There is a current fashion in moviemaking, of taking proven formulas from the past, giving them a light makeover and then relaunching them, then trying to spice them up by referring to them as a "reboot" or "reloaded". Dorna executives must have been to see Ghostbusters, Mad Max, and many more, as the 2017 MotoGP calendar is best described as 2016 Reloaded.
The 2017 MotoGP calendar is almost identical to the 2016 calendar, with a couple of minor tweaks. Those tweaks are a clear improvement on 2016: there are fewer large gaps, and there are fewer back-to-back races. There have been some changes to help with logistics, and some to help with race organizations.
The season kicks off in Qatar as always, the Losail circuit paying a premium to host the first race of the year. That race will once again be a night race, and spread over four days as always. The race is on the same date as the F1 season opener in Melbourne, but as the two races take place in very different time zones at very different times, they are expected to complement one another, rather than clash.
Two weeks later, the circus heads to Argentina, to the Termas de Rio Hondo circuit. That race heralds the first change to the calendar, as there is now two weeks between Argentina and Austin, rather than the two American races being back-to-back as it was in the past. The logistics of getting bikes, equipment, riders and personnel from Argentina to Austin in the space of a couple of days has proven to be a massive challenge, especially as Termas de Rio Hondo is so remote.
After Austin, the circus returns to Europe, kicking off a familiar sequence of races: Jerez, Le Mans, Mugello, Barcelona, Assen, and the Sachsenring. The calendar has been shifted this year so that Mugello and Barcelona are back-to-back. That is a 1,000 km drive for the trucks, a manageable distance after packing up in Mugello on Sunday night.
The summer break follows the Sachsenring, though it can barely be classed as such. There are two weekends between Assen and the Sachsenring, and then two more weekends between Sachsenring and Brno. The Czech round of MotoGP is the first of the Central European back-to-backs, Brno and Austria swapping places.
This is likely to have been done to appease the Brno circuit, who feared that the Austrian round would cannibalize some of their spectators. Given the low attendance at Brno, such fears would seem to be grounded: in recent years, Sunday attendance at Brno has been in the region of 140,000. In 2016, that fell to just 82,000, though that was the first fully wet Sunday since the series returned to Brno. Friday and Saturday attendance at Brno did not appear to have been affected.
After Austria, the MotoGP circus heads across the channel to Silverstone, which will host the British Grand Prix for the Circuit of Wales. That race is still subject to contract, though the deal appears to already have been sewn up. How that situation will continue is unclear, however, with the future of the Circuit of Wales project still uncertain. There were already question marks over the funding of the project, but the result of the UK's referendum on leaving the EU has left regional budgets in disarray, with long-term planning impossible until the form any Brexit may take is clear.
From Silverstone, MotoGP heads to Misano, with an extra weekend in between offering some relief. Two weeks later follows Aragon, and then a three week break before the flyaways, the triple header of Motegi, Phillip Island and Sepang staying in their current order. The Sepang round is also subject to contract, though given the popularity of the race, it seems unlikely an agreement will not be reached.
Two weeks after Sepang, the MotoGP circus heads to Valencia for the season finale. Yesterday, the Valencia circuit concluded a deal to host the final round of MotoGP until 2021.
The 2017 calendar is still very much provisional. There may still be changes to the calendar once the F1 calendar is published in ten days' time, though it is customary for F1 and MotoGP to confer to avoid clashes. However, should F1 need to reschedule races at a later point in the year, Dorna may be forced to respond and move some MotoGP races.
The hoped for expansion into new regions has once again failed to materialize, despite Dorna's best efforts. Negotiations continue with Thailand, who are keen to host a MotoGP race, but want to drop World Superbikes in favor of MotoGP, something Dorna does not want them to do. A race in Indonesia remains a distant prospect, internal politics and corruption a continuing obstacle to getting Sentul completely renovated, and the new track in Palembang still not confirmed.
There is still hope that new tracks could join the calendar beyond 2017. Talks continue with Finland over hosting a round of MotoGP, while rumors persist of a race in Kazakhstan, though races in dictatorial oil states depend too much on the whims of the powerful to offer a stable basis for the calendar. There is still no sign of an agreement with the new track being built in Chile.
There will be complaints that MotoGP once again has four races in Spain - on the other hand, it has 14 races outside of Spain, more rounds than the 2016 WorldSBK calendar - but money and crowds dictate that all four Spanish races remain. Spain has an abundance of FIM-approved race tracks, a nation full of MotoGP-mad racing fans, and companies, circuits, and regional governments willing to pay the €5 million or so Dorna asks for the privilege of hosting a race. Until other countries and other circuits are willing to match that fee, MotoGP will continue to spend a lot of time in Spain.
The provisional 2017 MotoGP calendar is as follows:
|26 March||Qatar*||Losail International Circuit|
|09 April||República Argentina||Termas de Río Hondo|
|23 April||Americas||Circuit of The Americas|
|07 May||Spain||Circuito de Jerez|
|21 May||France||Le Mans|
|04 June||Italy||Autodromo del Mugello|
|11 June||Catalunya||Barcelona - Catalunya|
|25 June||Netherlands||TT Circuit Assen|
|06 August||Czech Republic||Automotodrom Brno|
|13 August||Austria||Red Bull Ring - Spielberg|
|27 August||Great Britain**||Silverstone Circuit|
|10 September||San Marino e della Riviera di Rimini||Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli|
|24 September||Aragón||MotorLand Aragón|
|15 October||Japan||Twin Ring Motegi|
|22 October||Australia||Phillip Island|
|29 October||Malaysia**||Sepang International Circuit|
|12 November||Comunitat Valenciana||Comunitat Valenciana - Ricardo Tormo|
* Night race
** Subject to contract