In The Paddock
After racing resumes with the back-to-back Czech and Austrian GPs, and in the weekend before lining up for the GP of Great Bumps, make that Great Britain, there is a significant interval for GP test teams.
Bradl, Pirro, Smith, and co. will be going for gallops at the all-new Kymiring, in preparation for the Finnish GP joining the calendar next year.
The track, which took a year longer than initially predicted to be completed, looks good, and the venue likewise. Many are the memories of the old Finnish GP at Imatra, where the wacky public-roads track (which included a rail level crossing), and the obvious danger of the forests lining the 3.076-mile (4.950-km) track were measured against a load of fun among the hard-partying locals. It was last used for the premier class in 1981.
But this new race will bring the calendar up to a full 20, which is a lot, albeit one short of this year’s F1 routine, cramming 21 races into more or less the same time span as MotoGP’s 19.
MotoGP might go to 21, too, with plans to add Indonesia and a proposal to return to Brazil.
Twenty-one is a big jump from the original championship of 1949, with just six races, and riders counting points from only the best three of them. It took almost 30 years before all races counted. In 1976, it was only six out of 10, but from 1977 (except for a single ill-advised lapse in 1991) they all contributed to the total.
The first time the number of races was in double figures was in 1961, with 10, but it was only from 1967 that the total stayed in double figures—with again a single lapse—just eight rounds in an impoverished 1980.
When Dorna took over in 1993, it added one extra round to make 14 races. The calendar had grown, over 45 years, by some 133 percent. In the 27 years to the start of 2020, it will be another 43 percent. But has it reached the limit?
Without extending the March to November period, if you raced every weekend, you could cram in 37 of them. Given a two-week summer break, and another five free weekends for good behavior, you could still have 30 races.
How the residents of the paddock view this prospect depends to a large extent on what they are used to, which in turn varies according to age.
The oldest rider on the grid is the venerable 40-year-old Valentino Rossi. In his first year, there were already 15 races, up to 16 in 1999. He blanched at the prospect of more than 18 a couple of years ago. “I think it is already enough,” he said back then. Nothing has happened since to change his view.
But his younger rivals, closer to their pre-teen roots—when if they didn’t race every weekend there was something wrong—are far from reluctant. Marc Marquez would welcome more races, and likewise Maverick Vinales, whose view is echoed by others. “Let’s have more racing and less testing.”
Commercially, expansion is a constant goal. More races mean more chances to make money, which is, after all, the reason for Dorna’s very existence.
How about the fans, however? When do they start to feel fatigued? When would it become too much of a good thing? Wouldn’t a race pretty much every weekend mean more chance for MotoGP to get elbowed aside by other sports? There’s only so much TV time on a Sunday afternoon, after all.
Again, the answer will probably depend to a large degree on age. Older fans might think back to a time when you could have other interests and still watch every race.
In any case, it is time to start thinking of what current races will be dropped to make way for the new ones.
When Aragon was added to the calendar in 2010, it was, so the series promoters said, only as a stop-gap. It brought the number of races in Spain to four, along with Jerez, Catalunya, and Valencia. Even the Spaniards at Dorna thought things were becoming a little too Hispanocentric. In the current climate, it looks as though Valencia is more likely to be the first to go.
But there are other candidates. The sanctity of the British GP depends to a large extent on whether the re-resurfacing at Silverstone has improved the track enough, and word from the recent car GP was that, while the drainage should be better, it’s still pretty bumpy in places.
From the motorcycle industry’s point of view, considering the size of the market, races in Thailand and Indonesia make a lot more sense than Argentina and Australia, too. And why not India?
Traditionalists had better enjoy their tradition while they can because tradition doesn’t make any contribution to the bottom line.CN