The Motorcycle World Championship is in full expansion through new and emerging markets far from the European continent and Spain will lose weight on the calendar
During the weekend of the Thai Grand Prix, the International Motorcycling Federation (FIM) published the provisional calendar for the 2023 MotoGP World Championship. It will be the longest season in history, with 21 races between March and November, one more than this year. Two previously unexplored territories will be added to the championship. On the one hand, Kazakhstan, which in recent years has built, under the supervision of the championship promoter, Dorna, an entire motor complex on the outskirts of Almaty, the country’s largest city. And on the other hand, India, which will refurbish the Buddh international circuit, together with New Delhi, which has already hosted Formula 1 races in the past. are held on Spanish soil, the Aragon GP.
It is no surprise. During the last decade Spain has enjoyed great prizes in Jerez, Catalonia, Aragon and Valencia. The golden years of national motorcycling and the support of the institutions made this blessed anomaly possible, which however was not well seen outside our borders. And more so now, when there are countries queuing to enter the calendar. The maximum president of Dorna, Carmelo Ezpeleta, already warned years ago that the Spanish circuits and that of Portimao in Portugal would rotate and that no more than three grand prizes would be held annually on the Iberian Peninsula. The pandemic delayed this plan that will enter the scene from next year, in a championship that wants to be more global.
The heart of the Motorcycle World Championship has always been on European soil. But while Formula 1 has had a strong British accent, MotoGP has traditionally been more rooted in Mediterranean countries, especially Spain and Italy. Its quarries export not only most of the drivers in the championship, but also the teams and a good part of the sponsors. For many years, in a calendar of 18 Grands Prix, a third was held between these two countries and the vast majority was distributed on European soil. In 2023 there will still be more events in Europe (eleven) than in the rest of the world (ten), but the core of motorcycling is slowly moving to other continents.
Currently, the most important market in the two-wheel sector is Southeast Asia, and by far. Brands sell millions of motorcycles in this region, as it is the population’s preferred means of transportation and MotoGP is a mass sport where riders are treated like rock stars. Next year four grand prix will be held in this area (Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and India), with their stands packed to the brim. A very different scenario from what is currently perceived in the traditional markets, where the influx to the circuits falls and fewer tickets have been sold than ever. The paradigm shift from open television to pay-per-view has caused audiences to drop to a minimum. And we must not forget that in recent years the championship has lost its great references, Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo or Dani Pedrosa, and the long absence of Marc Márquez due to injury has not helped. The perfect Storm.
“It’s the beginning of the apocalypse”
The new MotoGP calendar has had a mixed reception. The progressive increase in the number of races and the increasingly farther and more frequent trips make the well-worn family conciliation within the paddock very difficult. This is how a heavyweight of the current championship such as Aleix Espargaró expressed himself: «I have the great fortune of being a MotoGP rider and of being in a team like Aprilia, which allows me to accompany the family. It is more difficult for the mechanics and other members of the team who will be away from home for many days. At the other extreme was Marc Márquez, who was motivated by the idea of more races and more circuits: «I am in favor of going to different countries, getting to know other cultures and bringing MotoGP to more fans, because it is important for the brands and for the championship, but never more than 22 races».
That is the ceiling that MotoGP has set for itself in the future, 22 races. They would still be two less than those that Formula 1 will have in 2023, and in which only nine appointments will be held on European soil. The World Motorcycle Championship is heading towards that scenario in the future. It has already signed a memorandum with Saudi Arabia to be part of the championship in the coming years. And on the horizon there is an expansion planned for Latin America (with Mexico and Brazil in the spotlight), more races in the United States and a return to the African continent, with the return of the South African GP. Against this background, Aleix Espargaró predicted a dark future for the championship: “This is only the beginning of the apocalypse.”