MotoGP riders want fewer Sprints: F1 doesn’t do every GP and they sit in a car!

While accepting that Sprint races are good for the show, many MotoGP riders would prefer Sprints not to be held at every round.
Marco Bezzecchi crash, Sprint Race, Austrian MotoGP, 19 August
Marco Bezzecchi crash, Sprint Race, Austrian MotoGP, 19 August

Although F1 hosted just six Sprints during 2023, MotoGP instantly added a new half-distance race to every Saturday afternoon of its 20-round schedule (the Phillip Island Sprint was cancelled due to extreme weather).

The Sprints proved popular with MotoGP fans and the end-of-year trackside spectator figures showed a boost in Saturday attendance of almost 200,000, compared with a Sunday rise of 160,000.

But it’s one thing to watch, another to participate. One of the stand-out statistics of the year was that, due to injuries, not a single MotoGP weekend passed with the full rider line-up present on the grid.

With free practice reduced to compensate for the Sprints, overall track time was unchanged. The total number of accidents also only increased by 23 compared to the year before, just over one per weekend.

However, race accidents are more hazardous than practice or qualifying falls and many riders saw the link between Sprints and injuries as obvious.

A compromise preferred by the riders would be to mirror F1 and make the addition of Sprint races during a MotoGP weekend an exception rather than the norm.

The problem then would be how to decide which circuits get Sprints, opening another can of worms.

Not only would the promoters of events without a Sprint be unhappy, but riders and teams would no doubt grumble if the chosen tracks were venues that traditionally suited a certain manufacturer more than the others.

This is how a selection of riders summed up MotoGP’s first season of Sprints…

Marc Marquez crash, Tissot sprint race, MotoGP, Malaysia MotoGP, 11 November
Marc Marquez crash, Tissot sprint race, MotoGP, Malaysia MotoGP, 11…

Marc Marquez: ‘Good for the show, very demanding for the riders’

“Sprint races are good for the show. Very demanding for the riders,” said eight-time world champion Marc Marquez. “My personal opinion is that it's not easy to make 22 races plus 22 sprint races [in 2024].

“But it's true that it's good for the show and sometimes the Sprint is even better than the main race. Because for me the main races are too long, there are some laps in the middle where nothing happens and so then the Sprint races are better.”

“But one of the things that worries a bit more the riders is the level of injuries we have this year. So it's something to analyse for the future,” he added.

“We need to understand how many injuries there were in the Sprint races, especially in the first lap when everybody’s attacking a lot because you have only 13 laps and you don’t have [time] to improve.”

Marquez said 'most# riders requested reducing the Sprints to 50% of the Grand Prix events, but expects all of this year’s biggest ever 22-round calendar to again contain Sprints.

“It’s true that for the riders it’s too demanding, 22 GPs with the Sprints,” Marquez said. “Most of the riders asked to have half sprint races and half normal schedule, but it looks like we are going ahead with a full sprint [season] and 22 races [in 2024].”

Fabio Quartararo crash, MotoGP sprint race, French MotoGP, 13 May
Fabio Quartararo crash, MotoGP sprint race, French MotoGP, 13 May

Fabio Quartararo: Injuries ‘not a coincidence’

Monster Yamaha rider Fabio Quartararo was among those who would like to follow the F1 model of selected Sprint events.

“It was a tough season and really long with all the Sprints and I think it’s not necessary to do [Sprints] at all the races,” said 2021 world champion Quartararo.

“It’s not a coincidence, it’s a big problem,” the Frenchman said of the injury-depleted grid. “I think it’s already a dangerous sport but as a rider I can guarantee you that sometimes in the sprint race you get much more tired than in the long race. And physically, the bike we are using is every time more physical.

“I don’t think we need one Sprint race in every single GP. I mean here in Valencia it’s the last race of season, you know that it’s always full so why do you want to add another one on Saturday?

“F1 only do a few Sprints… I am not the guy that organises everything and I don’t know the opinion of all the other riders, but I don’t think it’s the correct way.

“We can see that the original grid was not there at any of the races so it’s a shame.”

However, Quartararo confessed that riders will always have a range of opinions.

“Some riders like the Sprints I’m sure, but I maybe don’t, so what do you want to do? It’s a pretty difficult situation.”

Franco Morbidelli, Miguel Oliveira, Maverick Vinales, Tissot Sprint race, Thailand MotoGP 28 October
Franco Morbidelli, Miguel Oliveira, Maverick Vinales, Tissot Sprint race,…

Morbidelli: ‘They don't do it in F1, and they're sat in a car’

Team-mate Franco Morbidelli felt it was hard to justify a full season of MotoGP Sprint if F1 doesn’t do it.

“Yeah, it was tough. Race weekends definitely changed and they got very, very, very intense. It's been a journey. It's been nice anyway, when you're over it,” the Italian reflected at the end of the year.

