2022 promises to see a major shakeup of the MotoGP calendar. Today, one of the pieces that will make up MotoGP’s calendar was announced, with the news that the Rio Motorpark has signed a five-year deal with Dorna to host the Brazilian round of MotoGP from 2022 to 2026.
The new venue will see MotoGP return to Brazil after an absence of 18 years. From 1995 to 2004, Grand Prix racing was held at the Nelson Piquet Circuit in Jacarepagua, to the southwest of Rio de Janeiro, and before that at Goiana in the north of Brazil between 1987 and 1989, before moving to Interlagos near Sao Paulo for 1992.
Brazil, along with rest of South and Central America, is a key market for the manufacturers. Nearly a million powered two-wheelers were sold in Brazil last year, with Honda taking the vast bulk of those, selling 775,000 units.
The Brazilian round of MotoGP is to be held at a new circuit to be built at Deodoro, in the northwest of Rio de Janeiro. That circuit will be part of the Rio Motorpark, to be built on land formerly owned by the Brazilian military.
But, the Rio Motorpark has a number of question marks hanging over the project. Earlier this year, there were questions raised over the legitimacy of the bidding process, which went to awarding the contract to build and run the circuit.
The contract had also been awarded without a proper environmental impact study, though this has now been completed.
There are also questions over the opaque company structure running Rio Motorpark: its parent company is reportedly headquartered in Delaware, a US state that has a reputation for being a tax haven due to its low tax rates and laws on corporate privacy.
There is a political risk associated with the Grand Prix in Brazil as well. Far right Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro has thrown his backing behind the project, together with the mayor of Rio de Janeiro, Marcelo Crivella.
Some in Brazil believe that this backing is political, aimed at weakening the position of Interlagos in Sao Paulo, a stronghold of the Brazilian Social Democracy Party, the bitter rivals of Bolsonaro’s Social Liberal Party.
There are more practical concerns as well. Safety is a major issue for F1 in Brazil, with teams and drivers being held up at gunpoint and having equipment stolen from them.
Team members have been told not to wear team clothing until they arrive at the circuit, and only pick up rental cars at their hotels rather than the airport.
At other car events, teams are provided with cars with armor, and the cars made as non-descript as possible.
Brazil is just one new venue expected to appear on the MotoGP calendar in the coming years. An Indonesian race at Mandalika on Lombok has already been announced, and is expected to be run in 2021 for the first time.
Sources have indicated that a race in Vietnam is under serious consideration, at a new track to be built in the country. And talks continue about a race in Mexico, and about moving the Argentinian race from Termas de Rio Hondo to San Juan de Villicum, where the WorldSBK series has their round.
The Termas race faces multiple challenges: despite the universally beloved layout, the circuit is in the middle of the country and traveling there presents severe logistical challenges.
Moving to San Juan de Villicum would not solve that, of course, and so a race in Brazil could potentially take the place of the race in Termas.
Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta has also told reporters that MotoGP wants to return to Portugal. But instead of this meaning that five races would be held on the Iberian peninsula, the total would be cut to three, with a rotation system put in place for Portugal and Spain.
The Portuguese round could alternate between Portimao and Estoril, although Portimao needs resurfacing and Estoril would require significant upgrades to track and facilities.
Two Spanish rounds could then alternate between the four current tracks, with Jerez, Valencia, Barcelona, and Aragon taking it in turns to host MotoGP.
That faces resistance particularly in Jerez: the race in the Andalusian city is regarded as the opening of the European part of the MotoGP calendar, and has a significant place in MotoGP culture.