the future

The other American circuit which joined the calendar is in South America, Argentina to be precise. The Termas de Rio Hondo circuit is a spectacular layout, marred by being in a remote location and not getting much use. But South America is a crucial market for the manufacturers and Dorna, and Termas is on the calendar until a better alternative can be found.

Buriram in Thailand is on the current calendar for similar reasons. The addition of both Argentina and Thailand are signs of how the motorcycling market is changing. The European and US motorcycle markets are mature, while South and Central America and Southeast Asia are expanding markets for motorcycles, as economic growth brings the prosperity to afford motorized transport. They are also target markets for Dorna, seen as media markets which should prove very lucrative in the future for the sport.

Marc Marquez in front of packed grandstands at Buriram, Thailand

Estoril was the other track to disappear from the calendar, the Portuguese track unable to sustain the cost of a Grand Prix in the aftermath of the economic crisis. The fact that it was the fifth race to be held on the Iberian peninsula did not help, no matter how popular the sport is in Spain and Portugal.

So instead we go to Austria, rather than Portugal. The race in Spielberg is emblematic of the current state of MotoGP: the Red Bull Ring, owned and named after the biggest name in energy drinks, the industry which has become the financial backbone of the sport, taking the place of the now banned tobacco sponsorship. Red Bull not only own the circuit, they also sponsor KTM's MotoGP effort, KTM CEO Stefan Pierer being friendly with Red Bull owner Dieter Mateschitz. KTM and Red Bull wanted a Grand Prix in their home country, and so they got one.

Red Bull athlete Marc Marquez in front of a sea of orange KTM fans at Spielberg in Austria, 2019

A safer sport

The calendar changes, or lack of them, in the last decade reflect another change in the sport of motorcycle racing. Safety has become an ever more important part of racing, as it has become in wider society. This has meant that standards for race tracks have become ever more stringent, with tracks required to create more runoff, more air fencing, and more hard standing to allow riders to recover from mistakes rather than crash.

Racing is indubitably safer, despite the fact that the decade from 2010 to 2019 saw three Grand Prix riders die. Of those, Luis Salom's tragic accident in 2016 at Barcelona was the only one in which track safety was an issue. A combination of an unusual crash, and a lack of air fence, meant that Salom hit unprotected fencing, rather than air fence, which contributed to his death.

The deaths of Shoya Tomizawa and Marco Simoncelli were reminders that racing is an inherently dangerous sport. Both were struck by other bikes after losing control of their machines and falling onto the track, Tomizawa at Misano in 2010, Simoncelli at Sepang in 2011. Collisions with other riders remain a risk, and can still cause serious and even fatal. We have yet to find a way to prevent such collisions from happening.

Shoya Tomizawa, after winning the inaugural Moto2 race at Qatar in 2010

Protection gets personal

But there have been huge steps made here too. While circuits have worked to make tracks safer by adding runoff and air fence, the gear riders wear has seen some real revolutions over the past decade. Airbags were a novelty back in 2010, Dainese having introduced its first system in 2007, Alpinestars in 2009.

Originally aimed at reducing shoulder injuries, and especially collarbone fractures, they have expanded and improved enormously. The first airbags protected the shoulders, collarbones, and upper back; current systems expand to protect upper arms, lower back, hips, and ribs. This is a major advance in safety for racers which has now also made its way onto the street. Ordinary riders can now also get the same protection as top-level racers.

Airbags are now so ubiquitous that they have been mandatory, with everyone on the Grand Prix grid in all classes forced to use one. Chest protectors have also been added, another form of protection which was once rare. It is here, in personal, wearable protection that the biggest safety steps have been made. And arguably, it is the field most open for improvement.

It is also an area where motorcycle racing is helping to give back to the community. The advances made in racing are now finding their way into other areas of life. Not just sports – skiing, horse riding, and similar high-speed sports are also using airbags – but for example in other forms of transport, and even to help prevent hip injuries in the elderly, cushioning their falls.

A new decade

Are there any clues in the decade just gone that will give us an idea of what is to come in the next one? Given how much has changed between 2010 and 2019, you could say that the only thing we know for sure is that things are unlikely to turn out as we expect. Any predictions you make for 2020 and beyond are likely to be destroyed by events.

Take the 2010 MotoGP season as an example. Valentino Rossi started 2010 as the clear favorite to defend his title, and win his eight MotoGP crown and tenth Grand Prix championship overall. He had won the 2009 crown convincingly, clinching the title at Sepang with a race in hand. He went on to dominate preseason testing, and showed every sign of keeping his young Yamaha teammate Jorge Lorenzo at bay again.

