800cc MotoGP era - the most boring racing in at least a decade

 close finishes

If you’ve been getting the sneaking feeling that MotoGP racing ain’t what it used to be, you’re dead right. With just one race left to run in the 2008 season, the premier class has not had a SINGLE race decided by less than a second. Contrast this to 1999, when 9 races out of 16 delivered nail-biter finishes. When the 2-strokes were phased out by the 990cc MotoGP bikes, racing stayed fairly exciting - but close finishes took a very sharp dive when the 800cc computer-guided missiles first hit the track in 2007.

For another look, check out the change in the average winning margin for each of the last ten seasons:

leader gaps

This one’s particularly telling; between 1998 and 2006, average winning margins (in blue) hovered around 2-2.5 seconds, but since the advent of the 800cc era, winning margins have doubled to an average of between 5 and 6 seconds. The main event is routinely upstaged by the 250cc class in terms of sheer, competitive racing - and Dorna’s response has been to kill off the 250GP class.

Rider safety might be somewhat improved (are there any stats on that we can analyse?) but participation costs in GP are skyrocketing, the premier class grid is shrinking, and the racing has been little short of soporific. Television ratings might be buoyed by the sheer star power of Valentino Rossi, but as twilight falls on his career this won’t be a factor forever.

You’ve got to wonder how much longer Kawasaki will spend their 30-odd million a year to advertise to the world how far off the pace they are - and the dollars the top teams are throwing at new technology each year will make sure Team Green gets a good kicking while it’s down. With the human factor diminishing in importance at the pointy end of the field, big budgets will continue deciding championships and superhuman performances will continue to make less and less of a difference.

World Superbike, once the laughing stock of the racing world, is looking healthy and exciting, with an influx of new and returning manufacturers for 2009 and good proper fairing-bashing racing entertainment for viewers.

Will the one-tyre rule help address the issue and inject some excitement back into MotoGP in 2009?  Possibly, but the other thing statistics can’t show us is how much more involving it was to watch a viciously kicking 500cc 2-stroker or a powersliding 990cc rocket than the smooth and composed 800cc slot-bikes of 2007 onwards. We’ll never have the 500s back, no matter how much Rossi and the viewing public may want them, and the 800s will be here until at least 2011, so let’s hope this trend of boring, pole-to-post procession racing can turn around in the next couple of years. Yeah, I’m not liking our chances much either. But Formula One got rid of traction control…

Source: analysis of race times on MotoGP.com and wikipedia.com. Thanks to Andy37 for the idea.

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6 Responses to “800cc MotoGP era - the most boring racing in at least a decade”

  1. Rob J Jones Says:

    Very interesting analysis - it made me think long and hard about the races, excitement, predictability, and the last 10 years. Ultimately I have to disagree with the conclusion. I for one did not find Rossi’s predictable shadowing then winning particularly exciting. Nor Doohan’s domination. What I do like is three or four riders in with a serious shot at the championship, technological diversity, and an element of unpredictability.

    Thanks for a great post - it got me thinking and got my back up enough for me to respond on MotoGPBlog too. This is not a plug - I tried and failed to stick a trackback up here. More like this please!

  2. Loz Says:

    Cheers Rob - here’s Rob’s full response:

    I feel that technical diversity is fantastic when you’ve got two guys racing closely - perhaps one’s stronger midcorner and the other has the edge on the brakes or the exits. The tyre wars were always interesting as well - but for me motorcycle racing is a human spectacle, and only a close race can draw out the extraordinary in these godlike riders.

    Laguna Seca was an awesome race - right up until Stoner fell off and Rossi walked the last few laps. If more of this year’s racing had been as hard-fought as that, right to the checkered flag, nobody would be complaining.

    The other thing about this relentless march of development, while it in itself is fascinating, is that it seems to be turning MotoGP machines into bikes most of us wouldn’t be scared of. I’d jump on an M1 and wobble my way around for a few laps in a heartbeat given the choice. An NSR500? Not in a million years. It would kill me for food.

    It’s intellectually fascinating to learn all the new tech that’s making the 800s faster month by month, but I miss the stomach-churning emotion of watching the best riders in the world tame a pit full of ferocious animals that would scare the trembling shit out of mortals.

  3. Robert Says:

    No need to type it all again.

  4. Rossi: “The race today was so boring that I almost fell off at Doohan corner to give some excitement!” » The Biker Gene Says:

    […] stirred up a bit of criticism recently with our assertation that the 800cc era has produced the most  boring MotoGP racing in at least a decade - but it seems we’ve got some high profile support in our […]

  5. Randall Graham Says:

    Some valid comments, but I don’t want to see the kind of “everyone races the same car” stuff that IROC tried in auto racing. Anyway, NOTHING is as boring as an AMA Superbike race. Flip a coin, Spies or Mladin? Who cares? They flat out ruined that series.

  6. Kawasaki to quit MotoGP » The Biker Gene Says:

    […] racing in the world of high finance, you might say - but then, as we pointed out earlier, the racing in the last two seasons of MotoGP has been the least entertaining in a decade, computer-controlled, razor sharp missiles that hit apex after apex and nail identical lap times […]

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