It is looking increasingly like the Chang International Circuit in Buriram, Thailand will be added to the MotoGP calendar for the 2018 season.

I understand from sources that there was a significant hurdle to be overcome: circuit title sponsor Chang is a major beer brand in Thailand, and a rival to the Official MotoGP Beer Singha, also a major beer brand in Thailand and further abroad. The race can only happen if a compromise has been found to accommodate this conflict.

This is good news for Thailand, and good news for fans in Asia. The World Superbike round at the circuit is always packed, and MotoGP should be even more popular. It is hard to overstate just how massive MotoGP is in that part of the world.

From India, through Southeast Asia, motorcycle racing in general and MotoGP in particular has a huge following. But the only country in the region that has a race is Malaysia, hosting its Grand Prix at Sepang.

So expanding the calendar to include Thailand is a welcome addition for fans in the region. If the financial and logistical problems with organizing a race in Indonesia ever get sorted, then there might even be a third race in the region, at the Palembang circuit in South Sumatra.

Given the massive interest in MotoGP from that country, it is a racing certainty that any race there will be a complete sell out.

More Is Not Always Better

If Thailand is added to the calendar in 2018, that would bring the number of rounds to 19. While that would be a popular move with the fans, it would not necessarily be a good thing for the riders. And it would be almost impossible to do without making changes to the season opener at Qatar.

Adding any further rounds to the calendar would place a huge strain on the riders and teams, and require serious rejigging of the schedule. Valentino Rossi has long been an opponent of expanding the number of races on the calendar, with good reason.

Even with 18 races, there are three pairs of races on back-to-back weekends (Mugello – Barcelona, Assen – Sachsenring, and Brno – Spielberg), and then the three flyaways (Motegi – Phillip Island – Sepang) all on consecutive weekends. That gives riders precious little time to recover from crashes, before having to ride the next weekend.

More Injury Time, Less Recovery Time

Crashing is part of racing, of course, but it takes its toll on riders. Last year, there were 288 crashes in the MotoGP class all season (not counting testing crashes), an average of 16 per weekend.

Admittedly, 2016 was an outlier: the average is usually between 10 and 12 crashes per weekend. Every single rider crashed multiple times last year, with Valentino Rossi crashing the least (4 times), ahead of Maverick Viñales (5 times).

That’s not counting the crashes in testing, or training on a motocross or flat track bike, or even on a mountain bike or racing bicycle. Motorcycle racing, and preparing for motorcycle racing, is incredibly physically punishing.

Every rider carries their scars with them. By their late twenties, most have some form of arthritis in their joints, especially hands, wrists, and ankles, where repeated falls have damaged the joints.

There isn’t an ex-racer who can skip through the paddock in their forties the way they did in their twenties. Most limp, or have a rolling gait to spare aching joints. Few like spending much time crouching, despite the fact that most still keep themselves in very good physical shape.

Expanding the calendar means putting more stress on the riders, and giving them less time to recover. It means either losing another free weekend somewhere, or shortening the summer break – a very welcome interruption for the riders, giving them a chance to catch their breath and recover from injury.

Expanding to 19 races would be just about manageable – especially as an extra race would mean cutting the number of winter tests from three to two – but any expansion beyond that starts to become deeply problematic.

What About the Rest of Us?

It’s not just the riders who suffer. It is also the army of followers who move around with the circus. The team managers, crew chiefs, mechanics, personal assistants, Dorna staff, journalists, photographers, TV crews, technical support staff, IRTA officials, cable pullers, physiotherapists, doctors and others.

More races mean more time away from home for them, and that places a strain on home life for many who have already settled down and started families.

Walk through the media center in the evening, and you can hear the quietly whispered conversations of journalists and photographers saying goodnight to husbands, wives, and children.

The same conversations go on in the back of race trucks, as mechanics try to maintain some semblance of family life. This can place a horrendous strain on relationships and marriages.

Though I have not taken a poll, I get a very strong sense that divorce is much higher among those who work in the paddock than it is among those whose job keeps them closer to home.

Unlike riders, who have the financial means to bring their spouses with them, mechanics are not paid enough to afford to fly their partners out to every race.

The strain on such relationships translates to stress and distraction at work. Though every mechanic does their absolute utmost to maintain concentration and ensure that they prepare the bike perfectly for their riders, stress at home (the illness of a child or spouse, marital disputes, money problems) can make life hard.

And that can translate into mistakes. And mistakes can mean riders going out with wrong settings, or something working itself loose, and perhaps even crashing.

More races means more time away from home. And more time away from home translates to more strain on relationships. And that is a heavy burden to bear for people who, for the most part, are not particularly well paid.