Then, in the enforced long break caused by the rescheduling of the Motegi round of MotoGP due to the eruption of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland, which disrupted flights in Europe, Rossi crashed while riding an MX bike, and damaged his shoulder. That injury, combined with a more competitive Lorenzo, caused him to crash at Mugello and break his leg, effectively ending his chances in the championship.

When he came back from injury, he started negotiating a move to Ducati, to take the place of Casey Stoner, who was moving to the Repsol Honda team. Rossi had a dismal time at Ducati, scoring a mere three podiums in two seasons, and only really seriously challenged for a title again in 2015, though he finished runner up to Marc Márquez in both 2014 and 2016. He never dominated MotoGP again in the way he had done in his first decade in the premier class.

Rhyming, not repeating

History does not repeat itself, but it often rhymes. Marc Márquez enters the 2020 season after wrapping up his sixth MotoGP title, and his eighth overall. He has been quick in the first couple of tests at Valencia and Jerez, and is odds-on favorite to win the championship again this season. If anything, he is even more of a firm favorite than Valentino Rossi was in 2010: In 2009, Rossi won six races, in 2019, Márquez took twice that, a total of twelve victories.

Like Rossi in 2010, Márquez has a bum shoulder to deal with. But unlike Rossi, he has the luxury of having had surgery to fix it back in November, with plenty of time to recover. And given the way he dominated in 2019, the season after similar surgery on the other, left shoulder, which was in much worse condition, it is hard to see it slowing him down much.

But the lesson of 2010 is that nothing is set in stone. There is plenty that can happen once Márquez returns to training, or turns up for the first test in Sepang in a month's time. The 2020 Honda may have taken a wrong turn in development. Ducati could finally have a cure for its turning problems, putting Andrea Dovizioso in a position to win the title. Yamaha may dig up another 10 horsepower for the M1, making Maverick Viñales, Fabio Quartararo, or even Valentino Rossi the riders to beat.

Maybe the Suzuki becomes the bike to beat, with Joan Mir pushing Alex Rins to new heights and fighting for the championship. Maybe everything clicks for Jack Miller, as all of the pieces of the puzzle finally fall into place for him. Maybe Alex Márquez becomes a distraction for his brother Marc, or Cal Crutchlow throws everything at the title in a final last gasp.

The future is not set in stone. "That's why we line up on Sunday," as the great Nicky Hayden used to say. "You never know what's gonna happen."

The long term

If 2020 is hard to predict, the long-term future of the sport is even more shrouded in mystery. The last two decades have seen almost continuous churn in the technical regulations, so why would the period from 2020 to 2029 be any different? The current contract with the MSMA runs out at the end of 2021, with a new set of regulations possible for the next five-year period from 2022 to 2026.

Yet there is reason to believe that MotoGP is entering a period of stability. Dorna's Director of Technology, Corrado Cecchinello, told Peter McLaren last year that no shakeup of the rules planned for the coming period. "There's an agreement to aim for technical rule stability over the term of the current contract, which expires in 2021," Cecchinello said. "But it is also our intention not to change anything significant at the beginning of the next term, starting from 2022."

And why would they change? The racing is close, the bikes are exciting, and even though Marc Márquez is dominating the championship, he is not winning by runaway margins. In 2010, the average gap between first and second was 3.975 seconds. In 2019, it had been cut to 2.686 seconds. What's more, in 2010, only three races finished with a gap of less than a second between the winner and the runner up. In 2019, that number was eight races, and in three of them, the margin of victory was less than five hundredths of a second. Only two races ended with a gap of over five seconds behind the winner in 2019, compared to six races in 2010.

The situation in Moto2 and Moto3 is broadly similar. Moto2 has just switched to Triumph engines, and Triumph has given no indication of wanting out any time soon. The Moto3 class, which replaced the 125s in 2012, is a similar success, the formula largely unchanged over its first eight seasons. Grids are full, and the Selection Committee, who choose which teams get to join the Grand Prix circus, are never short of applications to join. Weaker teams are being weeded out, stronger teams encouraged to expand their operations. And financial support for the teams in all three classes is set to expand as Dorna earns more money from the expansion of the calendar to 22 races, from both sanctioning fees and from TV rights.

Look East

There are a couple of trends we can already identify. MotoGP is drifting steadily eastwards, as manufacturers focus on growing markets in Asia. And it's not just the scooter market which is growing: sales for Ducati, KTM, and Triumph are increasing rapidly in places like Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia as incomes rise.

