Riders were surprised when rumours of the new Sprint race emerged on Friday, with an official press conference the following day confirming the shorter Saturday races will be held at every round of the 2023 MotoGP season.

Half points will be awarded but, unlike in other championships, the Sprint races will not count towards the grid for the main Sunday race, with the current qualifying system moved to Saturday morning.

“How did they keep it secret?” began former British champion and Grand Prix rider Huewen.

“The only thing I've got to say about the actual delivery of this news, if you like, is that the riders were not consulted. That kind of upsets me to the core, just because I was a rider during an era where promoters basically said ‘jump’ and we asked ‘how high?’ And it had that feeling.

“But personally, a Sprint race on a Saturday? Fine. It's taken over from FP4 and we've extended the two Friday practices, which are going to be the only ones that decide if you go directly to Qualifying 2. So there's a bit of a format change.

“The reasoning behind it all is obviously to try and promote Saturdays a bit more. Personally, I think the biggest problem they've got is on a Sunday.

“But for television, they'll love an extra race. For the riders, they are now going to be under even more stress and pressure. What's the difference between an FP4 session and a Sprint race? A lot! You have to be prepared to put it right on the very limit for an extra race, even more so in the case of a Sprint.

“It's going to be an absolute balls-out session because you're not going to be worried about fuel or tyre life. So it's going be exciting. It's going to be great from that point of view and, as spectators, we’re going to have two bites of the cherry.

“I think they should have consulted the riders. Some of them were not happy. But I think Jack Miller has got the perfect attitude: See it in a positive light, get on with it and let's have a look at the end of next year to see if it's been a success. Which I think it will be.”

Crash.net’s MotoGP editor Peter McLaren added: “I think it’s a good thing. We've talked about the ratio between practice and racing being a bit too much. At the moment it’s roughly 4 to 1, meaning 3.5 hours of practice and qualifying for each 45-minute race.

“There will still be the same amount of total track time each weekend, so they don't need to change the tyre allocation rules or the number of engine changes etc.

“But the bike set-up might be different, as riders go to softer tyres for the Sprint race, and qualifying will become even more important. Not just for the shorter race, but because one bad qualifying will now count for two races.”

Should a Sprint race victory be a ‘MotoGP win’?

At the official press conference, FIM president Jorge Viegas said his personal preference was for a Sprint race to count as a normal grand prix win: "A victory is a victory, so why shouldn't it count?"

But in a later TV interview, Dorna sporting managing director Carlos Ezpeleta indicated that, although there will be a podium ceremony, a Sprint race will not be regarded as an official GP:

“In the end, this is not another Grand Prix race that we’re adding to the weekend, to the format. We’re basically changing one practice for a Sprint race which will give points, meaning that from now on for the historical data, it will be the Sunday that continues to give the GP winner. So the winner of the Grand Prix will be the winner of the race.

“Then historically the riders will have one more row of data on, let's say, their profile. So a rider will have a number of fastest laps, podiums and victories, which will only count the [results] of the Sunday, And from now on, they will have a number of Sprint race victories. That will be one more row on their profile.

“There will be a podium for the Sprint race, but it will not count for the total number of podiums that the rider has… The GP winner will be the one that wins the race on Sunday.”

Keith Huewen has mixed feelings about making such a distinction:

“I've really argued with myself over this! It’s a difficult one, isn’t it? I kind of feel like it should be a grand prix, but I can understand why it’s not, because it’s half distance...

“Personally, I think if you're going to race as hard as they're going to race and score points for it, it should be called a Grand Prix.

“These are going to be spectacular races. There isn't going to be anything held back."

‘We’ve had shorter MotoGP races in the past’

McLaren explained why he believes a Sprint race should be classed as a grand prix:

“I think when you put a bunch of MotoGP riders out there to race as hard as they can on MotoGP bikes for world championship points, it should count as a ‘real’ MotoGP race.

“We’ve had short races in the past and technically you can have a restarted MotoGP race of 5 laps that still awards full points.

“Miguel Oliveira’s win in Austria 2020 was a 12-lap restart, less than half the original 28 laps. Valentino Rossi once won a 6-lap restart at Mugello in 2004! The Portimao Moto2 this year and COTA Moto3 last year were each 7 laps. Those, and others, counted as normal wins.

“We could end up in a situation next year where a Sprint race turns out to be longer than a restarted Sunday MotoGP race, yet the Sprint winner only gets half points and wouldn’t have a ‘GP win’ to show for it!

“Imagine if someone takes their first victory in the Sprint, but still wouldn't be an official MotoGP winner? It just becomes confusing, especially for people who are new to the sport.

“Yes, it would mess up the historical statistics if Sprint races counted as GPs. But there were only six races in the 1949 season! So the stats are already stacked against riders from the past, just because the number of races on the calendar is always increasing.

“I think not classing it as a Grand Prix just makes things unnecessarily complicated.

“Increase the Sprint race to three-quarter distance if you like, the minimum for a full result if a MotoGP race is stopped, award 25 points and class it as a Grand Prix. Keep it simple.

“Then, for example at the Red Bull Ring, the races could be called the 'Styrian Grand Prix' on Saturday and 'Austrian Grand Prix' on Sunday. The same kind of double GP names we had for the back-to-back weekends in places like Austria, Jerez, Misano and Aragon during Covid.

“But other than that, I think adding a Saturday race is the way to go. It seems to work for other sports. More action, more racing.”

‘MotoGP needs strong personalities’

Podcast host Harry Benjamin then steers attention to the MotoGP, Moto2 and Moto3 races, which saw victories for Francesco Bagnaia, Ai Ogura and Ayumu Sasaki respectively, which is followed by a discussion on Luca Marini’s comments that MotoGP needs to focus on highlighting the personalities of the riders.

“The Sprint race will add more show. But for me it’s also important to give a good ‘window’ to the riders, to bring back the good characters of the riders," Marini said.

“If there are riders with really strong personalities, this makes the best show, like in the past. We need duels, with two or three riders from different manufacturers fighting for the title - not one more race [each weekend].

“We need to invent something new to bring this sport back to the golden years of Vale, Jorge, Marquez, Stoner… in that period MotoGP was a good show. Also because of these big personalities.

“For example, this year I think Superbike is really interesting because there are three manufacturers, with three really strong riders fighting for victory. It’s a story. It’s interesting because of them [and who they are], not because [WorldSBK has] three races each weekend.”

The podcast ends with the surprise news that Miguel Oliveira is still being targeted by KTM for the new GASGAS-branded Tech3 team, which could be bad news for Remy Gardner…

Download Episode 60 at the following links...

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