Education Is Important, But Racing Is…Not Forever

Then there’s the Moto3 riders. Most of them enter the series at 16 years of age. Most of them have not finished their schooling (many having abandoned it even earlier). But most of them won’t make it as professional motorcycle racers either.

They will prove to lack that final ingredient that distinguishes the merely talented from the truly great. Or they will be unlucky/ill-advised in their choice of team. Or they will crash, damage themselves permanently, and never manage to be competitive again.

They will end up owing some team or other a lot of money, and have to find another way to make a living.

The education of these young men and women – girls and boys would be more accurate – already suffers in an 18-race schedule. Trying to trace 20 rounds while also completing high school becomes almost impossible.

Sure, they can complete their education after they finish racing. But a packed racing calendar leaves them woefully ill-prepared for life outside racing.

So for all these reasons, and many I haven’t even addressed, expanding the schedule is not a good idea. Adding one more race, to bring the total to 19, would be manageable if a winter test is dropped.

Increasing the calendar to 20 or even 21 races (if Finland and Indonesia join in 2019) would simply be too much. It would place too great a strain on riders, on mechanics, on everyone involved in the sport.

More Races = More Money

For Dorna, expanding the calendar is very attractive. Especially if a test is dropped in favor of a race.

An extra race means extra income from the sanctioning fee (anywhere between €3 and €6 million, depending on the venue), extra income from TV rights (more races means Dorna can charge broadcasters more) and more money from sponsorship.

Financially, it is a far more appealing prospect, especially for a company which has been burdened with a lot of debt by its owners Bridgepoint Capital.

The problem is the current schedule cannot stand with extra races. If the season is to start in Qatar with a night race, as the Losail International Circuit wants, and end in Valencia, as Dorna want, then there is just not enough time to fit in all those races.

There are 34 weeks between the first race at the end of March and the final race in mid-November, and 18 races to fit in between. That’s more than one every two weeks.

Moving the season start earlier is impossible if Qatar is to remain a night race. As the MotoGP season opener showed, February and March is the Qatari spring, the rainy season (or what passes for it in the desert).

There is a greater chance of rain, and the cooler temperatures and raised humidity mean that dew forms at night. The earlier in the year the race is held, the earlier the dew starts to form. That was clear at the test, two weeks before the race, when the track became treacherous after 10pm.

Moving the season finale is also impossible. The Valencia weekend is about as late as racing is possible at the circuit. Track temperatures are already low, and grip is sketchy.

The sun disappears behind the hills after 6pm, but large parts of the track are already in the shade a long time before then, causing big temperature differences.

Again, this is most notable at the test, when the riders are on track for longer. And often suffer the consequences. Private testing at Valencia for Moto2 and Moto3 often sees serious injuries, precisely because the conditions become critical.

Time for Radical Change

If Dorna wants the season to start earlier – and the end of February would be ideal – they will have to drop at least one winter test, and negotiate a solution with Qatar.

If the Losail circuit wants to remain the season opener, the best solution would be to have the race during the day. Track and ambient temperatures are pretty normal in February, so it would be like racing at Jerez or Austin.

The question is whether Qatar wants to give up its unique status as a night race, and the spectacle of the floodlights. If they do not, then Dorna have a problem on its hands.

At the other end of the season, a better solution would be to have the last race of the year at Phillip Island, when the weather is at its best and we are much further into the Antipodean summer.

But Dorna wants to hold the final round of the season in Europe, for some very good reasons. More media attend the last race in Europe, and organizing the awards ceremony in Valencia is a lot easier than trying to do it in Melbourne, and getting everyone to attend.

There is also an unspoken desire by everyone involved to go home after a very long and arduous season. Having spent nine months looking at the same old faces, people are glad to see the back of each other for a while.

The overwhelming sense of fatigue after eighteen races is a lot easier to bear when you have a short trip home to Barcelona or Riccione than it is if you have to go halfway around the world trapped in a tin tube.

Some Things Really Are Impossible

So though, as a devotee of the sport, I would love to see MotoGP racing every single weekend, the way that soccer clubs seem to, I do not believe it would be good for the sport. Better to keep the calendar at 18 races, and winnow out the weaker rounds, with fewer fans and less support.

It is clear that the future of MotoGP lies in Southeast Asia. That, after all, is where the fanbase is growing fastest, and where rising incomes offer a stable financial future for MotoGP. But the sport has to remain sustainable for the people involved.

In the end, MotoGP, like all sporting endeavors, is about people, about human beings. Humans ride the bikes, humans prepare the bikes, humans do all of the bits and pieces which are required to bring the astonishing entertainment which is MotoGP to the fans at home. Humans are, well, only human after all.