“I think we should have a better balance. I mean, Sprint race every weekend, it's tough. They don't even do it in Formula One.

“And Formula One, yeah, it's demanding, but they're sat in a car. We are moving the bike around all the time, fighting against each other, taking each other down and we do it every single weekend.

“And that's demanding. That's more dangerous. That puts the rider at more risk.

“For me, a better balance would be reduce the number of Sprint races. Make it where it counts. Make it where it's fun to make a Sprint race. Make it clever.”

Luca Marini, Tissot Sprint race, Indian MotoGP 23 September
Luca Marini, Tissot Sprint race, Indian MotoGP 23 September

Marini: We need to find a better solution

It wasn’t just the number of Sprint races that contributed to the injury absences, but the cramped 2023 calendar, which left no time to recover before the next event.

“My personal opinion, I got two injuries in this season and it's difficult when you have to race so many races and you don't have time to recover between one race and another,” said Luca Marini.

“If you put another race on Saturday, it's even more tough because you have to push your [injured] body at 100% for two days instead of like last year with FP4 everything easier.

“But this is the schedule maybe also for the future. So we need to adapt and try to understand if there are other ways to make things easier for us and more safe for everybody, to have a grid full of riders in every GP.

“We need to find a better solution about the injuries, about the safety of the situation and all the things that happened this season.”

The Italian emphasised: “I'm not against the Sprints because I think it brings to our sport something new, something fresh, something more for the show. It brings more people on Saturdays.

“So this will help to increase the fans of our sport, which is incredible, a jewel.

“But we need to keep pushing in this direction because it's not enough just to make the Sprint and then wait for all the people to get passionate about this sport. We need to keep improving.”

Aleix Espargaro crash, MotoGP, San Marino MotoGP, 8 September
Aleix Espargaro crash, MotoGP, San Marino MotoGP, 8 September

Aleix: My friends would love 3 MotoGP races every weekend, but…

One rider never afraid to give his opinion is Aleix Espargaro, the oldest rider on the grid at 34 years of age and a double Grand Prix winner for Aprilia in 2023.

“It's not a coincidence,” Espargaro said bluntly about the lack of a full rider line-up at any round due to injuries last year.

“If there is a lot of injuries, there is a big reason why. I mean it's clear, the calendar, the Sprints. It’s unsustainable.

“Do you think that we, the riders, in every Safety Commission didn't push to reduce the [number of] Sprint races?

“But I understand also the position of the championship. Some tracks last year were empty.

“They say that the crowds improved so much this year and they believe it's because the Sprint races. I'm not sure.”

“But it's not about my thoughts,” he said. “It’s Dorna’s calendar. If I don't like it, I can decide to stay at home or do another job. I would prefer less races. I would prefer also no Sprints, but if they put 22 you have to race 22.

“The only thing that I don't like is that they promised us a [summer] break in the middle of [2024] of four-five weeks. Not to party in Ibiza, but because the weekends are super demanding now, a lot of injuries.

“So if you can split the championship in two to recover, to stay with your family [for 4-5 weeks]. Also for the condition of your head. The stress is really, really high right now.

“So to be able to disconnect is also better for the safety and three weeks [summer break] is not enough. Three weeks for me is nothing. So it's going to be tough.”

Nonetheless, Espargaro would be happy to drop some of the European rounds if it meant adding new overseas events.

“I don't like to do a for example four races in Spain, five in the Iberian Peninsula. For me it’s not nice. I would prefer to go to [somewhere like] China. But it is how it is. This is the calendar we have and we have to respect.

“But I think it was better to have more time in the middle to recover from injuries and mentally.”

The Spaniard admitted there is no easy solution to finding a balance between providing more entertainment for fans and extra demands put on riders and team members.

“[The organisers] are listening us, but also on the other side, they are trying to make the championship better and they are not magicians,” he said.

“They are trying things. Some are good, some others not. Some things the people enjoy at home and some things we the riders suffer with at the circuits. But they are trying to improve our sport.

“Nobody has the perfect answer to improve the championship. And OK, I'm critical of the schedule and the calendar. But at the same time, I recognise that Dorna is working hard and trying to change the situation.

”For sure my friends that love MotoGP will love us to race every single weekend of the year. 3 races per weekend!” Espargaro added. “Because they are at home on the sofa enjoying having fun.

“If they tell me next year ‘you have to race 25 [GPs] because then we will have three times more spectators. I will race 25. I want to help the championship. I love this sport. But I'm not sure it's the solution and we are not machines.

“Also, I have a very good life. I come to the races with a private jet on Thursday. But my mechanics fly on Tuesday and they leave the track on Monday and they earn a lot less. So we have to find the balance.”


