Are Petrucci’s Superpole Race concerns a preview of what’s to come in MotoGP?

After an action-packed, or in the case of Danilo Petrucci and incident-packed WorldSBK Superpole Race in Mandalika, the Italian voiced concerns about the safety of sprint races, something that will be introduced to MotoGP for the first time ever in 2023.
Danilo Petrucci, Barni Ducati WorldSBK Phillip Island 2023
Danilo Petrucci, Barni Ducati WorldSBK Phillip Island 2023

For the second Superpole Race in succession, the WorldSBK rookie was on the receiving end of contact during the 10-lap sprint, however, in Mandalika it resulted in a big lap one collision. 

Petrucci, Alex Lowes and Loris Baz were involved in a big crash at turn two, with only Petrucci remaining aboard his Superbike machine.

This comes after losing part of his winglets during the season-opener in Phillip Island, and more aggressive racing took place.

Sprint races in WorldSBK have been a mainstay for some time, and a type of racing that has helped deliver a fantastic spectacle for fans. 

Given its success, and the success of Sprint races in F1, MotoGP has become the latest world championship to dive into the idea, but for Petrucci, a former MotoGP race winner, racing bikes with this amount of power - MotoGP machines have even more power than a Superbike - bring with it risks that he’s not sure are worthwhile.

Speaking after the latest round in Mandalika, Petrucci said this about the format: "I’m quite scared about the Superpole Race because every time I finish [without] my winglets. 

"In Phillip Island I had no winglets from lap one, today was like this, Race 2 the same. For sure, it’s nice for the people but the only rider that has been penalised has been me against Vierge."

"The only thing is the Superpole Race. It’s just like going bumper cars [racing] and for me. "They [riders] just try to stay in front of you, then you get out of the track and two riders pass you just because you want to stay in front. I think it’s completely a mess. I don’t think it’s the safest option to race in 10 laps with these bikes."

From the moment Sprint races were confirmed for the 2023 MotoGP season, riders were split as to whether it was going to be good or not for the championship.

Two title contenders from last season, Fabio Quartararo and Aleix Espargaro voiced immediate concerns.

Fabio Quartararo, Aleix Espargaro , Japanese MotoGP. 22 September
Fabio Quartararo, Aleix Espargaro , Japanese MotoGP. 22 September

Speaking in August, 2022, Quartararo said: "Well, I think it's stupid… I think the race is on Sunday. I don't know why we do something on Saturday.

"Honestly they didn’t really ask us and at the end I think we all prefer so much to make a good race on Sunday.

"To have a sprint race [as well as all] the races on Sunday, I think is stupid."

Taking the differences between Superbikes and MotoGP machines into account, Espargaro was also against the idea saying: "I don’t like the idea. I would like to talk about this with Dorna. 

"Full respect to Superbike, but this is not Superbike. MotoGP has a lot of electronics, a lot of aerodynamics, a lot of things, a lot of engineers. To arrive at a good setting is very difficult.

"Now with the [top ten] system – FP1, FP2 and FP3 – it is already like qualifying and it is very difficult if it rains – like here – to have [time to find] a good setting [for the race].

"If they now reduce our [practice] time and we have to race on Saturday, I think it is difficult.

"I love racing, I hate the winter tests, but I don't think this is a good solution here."

However, Sprint races, which will take place at every MotoGP round this season, present the opportunity for riders to gain even more points on any given weekend.

If a rider is particularly strong on a specific race weekend, then having the opportunity to score more points is something very few would turn down.

Luca Marini, Sepang MotoGP test, 12 February
Luca Marini, Sepang MotoGP test, 12 February

It can also give riders who struggle with keeping grip in their tyres for a full race the chance of gaining an advantage prior to the main race on a Sunday. 

Former teammates at Ducati, Francesco Bagnaia and Jack Miller had different views to the likes of Quartararo and Espargaro when news of Sprint races would be going ahead.

Bagnaia added: "I think that the Sprint race can make a big difference during the race weekend. We have to be smart in adapting to it because it's something different.

"After [doing] the first Sprint race, I will understand better the way to work for the new schedule."

Keen to see the championship change its format after a sustained period of working the same way, Miller claimed he was ‘super excited’ by the idea.

The now Red Bull KTM rider said: "I’m super excited to have the Sprint races this year to shake things up a bit and put on an extra show for the fans on a Saturday.

"Also for us as riders, MotoGP has been the same for 50-something years and to be here for such a radical change, it’s an amazing time to be in the championship.

"There will be some questions but I’m sure after the first one or two everyone will be loving Spring races. There will be people who prefer the Sprint races more than the [Sunday] races!"

With the entire MotoGP line-up having never raced more than once on a weekend at world championship level, adapting to the likelihood of Sprint races being much more aggressive will be one of the biggest challenges for some.

Recent developments by teams on the aerodynamic side of MotoGP, along with front tyre pressures sometimes leading to riders struggling to overtake, is also likely to make racing in the 10-lap race more aggressive than the traditional Grand Prix as track position will be vital, something Petrucci has learnt the hard way in WorldSBK.  

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