Photo: © 2016 Tony Goldsmith / www.tonygoldsmith.net – All Rights Reserved

This article was originally published on MotoMatters, and is republished here on Asphalt & Rubber with permission by the author.

  • I couldn’t disagree with you more here, David. The cold-hearted capitalist in me says “let there be 50 races a year!” though I might settle for a number between 25 and 30. Just to be appeasing to a compromise.

    I have much less sympathy for riders than you do – these men and women who work 18 weeks out of the year for their craft. I will concede that there is much more that goes on behind the scenes, both in training and sponsorship obligations, but I shed no tears for a human that gets paid to ride a motorcycle around in circles…some of whom who do it for obscene amounts of money, and get worshipped for it.

    I too have no sympathy for the retired racers, who traded in a long life without arthritis and a myriad of other physical ailments, for fleeting moments of glory and the tastes of champagne.

    I understand that it’s different in Europe, but in the United States, ~50 weeks of work is the norm, 40+ hrs per week. For many, this figure does not represent the travel that job entails, another 1 or so each day. I wonder how that compares to your typical professional racer? Should we count the hours spent on social media, showing us vacations in Ibiza, Bali, or some other highly desired locale?

    Let us not forget, that in addition to the 3-month winter break, there is the nearly month-long summer break as well. Only pre-school teachers get more time off than motorcycle racers.

    You might have a better argument regarding the legions of media and support staff, who become members of this traveling circus. All of whom of course chose this profession, chose this lifestyle, chose to be part of this spectacle by their own volition…when more stable, more lucrative, and less demanding jobs were far more attainable.

    This is the cost of Grand Prix racing. Everyone knows its price before they become a part of it. If this is all too high of a price to pay (both literally and socially), and I do agree that it is a sacrifice, there are more than a eager souls who will fill the vacant spots – of that, you can be certain.

  • ILuvRacing

    I could not agree with you more, Jensen. Long have I watched GP racing and fantasized about being paid to do something I love (paid very well) and being a celebrity as well. I’d gladly trade my comfortable 6 figure job and perfect health for the chance at glory even if it meant sure injury or worse.

  • irksome

    They could dump the race in Spain. Or the race in Spain. Perhaps the race in Spain?. Or what the hell, the race in Spain.

  • paulus

    A+R pro benefits are awesome!… you typed my response before I had even started!

  • MikeD

    Someone get me a str8 jacket ! We have a MADMAN OVER HERE !

  • MikeD

    LOL.

  • Dustin Nisbet-Jones

    While it’s true they chose their path in life, I don’t think that gives us license to abuse them with something like Jensen’s masochistic racing calendar. I have huge respect for what they do and where they had to come from to get there. Most of these guys were competing on two wheels before they could multiply and are now receiving their rewards for what’s basically a lifetime of hard work and sacrifice.

    While it’s true they’re getting paid a lot of money to race the best bikes in the world, they also have to deal with fans, social media, a grueling travel schedule, ridiculous sponsorship obligations, press obligations and whatever other nonsense comes with being a contracted racer. Keep in mind, they also have to do that while staying in elite physical shape and constantly maintaining or repairing whatever bone or joint is destroyed at the moment.

    There is nothing about that lifestyle that I envy in the slightest. Well, the actual riding part I do. I’d much rather life a long, fulfilled, healthy life in relative isolation — fame and fortune are for the birds.

  • We are where the cutting edge goes to bleed.

  • They could, but those are also some of the best-attended races…

  • paulus

    The Thailand Chang/Singha beer issue will be resolved. Singha are slated to soon break ground building a second (bigger) circuit much closer to Bangkok (and International airports, hotels and other resources). Buriram is a great circuit, but essentially inconvenient, being in the middle of nowhere (the area is the traditional home of Chang beer). Whilst the Singha circuit might not be 2018 ready… there is a ton of cash, political connections and will available to push it through.

