With the news that the Brno round of MotoGP has been handed to a consortium consisting of local and regional governments, and that they are working to secure the long-term future of Brno, a major piece of the puzzle surrounding MotoGP's schedule for 2016 slotted into place. Brno, along with Indianapolis, had been the two biggest question marks still hanging over the calendar.
Most of the schedule fell into place once Formula One announced its calendar several weeks ago. The combination of an unusually late start (F1 kicks off in Melbourne on 4th April, two weeks later than last year) and an expansion of the schedule to 21 races has left few gaps for MotoGP to fit into. The upside to F1's late start is that MotoGP can get a head start on its four-wheeled counterpart, and kick the season off before F1 begins.
Preseason testing is slightly altered for 2016. Instead of two tests at Sepang, the MotoGP teams will head from Sepang to Phillip Island, and then on to Qatar, for a final test before the start of the season. Testing starts on the first three days of February, spending the 1st to the 3rd at Sepang, for the first start of the year. From there, the circus moves to Australia, for a three-day test at Phillip Island from 17th to the 19th February, before heading back across the equator to Qatar. MotoGP will test at the Losail circuit on the 3rd, 4th and 5th of March.
Two weeks later, the paddock returns to Qatar for the start of the season proper. Racing starts under the floodlights as usual on 20th March, with practice starting on Thursday, as it has done for some time now. Two weeks later, the circus crosses the Atlantic to Austin, the likely sole US round to be held on 3rd April. From there, MotoGP heads south to Argentina, the Termas de Rio Hondo round due to be held on 10th April.
Those three dates are set, but beyond that, the calendar is yet to be finalized. Sources at Brno suggested that the 2016 calendar would mirror the 2015 schedule, with most of the races moved a week earlier to fit in with F1. Le Mans, Mugello and Barcelona would follow two weeks apart, with a three-week break between Barcelona and Assen, which will take place on 26th June, having been moved from Saturday to Sunday. It is possible that Barcelona could be moved up a week to 12th June, as that would put an extra week between the MotoGP and the F1 races, and be run on the same weekend as the Montreal F1 race, which starts in the evening European time. The date for the Assen round of MotoGP clashes with the British F1 round at Silverstone, but in that case, MotoGP will start earlier, probably at 1pm, with Moto3 taking place after MotoGP has finished. From there, MotoGP will head to Germany for the Sachsenring race, likely to be held on 10th July.
The month of August was the hardest part of the puzzle for Dorna to put together. Brno and Indianapolis were the two stumbling blocks: Brno had not paid monies owed from 2014 and 2015, and Indianapolis was not disposed to pay the sanctioning fee asked by Dorna. Dorna, for their part, were not willing to lower the sanctioning fee, as the amount the circuit has paid so far does not cover the cost of staging the race in the Midwest. When MotoGP was still racing at Laguna Seca, Transatlantic freight costs could be shared between two races. MotoGP backed out from Laguna, after the circuit was unable to pay the already heavily discounted sanctioning fee, and Indy has been left to cover the full cost of flying the entire circus back and forth across the Atlantic. It is not a cost which the circuit seems disposed to bear.
Brno signing up meant that Indy has almost certainly forfeited its place, though officially, nothing has been agreed yet. What is certain is that MotoGP will be heading to the Red Bull Ring at Spielberg in Austria, on either the first or the second week of August. Dorna are believed to want to run Austria back-to-back with Brno, but the Brno circuit would like a week's grace between the two races, fearing reduced attendance at the Czech round. The Red Bull Ring and Masaryk Circuit at Brno are just over 320 kilometers apart, and will be drawing from a very similar pool of fans. German fans from the Munich area will be able to choose between two races roughly equal distances apart. Austria and Brno are likely to take on two of the weekends between 7th and 21st of August.
The British round of MotoGP is likely to take place on the August Bank Holiday once again, the 28th August being the most likely date. That would see it clash with the Belgian F1 Grand Prix at Spa, meaning that the British race would either have to start at 12 noon UK time, to start before F1, or at 3pm local time, once the race has finished. Officially, the race should take place at the Circuit of Wales in Ebbw Vale, but it looks unlikely that the track will be ready in time. Silverstone is the most likely candidate to host the race once again.
From Silverstone, MotoGP will probably head to Misano and Aragon once again, at two week intervals. That would put Misano on a weekend without an F1 weekend on 11th September, and Aragon on the 25th, when F1 is at Sepang in Malaysia, and on much earlier in the morning. After that, it is off to the three flyaways once again in Japan, Australia and Malaysia, before heading back to the final round of the season at Valencia.
All of these dates are far from fixed, with the exception of the first three races of the season and Assen, and are definitely subject to change. An official provisional calendar is expected soon, possibly as early as Misano.
2016 is likely to be the last year of the current shape of the calendar. From 2017, Thailand is expected to join the schedule, MotoGP heading to Buriram in the wake of World Superbikes. A round at Sentul in Indonesia is expected to be put on the calendar in the near future, though whether it will be ready in time for 2017 or not remains to be seen.
Though Carmelo Ezpeleta has said that the calendar could be expanded to 20 races, that will meet with opposition from the riders. The 18-race calendar is punishing enough, adding two more would be too much to ask, the riders feel. Injury and physical and mental exhaustion would make a 20-race schedule unsafe.
That would mean dropping races from the calendar, and with four rounds in Spain, those are the races most under threat. The tourism ministry in Andalucia is keen to keep the race in Jerez, as it brings in a lot of money to an economically depressed region, and Jerez has tried to profile itself as the city of motorsports. Aragon has a long-term contract, and strong support from regional government for much the same reason as Jerez, for the employment the circuit brings. Valencia and Barcelona are the two events most under threat, mostly as a result of local politics. The regional government in Valencia is still embroiled in the aftermath of a financial scandal surrounding the running of the F1 race at the street circuit in the city, and there is constant pressure to both clean up its act and reduce spending. The new mayor of Barcelona, elected on an anti-austerity platform, has stated publicly that she believes that the highly successful MotoGP race at the Montmelo circuit near Barcelona is capable of paying its own way, and that she would rather spend the money paid to Dorna on helping to house the homeless in Barcelona, rather than subsidize a profit-making enterprise. One or both of those rounds could be dropped, the other alternative being to alternate the race between the two venues.
2017, though, is still a very long way away. First, there is the small matter of the rest of the 2015 season.