MotoGP ‘all about qualifying now’, ‘like F1… big problem, boring’

Raul Fernandez and Aleix Espargaro fear downforce and dirty air prevents overtaking in MotoGP, leading to ‘boring’ races. Statistics show only one race win by a rider outside the top three after the opening lap.
Jorge Martin, MotoGP race, German MotoGP, 18 June
Jorge Martin, MotoGP race, German MotoGP, 18 June

Raul Fernandez cut a frustrated figure after the German MotoGP.

The RNF Aprilia rider had finished in 15th place from 18th (out of 19 rides) on the grid, despite two retirements ahead of him.

“To be honest, we have a big problem in the championship. 90% of the race is on Saturday morning. Because at the end, you cannot overtake,” Fernandez said.

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“I overtook two or three riders on the first lap, but later, when I tried to overtake, you cannot stop the bike for the slipstream [dirty air]. I had to go wide, if not maybe I touch three or four riders. The problem is that.

“Now we are in a situation where everybody takes a lot of risk just to do one fast lap [in qualifying]. Because the [race] pace doesn't matter, it doesn't matter how you manage the tyre. We have one ‘train’ [line of riders nose to tail] and you stay there.

“If you try to overtake, you take a lot of risk.”

The Spaniard insisted it wasn’t just a unique feature of the tight and twisty Sachsenring.

“In Argentina, it was the same. In Argentina, I felt better pace than Zarco, but I tried three times to overtake him and I went wide, wide, wide. It's quite complicated now to do,” he said.

Raul Fernandez , German MotoGP, 15 June
Raul Fernandez , German MotoGP, 15 June

“The problem is very similar to Formula 1”

“The problem now is very similar to Formula 1,” Fernandez added. “You need clean air for the wings to work and push the bike down into the ground.

“I was in the race, and with the slipstream [dirty air] in Turn 11, I had wheelie even with banking [leaning]! I said ‘no, no, no’ and picked up the bike faster, because otherwise I will crash. It's amazing. And that is the problem.

“In Moto2, why don't they have any problems? Because they don't have any wings. Of course, you have the slipstream, you have to brake early, but at the end, the tyre will have the same support [load] as always if you are following another rider or not.

“In MotoGP, if you don't have clean air, you don't have the same [load] on the tyre.

“Before coming to MotoGP, if I am honest, I was saying, ‘bah, it’s not like this’. But it's amazing.

“I never forget at Aragon in 2021, when Marc Marquez was behind his brother and crashed in the last corner. Later, I said, ‘why did he crash?’ He explained that with the wings, he lost a lot of [load] on the front tyre [in the dirty air].

“I thought, ‘it’s not like this’. But it's even more than he explained!”

Aleix Espargaro, MotoGP race, German MotoGP, 18 June
Aleix Espargaro, MotoGP race, German MotoGP, 18 June

“I don't want to blame MotoGP, but it's boring”

Factory Aprilia rider Aleix Espargaro agreed that qualifying has become disproportionately important, while the reliance on downforce combined with overheating of the front tyre is making races ‘boring’.

“Everybody has a lot of downforce and MotoGP now, I don't want to blame MotoGP, but it's boring. It's everything about the qualifying,” Espargaro said.

“If you do a good qualifying, then you can do a good race because all the tyre pressures, all the fresh air you receive, means the bike is another one [to ride].

“You can be a lot faster. It's a lot easier. If you are back in the grid, even if you have a really strong pace, it's very difficult. This frustrates us. It's just the qualifying now.”

Riders talking about ‘qualifying’ effectively mean having a good grid position and/or a strong start to be near the front early in a race.

So we've put together the following table comparing the top three positions at the end of lap 1 with the final top three, during each of the 16 races so far this year.

As can be seen, only one rider has won a race without already being inside the top three at the end of lap 1: Marco Bezzecchi, at Le Mans (sixth on lap 1).

On five occasions, the rider leading at the end of lap 1 went on to win the race...

MotoGP 2023 (Portimao-Assen): Top 3 on lap 1 and Final top 3
 Lap 1Final Result
Portimao Sprint:   1.BagnaiaBagnaia
Portimao GP:   1.OliveiraBagnaia
Argentina Sprint:   1.MorbidelliBinder
Argentina GP (wet) :   1.BezzecchiBezzecchi
Americas Sprint:   1.BagnaiaBagnaia
Americas GP:   1.BagnaiaRins
Spanish Sprint:   1.BinderBinder
Spanish GP:   1.BinderBagnaia
French Sprint:   1.BagnaiaMartin
French GP:   1.M.MarquezBezzecchi
Italian Sprint:   1.BagnaiaBagnaia
Italian GP:   1.BagnaiaBagnaia
German Sprint:   1.BagnaiaMartin
German GP:   1.BagnaiaMartin
Dutch Sprint:   1.BagnaiaBezzecchi
3.BezzecchiQuartararo *
Dutch GP:   1.BinderBagnaia
3.BezzecchiA.Espargaro *

*Following post-race penalty for Brad Binder.

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