We are a week away from being able to book (provisionally, with free cancellation) to see a race in 2019. The provisional MotoGP calendar for 2019 is due to be published at the Misano round in just under 10 days' time.
As the official MotoGP.com website revealed over the weekend, there will only be 19 rounds in 2019. The numerical symmetry of that may be pleasing, but there were plans to have 20 races next season. The debut of the Kymiring in Finland has been delayed by a year to 2020, as the circuit will not be ready in time for a 2019 date. And the planned round in Mexico at the Hermanos Rodriguez circuit in Mexico City has been dropped, unless the circuit is prepared to make changes.
The Mexico round had been proposed to the riders at the Brno round, but the idea was not received well. The F1 circuit has a lot of armco and very little runoff, and the riders in the Safety Commission felt it could not be used without significant changes.
I understand that FIM Safety Officer told the Hermanos Rodriguez circuit that significant changes needed to be made to the circuit, including the removal of three buildings. The circuit came back with an alternative plan which left the buildings in place, and Uncini rejected the plans as not safe enough to stage MotoGP. I understand that the circuit is studying alternative solutions with the aim of staging a race in 2020. Dorna and the manufacturers would like to see a race in Mexico as soon as reasonably possible. But the riders have demanded a chance to test at the track before Dorna can give it the go ahead.
At Silverstone, Aleix Espargaro had explained some of the background to the decision. "I'm proud about the decision they took," the factory Aprilia rider said. "I mean I'm happy because they really listened to us. When we were in the Safety Commission two races ago the idea was, 'we go to Mexico'. And we were like, 'what?' And then we explained our thoughts and said, 'it's better to do a test, it's better to see not just in a pdf but by being there, somebody does a test with a MotoGP bike'."
"So they said, 'Okay we need some days to think and we will come back with some news'. They thought about it and I'm happy they took this decision. I would really like to race in Mexico, but it's better if we do a test, see the track. I'm sure they will do a nice and safe track and then we can race in 2020."
Espargaro told reporters that significant changes would be needed to make the Mexico City circuit a viable proposition. "Yeah, they have to change a lot the track. We will see if the design is enough. What makes me really curious is about the stadium zone. It's very nice, but we have to see if there is enough room for MotoGP, which is getting faster and faster every year and we don't want the walls too close. Also the straight, the walls are very close. I didn't like the straight at Indianapolis and I think this straight is very similar, so it's better to go there and test."
With Mexico and Finland off the table, the 2019 calendar will look very similar to this year's schedule, with a few tweaks. The season kicks off in Qatar on 10th March, then heads to Argentina. Originally, this was expected to be on 24th April, but with Mexico dropping out, Argentina could be moved a week later. The US round in Austin takes place on 14th April, before the circus heads back to Europe.
The European rounds will take place in their traditional sequence, starting with Jerez on 5th May. However, according to German-language publication Speedweek, there could be a problem with the Misano round, as F1 has provisionally scheduled the Monza round to be on the 8th September, the same date as Misano. That would be a problem, as MotoGP and F1 do everything possible to avoid having their events in the same country on the same weekend, because of the fan overlap. MotoGP may be forced to swap the Misano and Aragon rounds, bringing Aragon two weeks earlier, and Misano two weeks later.
A couple of questions remain. The future of the German round of MotoGP is yet to be settled, though it is vanishingly unlikely that the race will take place anywhere other than the Sachsenring. According to Speedweek, the current promoter, German automobile association ADAC, is set to be dropped, with Dorna likely to do a deal directly with the Sachsenring circuit, which is in the process of being purchased by a wealthy German investor. That would allow the circuit to make the necessary changes to make it profitable again, such as taking over the privately-owned grandstands run by companies neighboring the circuit, as well as allowing the regional government to subsidize the event.
When the race is to be held is also an open question. The riders have demanded a longer summer break than they had this year, their summer consisting basically of a single extra free weekend. If the Sachsenring round is held a week after Assen, on 7th July, this would give the riders 3 free weekends between Germany and Brno. If it is held on 14th July, then they would once again have only 2 free weekends.
There is also a question of where the British round of MotoGP will be held. The expected scenario is that the race will be held at Silverstone on 25th August, the weekend of the August Bank Holiday. However, after the debacle at Silverstone with the new surface, Dorna will be demanding major changes, and most likely a completely new surface before allowing the race to be held there again. MSVR, owners of Donington Park, are known to be angling to hold MotoGP there, but they are arguably a year short of being in a position to do so, facilities needing just a couple more upgrades to get them ready for Grand Prix racing. If Silverstone are unable - financially or politically - to either resurface the track or address its inability to clear the surface of standing water, then Dorna's hand may be forced.
More clarity is expected next weekend, when the provisional calendar is due to be announced. But that calendar will come with an asterisk or two, with changes a real possibility.