What is a wildcard in MotoGP and why is it used?

The 2023 MotoGP season had six riders enter selected grands prix as a wildcard entry, which is a concept that has a long history in the series.

It dates back to the early years of grand prix motorcycling, when teams would enter a local rider for the race due to their greater knowledge of the circuit.

Steve Manship is one of the best wildcard entries in history, as the Briton finished second at the 1978 British Grand Prix which was his only race that year.

But over time, the wildcard system has evolved so what does it mean now and how do teams use it across the season?

What is a wildcard in MotoGP?

A MotoGP wildcard is a rider who enters a grand prix despite not being a full-time competitor for the season. In the modern day, if a team was to use a wildcard then it tends to enter its test rider despite the championship’s history of local riders entering a grand prix.

Why would a MotoGP team enter a wildcard?

Many benefits come from MotoGP teams entering a wildcard as it increases track time, which is important because there are only nine official testing days during the year meaning feedback from the rider can prove crucial for bike development.

But it is rare for teams to use all of its wildcard slots in a season, as Yamaha only entered test rider Cal Crutchlow for one race – the Japanese GP — in 2023 despite all of the benefits. This is largely for financial reasons as it is expensive to run a MotoGP bike, so the more that get entered for a grand prix the more money it will obviously cost.

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Many test riders may also enter a grand prix as a replacement rider. This is when somebody stands in for a full-time rider because they have withdrawn from the weekend, like the injured Miguel Oliveira did at the 2023 French GP. In turn, this leaves fewer opportunities for them to be a wildcard.

There is also the factor of injuries. This is because test riders are the natural replacements whenever a main rider gets injured, so what if that test rider got injured when being used as a wildcard? The team would have no backup should one of its main riders get injured too, so there is a big risk involved.

Many test riders are also ex-racers who no longer have the desire to compete in grands prix, but are happy to help a team develop its bike so they may not be willing to enter a round as a wildcard.

The points scored by a wildcard also do not count towards the MotoGP teams’ championship. This is because a team would gain an unfair advantage if it could score points from three bikes at a race weekend and not two like the rest of the grid.

But a wildcard rider can still score points for the individual championship, as well as the constructors. In the constructors’ championship, points are only awarded to the highest-placed rider so there is no unfair advantage gained from using a wildcard in that regard.

Although rare, on occasion a wildcard has scored points for the constructors’ championship too, as Dani Pedrosa was the highest-placed KTM rider at the 2023 San Marino GP.

How many wildcard entries does a MotoGP team receive?

MotoGP reintroduced a concession system for the 2024 season, which places a limit on how many wildcards a constructor can use in a year, amongst other things. This was done to help the struggling Japanese manufacturers — Honda and Yamaha — and hinder Ducati in order to level the playing field, as the world champions won all but three grands prix in 2023.

Under MotoGP’s concession system the five constructors are divided into four groups ranked A to D. To be ranked A, a manufacturer needs to have scored at least 85% of possible constructors’ points for the season, while it is less than 85% but greater than 60% for B. It is then less than 60% but more than 35% for C while for D it is below 35%.

This means for the 2024 season, Ducati is A rank, KTM and Aprilia are C rank with Yamaha and Honda in the bottom ranking of D.

As a result, Ducati is not allowed to use a single wildcard entry for the 2024 season. In rank B, a constructor is allowed to use three wildcards in a year however none of the current grid are in that category.

This leaves rank C and D. Constructors ranked C or D are allowed to use six wildcards in a season which gives a big advantage to KTM, Aprilia, Honda and Yamaha given the restrictions placed on Ducati.

Although four of the current constructors are allowed to use six wildcards in 2024, there are still restrictions as to how they can be used because a MotoGP team cannot enter a wildcard for consecutive race weekends.

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

How do wildcards perform in MotoGP?

The 2023 MotoGP season saw one of the best wildcard performances in recent years as Pedrosa finished fourth in both events for the San Marino GP. The 31-time grand prix winner’s performance caused praise from across the grid, as Aleix Espargaro said it “makes you doubt everything” about MotoGP.

He’s not the only wildcard to deliver a fantastic performance though given Manship’s result at Silverstone in 1978. The headline heading into that race was the championship fight between Kenny Roberts and Barry Sheene, as the pair were separated by only three points. That British GP was affected by torrential rain though, which inevitably provided the opportunity for an outsider to get into the mix.

That’s what happened to Manship, who carefully managed his tyres while not making a pitstop to split the championship contenders on the podium with Roberts claiming first. But Pedrosa and Manship are pretty rare circumstances.

Usually, a wildcard does not finish high up and claiming a lower points position is a solid result. In 2023, for example, Pedrosa was the only wildcard to finish a race inside the top 10, which makes it even more impressive that the 38-year-old achieved that feat twice.

In fact, before 2023, the last wildcard to finish a grand prix inside the top 10 was again Pedrosa who came 10th at the 2021 Styrian GP. So, it is rare for wildcards to be fighting towards the front, but many are not backmarkers either with some still scoring points from 11th to 15th.

Wildcard riders from the 2023 MotoGP season

Italian GP (18th), Dutch TT (11th) and Austrian GP (19th) 

Italian GP (16th) and San Marino GP (DNF) 

Spanish GP (14th) and San Marino GP (18th) 

Spanish GP (7th) and San Marino GP (4th) 

Yamalube RS4GP Racing Team 

Wildcard riders for the 2024 MotoGP season

The opening three rounds of the 2024 MotoGP season did not feature any wildcard riders, however, they are set to be used for the first time this year at the Spanish GP. There will no doubt be more later in the 2024 campaign however they are usually announced closer to the time.

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