The ranks of Asian riders are swelling too. MotoGP has already had a Malaysian rider, with Hafizh Syahrin. The Asia Talent Cup is starting to deliver a steady stream of talented Asian riders into Moto3, who will gradually make their way through the ranks and into the premier class.

Hafizh Syahrin at his home Grand Prix in Sepang, Malaysia, 2019

All this means more races in Asia, and fewer in the heartlands of Europe. This will not happen overnight – tracks take time to build, and much of Southeast Asia has problems such as corruption and political unrest to overcome. But ten years is a long time, and a lot can happen in the intervening period.

Electricity

The big question mark in MotoGP's future surrounds electric motorcycles. 2020 looks like being a transformational year for electric vehicles, as a number of car makers have announced they will be offering most of their range in electric-powered versions. History suggests that should stimulate battery technology even further, and lodge the idea of electric-powered vehicles firmly in the public consciousness.

The current state of battery technology means that electric bikes won't replace the current crop of four-stroke internal combustion engines any time soon. And given the pace at which technology advances, even 2027 would be an excessively ambitious target. The guiding principle behind MotoGP is that it is a prototype series where the manufacturers can play with technologies which they want to use in their production bikes. It is a place where the factories can race what they build.

At the moment, and for the foreseeable future, the manufacturers are building and selling normally-aspirated four-stroke machines. But they are experimenting: supercharging is starting to turn up on bikes again, as a way of increasing efficiency and getting more power from smaller engines. The MotoGP factories are starting to toy with electric bikes, though at the moment, only KTM is doing any serious work on them, with its Freeride E-XC off-road machine.

And Dorna is preparing the way with the MotoE series. At the moment, the series is a Cup, rather than a Championship, with the riders all competing on identical Energica Ego Corsa machines. The series is aimed at getting the fans used to the idea of electric bike racing, and the MotoE series has proved more popular than some of its critics predicted. As a proof of concept, MotoE has worked, though with the usual teething problems. But it is not ready to storm the premier class just yet.

The Energica Ergo Corsa MotoE bike at the Jerez test in 2018

It is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future

So what of the future? In the short term, the future of MotoGP looks bright, better than it was at the start of the last decade. The series looks to be in good health for the longer term too, but a decade is a long time.

In 2010, the smartphone was a rarity, the iPhone still a long way from destroying Blackberry's dominance of the mobile phone market. Twitter was only just starting to take off, Instagram was about to be launched, and Snapchat and Tiktok were not even a twinkle in their creator's eyes. Retail shopping in physical stores was still a thing, and internet connectivity was still something which usually came through a phone line, rather than a fiber-optic cable.

The world has changed so much in a decade, and so has MotoGP. Predicting what happens in the coming ten years is next to impossible. But the talent is deeper through the field than it has ever been, and the racing is thrilling. Whatever the future holds, it's going to be fun getting there.


Gathering the background information for detailed articles such as these is an expensive and time-consuming operation. If you enjoyed this article, please consider supporting MotoMatters.com. You can help by either taking out a subscription, by making a donation, or by contributing via our GoFundMe page. You can find out more about subscribing to MotoMatters.com here.

year: 
2020

Back to top

Comments

Dear readers,

this long read is something I want to do more of in 2020. Longer, more interesting articles, but fewer of them. There may not always be daily updates, but there should be larger, more in-depth pieces like this.

This article took me several days to research and write. I hope readers like it, and like the direction of the site. We will be aiming for quality, not quantity. 

Thanks for reading, and all your support.

David Emmett

David,

I really like your longer, in-depth articles. Think you have hit it right- quality better than quantity.

Keep up the great work. MM is THE source for what is happening in MotoGP.

John Strasser

Totally agree with the longer format idea.  It's easy to find online rider quotes and commentary on race results.  Actually dissecting the result and understanding 'the why' is what makes MotoMatters a great read.

Looking forward to 2020 content!

Great article. My prediction for this year: watch JM36. I believe he'll make a yuge leap, past Rins and on FQ20's and MM93's rear wheels. I'm cautiously ok with more in-depth articles but I don't know about fewer...I hope others (the wonderful Zara et. al.) are able to supply the quantity. I look forward to reading something new here as often as possible so I'm looking for a balance of numerous quicker postings and the longer articles, too. In David I trust to continue to make this THE go-to site for all things Motogp.

