For decades, Formula 1 has been the number one form of motorsport in the world, and from a purely monetary point of view remains so. But like anything, the quality of a series waxes and wanes over time and Formula 1 is currently undergoing one of its worst periods in history. And while it continues to decline, MotoGP has come from behind to become the best form of motorsport on the planet.
This hasn’t happened overnight, but it is amazing how quickly MotoGP transformed to a very sick series into the number one form of motorsport. The global financial crisis hit the motorcycle industry hard, and MotoGP wasn’t immune with even the big name teams of Honda and Yamaha struggling to get major sponsors. But fast forward to the present and MotoGP is the healthiest it’s been for decades.
All of this was highlighted on the weekend at the latest round of MotoGP at Phillip Island. It was a combination of one of the best racetracks in the world along with a championship that is going down to the wire that produced a race with more excitement than all of this years’ Formula 1 championship combined. In Formula 1’s current state, it’s a battle between Mercedes powered cars with the odd Ferrari thrown in the mix if Mercedes trip over themselves. But at Phillip Island we saw three different manufacturers battling for the podium, with a fourth in Suzuki only a few positions behind.
Formula 1’s claim to fame has always been its speeds and the technological prowess. There’s no doubt F1 cars still remain the fastest way to get around a circuit and their technology is second to none but rules and regulations have seen this competitive advantage shrink ever more.
Amazingly, modern MotoGP come close to the performance of present day Formula 1 cars in many ways. The fastest a bike has ever been clocked came this year at Indianapolis where Jorge Lorenzo hit 216.858 mph – that’s 349 kph. This year, Kimi Räikkönen in his Ferrari managed 358.3kph (222.637 mph) – less than 10 kph more. Considering Formula 1 drivers sit inside one of the most advanced safety cells ever built, compared to riders who have only a thin layer of leather protecting them it shows how utterly incredible the speeds currently achieved in MotoGP are.
This is one key area where Formula 1 has faltered over the past decade. While no one wants to see racers die or be injured, Formula 1 has become so risk averse that modern day tracks offer almost no repercussions for going off track. Run off areas that were once either grass or gravel traps are now bitumen – drivers can make mistakes and carry on – sometimes even gaining an advantage in the process.
Yet watching MotoGP, there’s a risk every time that a rider might go down. Two wheels instead of four with much narrower tires means far less grip and we’ve seen multiple instances of Marc Marquez coming off this year just pushing too hard and paying the price. In Formula 1, there’s almost never any price to pay.
And where passing in Formula 1 is a rarity (and a contrived one at that with DRS and the use of electrical energy to provide a power boost), MotoGP actually sees real race-craft in action, with riders not only plotting where to make their move but defending too – multiple times per lap.
For the most part, Dorna, the owner of the MotoGP championship has resisted the urge to sell out to developing world venues in order to make a quick dollar too. While Formula 1 is happy to take cash from questionable locales such as Bahrain, Russia and soon to be Azerbaijan at the expense of wonderful and historic tracks – races in Germany, Italy and even Silverstone in England are all under threat.
And while Dorna isn’t saintly, the difference between how it goes about business and CVC Capital Partners (the private equity firm who owns F1) couldn’t be more stark. While some Formula 1 teams have begun court action in the European Union against F1 and other teams struggle to stay afloat, Dorna actually funds most of the MotoGP field to some degree (from 2017, Dorna will pay teams approximately €2 million a year for each rider they field, about half of what is required to complete a season in MotoGP) and provides transport and tires free of charge.
Couple that with how Dorna has adapted to the internet by allowing people to buy access online instead of putting their series into the hands of pay television like Formula 1 has and you couldn’t get two starker contrasts of how to run a motorsport series. And this ultimately is where MotoGP has gone ahead in leaps and bounds compared to Formula 1 – entertainment. At the end of the day, motorsport is about entertaining fans and as last weekends race at Phillip Island showed, MotoGP is doing that better than anyone else.