MotoGP’s current format for the race weekend is perfect for us fans. Three free practice sessions, 135 minutes to battle it out to gain a spot automatically into Q2, but some riders are calling for a change.
The current form in MotoGP means that races can almost be decided in free practice. The current format for qualifying means that in the combined standings at the end of free practice three, if you’re inside the top ten, you automatically go into Q2 whereas if you’re 11th or downwards you will have to battle it out in the first 15-minute qualifying session to grab a top-two finish to make it into Q2.
Some riders are calling for a change to the system, saying MotoGP is becoming more ‘predictable’ and the fact that you’re always chasing a lap time and worrying about Q1 means you have less time to focus on setting the bike up for the race.
In Austria, Valentino Rossi worked on his race pace from free practice one right up until the dying moments of free practice three. Rossi went into his final run outside of the top ten but was looking like the lap he had put together would’ve put the 41-year-old into the top ten. Rossi’s one shot at it went out of the window when he ran wide at turn nine – resulting in a Q1 appearance, which later, as we know, he tumbled at turn nine resulting in a 15th place finish and a 14th place grid start.
The reason I’m mentioning Rossi is that as I write this ahead of the Styrian GP, Rossi looks to have top-five pace, potentially a podium pace should the riders be in a group. However, the nine-time world champion now has to worry about trying to clear ten bikes in the space of 28 laps, which in the past we have seen Rossi do. In 2016, Rossi rode from 15th to 2nd at Phillip Island; however, Rossi could only manage ninth in the Styrian Grand Prix.
So, what should change? Cal Crutchlow reckons free practice one, and two should be irrelevant in the fight for qualifying and reckons it should be a short, sharp battle in FP3 to set the qualifying field. But is it worth it?
Battling for the top ten positions in all three free practice sessions means it creates drama. For example, in the first of two Austrian races, free practice one was dry, and FP2 was wet (albeit in pretty much one corner!) which meant we had an exciting free practice three to sort the field out. This works in both ways, yes it would be good to use free practice one and two for race pace only, but at the same time, having three sessions where every rider is on the limit trying to fight for a position inside the top ten makes excitement. It causes an upset should a championship favourite not make it into Q2. This, mixed with the all-new yellow flag rule, makes it even more crucial to put together a good lap.
So, could MotoGP use free practice three to set the qualifying format? In short, yes. Would it be more exciting? Possibly. Riders will use the final ten minutes of free practice three like a qualifying session. If riders haven’t yet completed a low fuel qualifying simulation, then it could create a super exciting final ten minutes. But that then means for fans attending or watching at home, that they have 125 minutes of bikes riding around preparing for Sunday instead of giving it 110% nearly every lap.
MotoGP will continue to use this format but could be open to reshuffling how things work in future.
Featured image: MotoGP.com