It is difficult to find a competition that is as equal as the current MotoGP World Championship, where the differences between the riders are minimal, and as a result we enjoy exciting and hard-fought races that remain interesting from start to finish. Equality is the predominant feature of the Grand Prix not only in the top class, MotoGP, but also in Moto2 and Moto3. However, the “premier class” always has much tighter results than the other two categories of the championship.
This is no accident. There are several factors that make MotoGP the tightest and most equal championship. The technical regulations, with the single tire rule, which allows all riders to have the same tires in terms of type and quantity, as well as the common control unit, which equalizes the electronics of the bikes, and the limited number of engines available throughout the season have allowed all riders to compete with more or less the same weapons. The only differences are now made by the design of each manufacturer and the talent of their riders.
It is not a very different situation from Moto2 and Moto3, where tires, control units, and engines are also regulated; and even the fuel is the same for all. In Moto2, moreover, most of the teams opt for the same chassis manufacturer, so there is even greater equality. However, in these categories the differences between the riders’ talents are greater than in MotoGP. When looking at the training 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 larger differences. That does not usually happen in MotoGP.
There are several reasons for this. First, the aforementioned technical equality. The entry onto the scene of the single tire rule greatly balanced the scales. In the past, tires were a factor of imbalance because they did not always provide consistent performance. We all remember huge battles between legendary drivers of the past that suddenly came to an end when the tire of one of them gave out, putting an end to the show.
If we look at what the competitions were like before MotoGP came on the scene, we see that the differences in times were very large, and to a large extent were marked by the significant difference in the resources between the riders and the bikes they used. For example, in 1990 the average gap on the 500 grid between the pole position and the last qualifier in training 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” suffered a troublesome crisis that caused its grids to whittle down due to the complexity of the category and the difficulty for private riders to have access to competitive motorcycles.
The entry of the “Big bang” engines in 1992, introduced by Honda and eventually incorporated by all manufacturers that same season, equalized the performance of the bikes. Throughout the 1990s, it allowed the average gap in the grid to be significantly reduced, also taking into account that, fortunately, the number of participants had increased compared to 1990.
By 2000, the gap was around 5 seconds. Although the old “two-stroke ” 500s and the modern “four-stroke “MotoGPs coexisted in the races for a couple of seasons, the average gap in 2002 in MotoGP ranged between 3 and 4 seconds.
Today, thanks to all the technical regulations that equalize the performance of the bikes, the average gap on the MotoGP grid is minimal. In 2021 it was only 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 was left in the hands of the human factor, the rider. And in this sense this modern sport has also contributed to equalizing racing as nowadays the riders have become true athletes. The physical demands of such powerful bikes as the MotoGP ones force riders to be very well-prepared in order to be able to perform to the maximum during the almost 45 minutes that a race usually lasts. Because a mistake, even the slightest mistake, can define the outcome.
The difference between MotoGP riders and those of the other categories lies in their experience and preparation. They are capable of running an entire race with almost identical times, lap after lap, with almost no mistakes. The differences in the records of the fastest and slowest riders in a MotoGP race are just over a second per lap; and sometimes the first few laps are the ones that determine the outcome of the race. It is at these moments that the drivers take risks to gain ground because after that the performance is so evenly matched that it is sometimes very difficult to make up lost ground.
With this situation, for some years now, the figure of the lapped rider has basically disappeared from the Grand Prix, especially in MotoGP. In the past, lapped riders played, to their regret, a decisive role in the outcome of some races. Before, if a slow rider was overtaken by the leading group and he was not attentive to the race stewards’ indications, he could become a hindrance to the leaders. Today that danger has disappeared and the blue flag, the one that warns drivers that they are about to lose a lap, is practically no longer used in the race.
In 1990 the percentage of lapped riders in a 500 race was close to 35%, and we must take into account that year the average number of riders finishing the races was significantly low — only 14 riders on average — which meant that in many occasions there were four or five lapped riders. Fortunately, the “Big bang” raised the levels of the bikes and made more competitive ones available to private riders, thus increasing the number of participants and reducing the percentage of lapped riders, which in 2000 was only 3%.
With the arrival of MotoGP, the percentage of lapped riders was reduced until it finally disappeared. Nowadays, there are no more riders who lose laps in MotoGP races unless there has been an accident because as we said before, both technical and human performance is very high. This is competition at the highest level with a level of equality that makes each race and each season a unique show.