Of the nine MotoGP races held so far, the teams and riders were clear about the two with the worst levels of grip. At both Jerez and Barcelona, the riders and teams complained bitterly about the lack of grip at the circuit. At Barcelona, those complaints also encompassed excessive tire wear caused by the old asphalt, which extensive use by cars had rendered extremely abrasive to motorcycle tires.
The MotoGP Safety Commission, the informal body in which riders talk to Dorna and the FIM about safety issues, made it very clear: unless the two Spanish tracks were resurfaced, it would not be possible to return there for 2018. In the case of Barcelona, there was also the question of the new chicane which replaced Turn 12, the corner where Luis Salom tragically lost his life in 2016.
It now looks like both circuits will make a reappearance on the MotoGP calendar in 2018 and beyond. Both Jerez and Barcelona are to be resurfaced ahead of next year, which should mean they will be ready to host MotoGP in the coming season.
Jerez made their decision relatively early. They assured Dorna that the track would be resurfaced, and the work has now been contracted out to two local construction firms. Work on resurfacing is set to be carried out during the summer, before activity at the track starts again in earnest in September. This means that the WorldSBK series will be the first world championship to sample the new surface when they head there for the Spanish round in October.
The situation was much more difficult for the Circuit de Catalunya in Montmelo, outside Barcelona. The circuit had set aside funds for resurfacing and an upgrade to be carried out in the winter of 2018/2019. However, the insistence of the Safety Commission that the track be resurfaced before returning forced the track into a decision.
At a press conference held on Thursday, the president of the circuit, Vicenç Aguilera told the press that they had decided to go ahead with resurfacing the track this year. Losing the MotoGP race was not an option, Aguilera said, leaving them no option but to move their plans forward a year.
The track will now be resurfaced over the winter, and as part of the resurfacing, the trajectory of Turn 12 will be modified. The plan is for the original layout is to be restored, and extra runoff created at the corner. Creating the runoff will mean moving the grandstand which currently sits at the corner, placing it further along and before the final corner onto the start and finish straight.
Before the work is done, however, the plans will be presented to Dorna, who will pass it on to the Safety Commission for assessment, before handing over to the FIM Safety Officer Franco Uncini for homologation. Given the desire of the riders to see the original layout restored, creating more runoff at Turn 12 should solve most of their complaints.
Having both Jerez and Barcelona resurfaced could create several headaches for Dorna and for IRTA. First and foremost, complying with the request of the riders to have the tracks resurfaced leaves Dorna little choice but to continue to hold races at the circuits. That means continuing to have four MotoGP rounds in Spain, something which Dorna and IRTA sources have repeatedly commented privately are really too many. However, with well-attended races and circuits willing to pay Dorna the sanctioning fee, there is little reason not to go.
After both tracks are resurfaced, there will have to be tests at the track, for Michelin to assess the tire stress and degradation at the circuit. Both tracks are used extensively by the teams as test tracks, so that should not be an issue, the question will be one of timing. Tests are likely at Jerez sometime later this year, while there could be a test at Barcelona shortly after MotoGP returns to Europe after the early flyaway races. This is exactly what happened this year, and so it is likely to happen again.
With both Jerez and Barcelona resurfaced, that means that the 2018 MotoGP calendar will be expanded to 19 rounds. Thailand is almost certain to be included next season - though MotoMatters.com understands that a few details remain to be hammered out with the Chang International Circuit - which would mean an extra race next year.
While few details of the calendar are currently available, what is known is that the MotoGP season will start on 18th March in Qatar. The calendar will follow roughly the contours of the 2017 season, though with the season starting a week earlier, the Barcelona and Mugello races will probably not be on consecutive weekends.
The bigger change will come at the end of the season. The Thailand race will be added to the three flyaway races, and the flyaways will be split into two back-to-back weekends, with a week off in between. Sepang will be the last of the flyaways, before MotoGP flies back to Europe for the season finale at Valencia, and will likely be paired with Phillip Island. Thailand and Motegi will probably be paired before them, with a free weekend between the two pairs of races.
The accession of Thailand to the MotoGP ranks also means a slight change to the testing schedule. Bringing the season up to 19 races means that one preseason test will be dropped. That may not happen in 2018, though, as the teams will have to head to the Chang circuit for testing in February. Most likely, the Phillip Island MotoGP test will be dropped to make room for the test at Chang. For 2019, then the number of preseason tests will be reduced to just two. If the season expands to 20 races, then the number of preseason tests could even be cut down to just one, at Sepang.