There are several factors that make MotoGP the closest championship in the world of motorsport: balanced rules, technical equality and riders who have become true athletes.
It is difficult to find competition as equal as the current MotoGP World Championship, where the differences between riders are minimal, and the result is exciting and hard-fought races that remain interesting from start to finish. Equality is the predominant feature of Grand Prix not only in the premier class MotoGP but also in Moto2 and Moto3. However, the “premier class” always comes off much closer than the other two categories of the championship.
This is no coincidence. There are several factors that make MotoGP the closest and most balanced championship. The technical regulations with the single tire rule that allows all riders to use the same type and quantity of tires, as well as the common ECU that equalizes the electronics of the bikes, and the consistently limited number of engines The season has allowed all riders to compete with more or less the same weapons. The only differences now are made by each manufacturer’s design and the talent of its riders.
This is not much different from Moto2 and Moto3, where tires, control units and engines are also regulated; and even the fuel is the same for everyone. In Moto2, moreover, most teams opt for the same chassis manufacturer, so there is even more equality. However, in these categories, the differences between the riders’ talents are greater than in MotoGP. If you look at the practice records of the Moto2 and Moto3 grids, which are more numerous than those of MotoGP, they are very close; but in the actual races, we see bigger differences. That doesn’t usually happen in MotoGP.
There are several reasons for this. First, the technical equality mentioned above. Entering the scene of the single tire rule has made the scales very even. In the past, tires were a factor of imbalance because they did not always provide consistent performance. We all remember great battles between legendary drivers of the past that ended suddenly when the tire of one of them gave up the ghost and ended the show.
If we look at what the competitions were like before MotoGP came along, we can see that the time differences were very large and were marked to a large extent by the significant differences in resources between the riders and the motorcycles they used. For example, in 1990 the average gap in the 500cc grid between the pole position and the last qualifier in practice was over 9 seconds.
It must be taken into account that at that time, during the glorious battles of that mythical generation formed by Eddie Lawson, Wayne Gardner, Kevin Schwantz, Wayne Rainey and Mick Doohan, who shared all the 500 titles between 1986 and 1998, the “premier class” went through a troublesome crisis that, due to the complexity of the category and the difficulty for private riders to have access to competitive motorcycles, caused their starting fields to shrink.
The introduction of the “Big Bang” engines in 1992, introduced by Honda and eventually adopted by all manufacturers in the same season, equalized the performance of the bikes. Throughout the 1990s, the average net gap was significantly reduced, even taking into account the fortunate increase in the number of participants compared to 1990.
By 2000, the gap was about 5 seconds. Although the old “two-stroke” 500s and the modern “four-stroke” MotoGPs coexisted in the races for a few seasons, in 2002 the average gap in MotoGP was between 3 and 4 seconds.
Today, thanks to all the technical regulations that equalize the power of the bikes, the average gap on the MotoGP grid is minimal. In 2021, it was just 1.7 seconds. And this equality is also reflected in the races, where the results are very close due to the high level of the riders.
Equality between riders
Once this desired technical balance was achieved, everything remained in the hands of the human factor, the rider. And in this sense, this modern sport has also helped to equalize racing, as nowadays riders have become true athletes. The physical demands of motorcycles as powerful as those of MotoGP force riders to be very well prepared in order to perform at their best during the almost 45 minutes that a race usually lasts. Because one mistake, even the smallest mistake, can determine the outcome.
The difference between MotoGP riders and those in the other categories is their experience and preparation. They are able to ride an entire race with almost identical times lap after lap with virtually no mistakes. The difference in the records of the fastest and slowest rider in a MotoGP race is just over a second per lap, and sometimes the first laps decide the outcome of the race. In these moments, riders take risks to make up ground, because after that the performance is so balanced that sometimes it is very difficult to make up lost ground.
With this situation, the figure of the lapped rider has, by and large, disappeared from Grand Prix for several years, especially in MotoGP. In the past, lapped riders played a crucial role in the outcome of some races, much to their regret. Previously, if a slow rider was overtaken by the leading group and did not pay attention to the race commissaires’ instructions, he could become an obstacle for the leaders. Today, this danger has disappeared and the blue flag, which warns drivers that they are losing a lap, is practically no longer used in the race.
In 1990, the percentage of lapped riders in a 500 race was almost 35%, and we must take into account that in that year the average number of riders who finished the races was considerably low – an average of only 14 riders – which meant that on many occasions this was the case were four or five lapped riders. Fortunately, the “big bang” raised the level of motorcycles and provided privateers with more competitive ones, increasing the number of participants and reducing the percentage of lapped riders, which was only 3% in 2000.
With the arrival of MotoGP, the percentage of lapped riders was reduced until it finally disappeared. Nowadays there are no riders who lose laps in MotoGP races, unless there is an accident, because as we have already said, both the technical and human performance is very high. This is competition at the highest level with a level of equality that makes every race and every season a unique show.