  • Trplpwr

    I have to agree with David for the most part on this one. While I would love to wake up every weekend and watch some gp bikes I would have to describe your counter points as myopic.
    You say riders work 18 weeks out of the year, but know that at best this is an incredibly simplistic description of a rider’s life. Anyone who is more than a casual fan can easily see the amount of time that they must put in to be allowed to “ride a motorcycle around in circles.” Sponsorship, team events, media debriefs, training are a full time job. As Steve Moore, owner of moto rapido BSB, team tweeted to David Emmett; Racing is a full time job. Many don’t work full time and wonder why they don’t get a wage.
    Your point of obscene amounts of money? Ridiculous. Even within the top tier motogp grid there are riders getting paid somewhere between nothing and a little. Yes some riders make obscene amounts but that’s not the majority by far. Most moto2 and moto3 riders (whose existence your rebuttal seems to leave out) are paying the teams to ride the bikes, not the other way around.
    And the reasoning that they knew what they were getting into? Yes they can always quit but only easily if like Casey Stoner they’re already champ and have the means to do so. And many didn’t know what they were getting into because of the simple fact that they were 4 years old and doing what they were told. And then when they’re a young teenager realizing that they are the sole retirement plan for they’re parents and family who have literally mortgaged everything on results, it doesn’t sound like leaving is an easy option.
    I could go on but that seems long enough, but I will point out that I’m not a famous, rich racer but I too can travel to other continents for vacation and don’t begrudge them for doing the same. You also never acknowledged David’s concern that young riders will wash out (regularly) and have an eighth grade education with which to enter life after racing.
    There. Bedtime. I have to finish my 50 hour work week tomorrow.

  • james h

    Why do I get the impression you are hating on these people? Your explanation is similar to the those who illegally download music & movies. These people all say that actors, musicians, & the support crew get paid too much. That, in turn, justifies stealing someone else’s art for personal enjoyment.

  • Jeromy

    I am with David on this on, but for a selfish reason. If you run these people to the bone their performance will suffer. I won’t argue with Jensen’s points, most of these people are plenty well compensated for their sacrifices (which they do sacrifice a lot!), I see migrant workers sacrifice more for A HELL of a lot less money.

    But I want these people at their peak, at their sharpest for the best racing. Yes some will be able to cope, but with 21 rounds the number of riders able to be competitive would just go down … Again… There already so few who can hope to win a race, I believe more rounds will only reduce that number. I see a counter argument that if Rossi, Vin and Marc are worn-out it make opportunities for others, which is a flawed argument, because anyone else would be exhausted too. If EVERYONE is brunt out then gaps between riders will increase, passes will be less frequent, fewer people have a shot at the top step.

    Give me 10 fantastic races before you give me 21 sub par races with men to beat to care.

  • Um, I’d gladly trade my 5-figure job for your 6-figure job…

  • If we’re talking about dropping races, which race tracks never seem to produce good racing? It should be about entertainment as much as attendance. On that basis, Catalunya and Le Mans are at risk. And with the safety problems, the loss of one of the greatest corners and having 4 weekends in Spain, It’s Catalunya that should go.

    I’d be happy with slightly fewer MotoGP races and slightly more WSB.

  • Barry Rothwell Taylor

    The choices will not be made for the benefit of the workers who actually make the business work , as we’ve seen with zero-hour contracts and the modern take on ” self employed ” we are returning to a period where the majority of people will be literally wage-slaves , financing an affluent lifestyle for a lucky – ie connected – few .
    It may not matter who your father is , but it will matter who your father knows …

  • J Kant

    You raise many valid points David but also overlook many others. What impact will the additional revenues have on the sport – sure Bridgepoint Capital takes its cut but it also helps subsidize the smaller teams, junior classes & feeder programs (esp. in Asia).

    With respect to the human element, please also consider that those revenues could help subsidize riders who’s families to go into debt to give their kid a fair if unlikely shot.

    And, with respect, your article is biased towards the Europeans who dominate it – on and off the track. Yes they have to shuttle a long way off and spend time away from their families. But what of the riders, crew & staff from elsewhere in the world. Casey Stoner’s family had to uproot themselves and move to Europe to give him an opportunity to make it. There were no regional networks feeding into the GP grid because it was a Europe-centric sport. And without Stoner we might never have seen the glorious Ducati triumph of 2007.

    Keeping the monetary aspect aside, your suggestion about expanding in Asia by winnowing out the weaker circuits is an interesting one leading to an interesting question.

    Given that the Australian GP has the poorest attendance figures of any circuit (after Qatar) should they dispense with the Phillip Island round?

  • motoschmoto

    hahaha, nice one

  • motoschmoto

    Good points

  • motoschmoto

    I’d be curious what the average wage is for all paid MotoGP (including Moto2 and Moto3) employees if you take out the top 5 highest paid riders.

  • MrDefo

    I will say that as far as the support team goes, just hire more of them with some of the extra money Dorna receives for the expanded calendar, and there’s their problem solved. As for journalists, perhaps an understanding that not all journalists will be able to physically attend all races? I was of the impression that even now David doesn’t go to all of them? If that’s wrong then I’m wrong, I’m just not sure how adding more races changes that.

