What MotoGP’s 2023 crash stats say about the sprint format


Like them or lump them, sprint races are here to stay in MotoGP. Their introduction may have been sudden and overwhelming, but the primary aim of them was to get more people interested in the series. And a look at the trackside figures for 2023 reveals that was definitely the case.

Of the 20 rounds run in 2023, 15 events showed an uptick in Saturday attendance compared to 2022. Of the rest, Austin’s figures are not available, India was a first-time event, Indonesia and Argentina dipped slightly, while Australia’s schedule was altered due to the weather, meaning the GP ran on Saturday. Overall, 16 events topped their 2022 figures.

There are some caveats to this that must be factored in. The 2022 season was still very much in the throes of the COVID hangover, and so some events were likely to have been affected by that. The French GP saw an all-time attendance record of 278,805 last year. But France has two immensely popular riders and Claude Michy’s promotion of the event – as well as its cost-effectiveness for the average punter – has always made Le Mans something of an exception rather than the rule.

But cause and effect must also be considered: MotoGP adding an entertaining alternative to a fourth practice does coincide with a strong year of trackside attendance. And so, Dorna Sports deserves credit for its push to evolve a series that has run stagnant in recent years.

But the fact none of the 39 races run in 2023 in either sprint or grand prix format featured the entire 2023 grid is a worrying statistic that comes alongside last year being the highest-crashing campaign in over a decade.

A total of 358 crashes were registered in the MotoGP class across the 20-round season last year from a sample given to the media by Dorna dating back to 2010. That year saw the lowest tally in this span of 134 – back when only 17 full-time riders on the grid contested 18 rounds, versus 22 riders last season.

Compared to 2022 at 335 crashes however, there was only an increase in in 23. Of the year’s total, 49 came in the sprints. Of the nine riders who missed races last year, five of them suffered injuries in sprints; Enea Bastianini in Portugal, Luca Marini in India, Miguel Oliveira in Qatar, Joan Mir in Argentina, and Alex Rins in Italy.

Bastianini was the first casualty of a sprint race in 2023 when he was injured on his Ducati works team debut

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Bastianini was the first casualty of a sprint race in 2023 when he was injured on his Ducati works team debut

Most crashes, however, still occurred in grands prix – 86 in total. Throughout the season, we saw numerous early-race pile-ups. This wasn’t necessarily a sprint issue, but one crash statistic perhaps points to why this – and the overall increase in falls in 2023 – is at least in part down to the sprint framework.

Across the second session on a Friday – designated as FP2 pre-British GP when combined times at the end of FP2 decided who went straight to Q2 and then as Practice from Silverstone, where it was the only session determining this – there were 108 crashes (65 in FP2 and 43 in Practice). In 2022, there were just 50 crashes in the Friday afternoon session – when combined times at the end of FP3 decided the qualifying groups. FP2 and FP3 in 2022 combined to make 118 falls, with 68 in FP3.

The new sprint format placed much more emphasis on Fridays. Finishing outside of the top 10 cut-off could spell disaster for the rest of your weekend if you couldn’t then make it out of Q1 – no mean feat anymore in a championship as tightly contested as MotoGP is now.

One of the biggest casualties of the new format was Tech3 GasGas rider Pol Espargaro. He suffered horrendous injuries in a nasty crash in the closing stages of FP2 in Portugal on his out-lap as he geared up for a push to get into Q2. He would not be seen again until August’s British GP and later lost his ride for 2024.

“We cannot do this anymore. I am not the guy that organises everything, I don’t know what the opinion is for all of the other riders. But I don’t think it’s the correct way” Fabio Quartararo

The shift to only second practice deciding the qualifying groups from the British GP onwards was brought about after the riders protested the stresses they were being put under and felt this move was in the best interest of safety. The number of crashes in the newly designated Practice from Silverstone onwards (which took in 12 rounds) registered one more crash than 20 rounds of FP1s, 11 more than 20 rounds of Q2 pole shootouts and just six fewer than 19 sprints (Australia’s was cancelled due to poor weather).

The increase in crashes in 2023 can’t fully be blamed on the sprint format. The new tyre pressure rules, especially with the front, coupled with the increase in aerodynamic wake modern bikes produce led to overtaking becoming much harder. The knock-on effects of this were myriad.

A narrow window before the front became precarious under the new pressure rules led to a need to get out of dirty air quickly; the difficulties in actually overtaking not only put your front tyre in the firing line but made it harder to make progress through the field. And the need to push harder to make moves increased the pressure on your front tyre and also increased the likelihood of a crash.

But the sprints meant riders had to go through this twice every weekend. So, again, while the new format can’t be fully blamed for the increase in crashes, there is definitely a causality that can’t be ignored. 

Quartararo believes the sprints are no less tiring than the main event and regards their permanent status on the calendar as a big problem

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Quartararo believes the sprints are no less tiring than the main event and regards their permanent status on the calendar as a big problem

“It’s not a coincidence, it’s a big problem,” 2021 world champion Fabio Quartararo said last November when talking about the fact no race in 2023 featured the full-time grid. “I think it’s already a dangerous sport, but as a rider I can guarantee you that in the sprint race you get much more tired in the sprint than in the long race.

“And physically the bike that we are using is every time more physical and I don’t think we need one sprint race in every single GP. You are in Valencia, it’s the end of the season, you know that it’s always full. So, why do you want to add another one on Saturday?

“We cannot do this anymore. I am not the guy that organises everything, I don’t know what the opinion is for all of the other riders. But I don’t think it’s the correct way.”

Quartararo’s opinion is shared by a number of riders, but there are also those who feel the opposite. That’s human nature – no decision one way or the other will ever be able satiate everyone. Usually in motorsport, your opinion is crafted from the point of view of what position you’re regularly taking the chequered flag.

As already mentioned, MotoGP did see an increase in Saturday crowds in 2023 compared to the year before. In that sense, the sprint format has been a success. And from that perspective, you can’t really argue with the championship just carrying on with the sprints as they are.

What did stand out about the fact that no rider from the full-time 2023 grid was present at every race, however, was that they would still appear in the opening video sequence played on the world feed a few minutes before lights out. Injuries happen in MotoGP, but building a brand off the back of faces casual fans never see isn’t a sustainable practice.

Reducing the number of sprints per season would not only add variety to a championship, giving added stakes at critical junctures in a campaign, but would almost certainly have a knock-on effect on the amount of crashing that is currently going on.

Will MotoGP see similar crash trends in year two of the sprint race format this season?

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Will MotoGP see similar crash trends in year two of the sprint race format this season?



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