I've been following MotoGP since 2004, so your write up really helped bring back some of the lost history (CRT!) and place it in context of the healthy series we all now enjoy.  What a master stroke by Gigi to switch to the Open Class so he could get concessions and keep developing the Ducati.  I remember how stunned we all were at that audacious move at the time.  

You mention how Rossi was coming off a title in 2009 only to suffer the MX shoulder injury followed by the leg break and finally two long (winless) years at Ducati.  I also recall thinking how mentally strong he must be to be involved in the crash that ended his good friend Simoncelli's life and not hang up his leathers.  He could have been forgiven for retiring at the end of 2011, but instead redoubled his efforts and reinvented himself back at Yamaha.

The article that brought me to this site was "The Problem With the Desmosedici" or something to that effect. The race recaps are great but the long form pieces are the best.

Big fan of longer and more detailed. I come here for the analysis and insight, not bare results - plenty of places to get the results, but nowhere else gives the insightful background. Please, more like this.

I apologize in advance but I found this article to be a little long and a little tedious. I prefer more articles of the latest news, results, developments, and, yes, gossip. I prefer your previous style and that of your contributors. Sorry.

As I was reading this I couldn’t help but think that in time this piece will one day become the go to reference for future generations on how the sport developed into what it is now.

Yes there’s a lot there but it really concisely hits the key points in what was an extraordinary period of change. If nothing else, look at it this way, gossip can be found anywhere. Pieces like this only show up in one place.

Thanks for the Nicky quote. 

I tune in, especially nowadays, specifically because, you never know what the outcome will be...on any Sunday. 

I'll agree with the majority here that I am here for the insight.  I can get results anywhere.  I normally watch all the races in all classes, so I don't need a recap of what's happened - I saw it with my own eyes.  I glance at the testing times, but as we all know - testing isn't racing.  What I come here for is to find out *why* things happened, and what's happening outside the purvue of the TV viewer.

I became a regular visitor of this site way back when you were explaining why the Preziosi Ducati wouldn't turn (for anyone but Stoner), and it's this continuing insight that I value.

To put it more succinctly: More Neil Spalding and Simon Crafar, Less Matt Birt.

Thank you!

I really enjoyed how you captured some of the bigger rule reverts. To add to that chronology of significant rule changes over past decade, one that needs to be mentioned, was the elimination of the 4 bike rule in 2016.

Removing that restriction was another key piece of the puzzle towards putting us where we are and can have factory level kit in more independent teams.

It would also have got in the way of putting another factory supported bike on the grid for Marquez in similar way as done with Rossi. Glad to see this one go along with the others you mentioned.

Thanks for taking the time to put this great piece together. 

2015

"In the MotoGP class, Motorcycle Manufacturers are permitted to participate with a maximum of two entries in their own team. Those Manufacturers may also lease motorcycles and equipment to Independent teams. However, each Manufacturer is limited to a maximum of 4 entries in total (whether in the manufacturer’s own team or an independent team) under the Factory Option."

2016

"In the MotoGP class, Motorcycle Manufacturers are permitted to participate with a maximum of two entries in their own team. Those Manufacturers may also lease motorcycles and equipment to Independent teams."

Very good read. Thank you. 

The last several seasons, I've ended each season looking forward to the next. 2019 is no different. 2020 looks to be another amazing season. MotoGP have maybe figured out the magic formula for getting close racing and encouraging more factories to take the plunge. All very cool. I'm skeptical of electric motorcycle for my personal use. For the general public who are just starting out riding or particularly commuters here where I live, it would be amazing. I see electric vehicles as the future. Racing them pushes the performance as well as develops interest. For MotoE, I would love to have a lap of onboard open mic, so we can hear the wind and the weird otherworldly sound the bikes make. We have only had tiny glimpses of this from the broadcasts and streams MotoGP.com provide. Just because they don't sound like high reving internal combustion engines doesn't mean they can't sound interesting. 

My hope for 2020 season is that Yamaha find that ten horsepower, Ducati tame their demons, Suzuki rise to the occasion and KTM and Aprilia take big steps. And Marc and his brother click in the team and on track like they seem to do when not on bikes. Yes, I'm an old die hard want to see Rossi win that tenth crown, but I know that is a long step. His enthusiasm is infectious. That is something that Marquez brings to the game as well. Anybody can tell by watching them they love what they are doing and they are going at it as hard as they are able because they love winning even more. 

More riders like Fabio with similar enthusiasm and dedication are bound to keep MotoGP great into the future.