    I do however agree that riders need time between races to recharge and recover from injury. That in and of itself is a good case for keeping the race number low. If teachers were risking life and limb every other week, we might truly justify their pay being increased. Unfortunately we can’t swap out riders between races, unless the sport moved to a rule like pitchers have in MLB. Actually, that might be a good way to add a layer of exciting complexity?

  • JSTNCOL

    I’d gladly split that six figure job with you, we might still both make more than out current five figure slogs. Even at half the work.

  • Bob

    “Are you not entertained?!”
    ;)

  • JSTNCOL

    “While I would love to wake up every weekend and watch some gp bikes…”

    I started out thinking, “yeah, more races would be great!” But your second sentence brings to mind that I already feel guilty, or have mixed feelings, about devoting 18 weekends a year to watching television. And summer weekends too when I could be out riding. MotoGP is the only sport that I follow and I typically watch MotoGP qualifying and all three of the races. So, no, I don’t want to wake up and watch racing every weekend. If they make those added races happen during the winter in the Northern Hemisphere that’d be great, something to do while I’m trapped inside in the dead of winter.

  • Solomon Rivers

    Well, one answer might be for you to land a Moto3 ride and start working your way up. If you can do what the riders you mention above do, you could be in the premier class in a few years and get the bigger bux for riding around in circles, too. Remember that your joints won’t be the same if you take that path- as the article mentioned. And that when you aren’t riding, you’ll be training… Hard. And, you know… there’d always be that little thing in the back of your mind about living through the next weekend… but most of the riders do…

    So what do you say? Could you do it? Any doubts that you could qualify for a Moto3 ride? I’ve ridden and raced motorcyles since I was 10 years old and I wouldn’t survive the first turn amongst that crowd. And at the end of the day, that’s the thing… these are individuals so rarefied that less than a half-dozen men on the planet are capable of truly competing for the championship- in any of the three classes. And that’s why they get paid to ride around in circles… at 212mph.

  • durandal1

    The solution is obvious, championships tied to the bike not the rider – each bike is ridden by a team of multiple riders over a season. Bonus points for press coverage of the drama surrounding the track time allocation in the teams, and the dynamics of a rider choosing a great team vs a team that gives lots of track time.

  • Alclab

    I really agree witth this… I know that they have to keep in really good physical shape, but that’s why they’re many times regarded as athletes. Also it’s a bitchin’ job, and one that pays very well. I think that even for them, such long pauses end up hurting their form.

    Some riders might be really adapting to the bike or “figured it out”, only to lose touch for over 3 months.

    Not working over 1 third of the whole year seems waay too much off time IMO, and if “winter” is the excuse, there are a lot of other countries who would (probably) gladly host a MotoGP race.

  • Mick

    This is a no brainer.
    Spain needs to cull at least one round, Italy too. Share it round…its a world sport, not the sole domai9n of Spain…and no- I don’t care who owns the series.

  • Fivespeed 302

    They need to focus on WSB. Instead of two races at one venue, they could get WSB more popular and cater to those tracks who feel neglected.

  • Fivespeed 302

    Yeah but those Indonesians would cook their own dog just to get nosebleed seats…oh wait… :D

  • Spinucci

    So if MotoGP truly is a “World” Championship – then let’s distribute the races more evenly around the globe.
    I can see no reason other than nepotism as to why we have 3 races in Spain (or regions within the Spanish borders) and none in Thailand (population 67 million!) or Indonesia (population almost 250 million!!)
    Why not add another Asia-Pacific round or two and cut Spain back to the last race of the season to keep the Spaniards and the rest of Europe happy?

  • Joe

    Why pack all the races into one year? Instead of locking tracks in for multi-year sequential seasons alternate years for the venues. Maybe take a Spanish or Italian round off the calendar one season for a race in SE Asia and then alternate.
    I understand that some circuits may have a hard time going two years between a world level championship visiting, but if WSBK is added into the mix on those “off” years it might make it more appealing.
    Speaking of “well attended races’…bring Indy back! It had better numbers than 2/3rds of the races on the calendar.

  • Aaron

    Does this mean that Philip Island could get moved to between Qatar and Argentina? have this as the other flyaway race in the fall? that would be awesome!

  • Aaron

    Thailand

  • Aaron

    Which one of the four Spanish rounds would you get rid of? they all have great racing…isn’t that the point?

  • Fivespeed 302

    My bad.

  • Spinucci

    Great racing is almost assured no matter where the location.
    But this is a World Championship – not a European title.
    Asia has a higher population than Europe. It’s only sensible to take a World Championship to all parts of the world.

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