Zarco: Injuries are more about technical regulations than weekend format

An alternative theory for the injuries was offered by Pramac Ducati’s Johann Zarco, who felt the technical regulations were a contributing factor.

“This could be more due to the bikes, that we have been improving a lot the acceleration and the braking,” the Frenchman explained. “So then the turns are quite difficult or you cannot make a huge difference. So you don't have any more [margin]. I think it's more about a technical regulation than really the format of the weekend.”

Zarco also felt that the riders had to accept some responsibility for making some over-optimistic moves.

“I think we can have less injuries, I hope, because every rider can be a bit more calm or would have learned from this year,” he said. “If we have less injuries next year [2024] it will be because everyone has learned from this year.

“You could feel the stress in every race… You have to try it. If you don't get three positions in turn one, you have lost your race. And that's the problem.

“There will always be some riders that will try, and when you do it [without incident] it seems incredible and you are magic and you have the interviews at the end of the race like a hero. But most of the time we got injuries.”

Although Zarco took a long-awaited debut Grand Prix victory at Phillip Island, he didn’t make a single Sprint podium.

“The Sprint races didn't help me a lot because I didn't get many points from it, but it prepares you so well for the next day,” he said.

Jack Miller, MotoGP race, Valencia MotoGP, 26 November
Jack Miller, MotoGP race, Valencia MotoGP, 26 November

Jack Miller: Injuries also caused by ‘cutthroat, high pressure’ championship

KTM’s Jack Miller felt the ‘intensity’ of the racing has been growing in recent years. Add in sprints and a lack of weekends off and ‘we knew injuries could be crucial’.

“I think it's a combination of things,” said the Australian. “Because we've changed a lot in the past five years in terms of the level of competition, in terms of intensity in the races. I think the championship has transformed.

“I think we knew coming into the season that injuries were going to be something that could be crucial with so many races, with so many back to backs.

“You guys [media] all said it at the beginning of the season and we all were thinking it, that if you get injured when there's a few races all together, you're not missing one, you're missing four or five.

“It's inevitable that's going to happen and yes we've been unlucky this year with the likes of Rins missing half the season and some other guys getting injured, Marc getting injured at the beginning of the year.

“But I think it's also to do with a majority of the injuries being clashes, when guys have come together, whether it be off the start, or in the first corner. I think that's to do with the championship more than anything. How cutthroat it is, how high pressure it is.

Enea Bastianini crash, MotoGP race, Catalunya MotoGP, 3 September
Enea Bastianini crash, MotoGP race, Catalunya MotoGP, 3 September

“I mean, you see guys like Enea [Bastianini] making mistakes like he did in Barcelona. For me, that was not a brain fart or anything like that. It was more of a move out of desperation. You know, getting knocked back a row on the grid. And in this championship, if you were starting down the back, your race is already half done.

“You can try to fight like crazy to make your way through. And maybe it can work sometimes, but it doesn't work every time, and that's where we've seen a lot of moves out of desperation because of how intense the championship is. How tight everything is. How close all the bikes are. How close all the riders are.

“It's the pinnacle and I think now you are really, really, really getting to see it because there's so many potential winning bikes on the grid and so many great riders that it's a melting pot for a high intensity situation.”


Pol Espargaro: I don't trust in good or bad luck

The rider that paid the highest price in terms of injuries this year was also the first to be injured: Pol Espargaro suffering ten fractures when he fell during practice for the Portimao season opener and missing the next seven rounds.

Speaking generally about the extent of injuries throughout the grid this season, the GASGAS rider, who will step back to KTM test riding duties in 2024, also highlighted the extra stress of the new Friday cut-off for direct Qualifying 2 access.

“I don't really trust in bad luck or good luck. I think everything comes for a reason in this life and the new program we have means also pushing on Friday and then having to race twice per weekend.

“This put us in an amazing stress mode during all the weekend and race by race, especially when we do two GPs in a row, or coming from overseas, or especially with a new track where you don't have a lot of understanding. Then the mistakes happen.

“For sure it’s all related, this program that we have now with the injuries, [I] have no doubt.”

Race start, Luca Marini, Pol Espargaro, Stefan Bradl, Tissot Sprint race, Indian MotoGP 23 September
Race start, Luca Marini, Pol Espargaro, Stefan Bradl, Tissot Sprint race,…

‘Very strong penalties’ needed for Turn 1 incidents

With competition so close, overtaking difficult - and in the case of Sprints only half the number of laps to recover - race starts and opening corners became a heated battleground.

The result was frequent first lap clashes and some nasty injuries.

“There is a very, very, very easy solution: A very strong penalty for [causing an accident] at corner one,” Aleix Espargaro said. “You will see that they will brake earlier. It's easy.”

Team-mate Maverick Vinales agreed: “We need to ask for very strong penalties [especially when] it's a type of corner where it's easy to make a mistake.”

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