Jorge Martin (Prima Pramac Ducati) at the Sachsenring – the Spaniard was the sensation of the 2023 season in MotoGP and despite 13 victories compared to 11 for his opponent Bagnaia, it was not enough for the title. The following critical article is about this and about a catastrophic development in the road world championship. Even in the paddock, doubts are becoming louder and louder about the future of racing on two wheels.

MotoGP season 2023 – a sporting disaster like in the WSBK

Alvaro Bautista defended his WorldSBK 2023 title just like last year, without having to seriously fight or take risks in most races. Unfortunately, the decision for the MotoGP title in 2023 also turned into a sporting disaster. Despite 10 different race winners and significantly more excitement in the title fight compared to the WSBK, there was a veritable debacle. Jorge Martin was robbed of his chance for the title in the second to last Grand Prix of the year using highly questionable means. Interestingly, however, the public gave the wrong reasons for this. The Spaniard opened the door wide open to his first world title on November 18, 2023 with his victory in the sprint race at the Losail International Circuit, while the reigning champion Bagnaia only finished fifth. Martin had achieved the same feat in the final round of Valencia, but this could not make up for his drama at the Qatar Grand Prix, where he lost almost any chance of winning the title through more than questionable circumstances.

Toprak Razgatlioglu (Pata Yamaha R1) in front of Alvaro Bautista and behind in the picture with the 87 his WSBK brand colleague Remy Gardner. Although the Turk was undisputedly the strongest pilot in WorldSBK in the 2023 season, he had no chance in the title fight due to a lack of an equivalent power-to-weight ratio compared to the Spaniard. In MotoGP the fight and the crown in the premier class were much closer. But discussions about various discrepancies and possibly even manipulation clouded the picture significantly (© WorldSBK).

Disastrous preliminary decision in the Qatar Grand Prix

Many voices in the paddock today are absolutely certain that Jorge’s debacle in the second to last GP of the year cannot only be explained by worse tires. This was something that should never happen with standard tires. Especially in the title fight. The much more likely reason for Jorge’s 10th place in the nineteenth Grand Prix of the 2023 season is actually obvious when looking at the pictures from the start of the race. Martin was almost thrown off his Ducati. The reason for this was obviously a problem with the electronics on his Ducati, which suggests that the supervisor at the Italian factory may have intentionally misprogrammed it. All other pilots had a completely problem-free start. If the so-called starting device and the slip control function to prevent the rear wheel from spinning when accelerating, Martin’s starting disaster cannot possibly occur despite the possibly worse rear tires.

Johann Zarco ahead of Jorge Martin – the two teammates won the MotoGP 2023 team championship for Prima Pramac Ducati with a lead of 88 points over the Ducati Lenovo factory team. Perhaps it was precisely for this reason that the Italian factory in Qatar wanted to prevent the drivers’ championship from going to Jorge Martin instead of their reigning world champion Bagnaia. In any case, his problems at the start of the Qatar Grand Prix on November 19, 2023 cry out for an explanation and it could almost not possibly be the tires alone.

How to make wishes come true – when you see no other way

Why Ducati wanted to slow down the Spaniard using unsportsmanlike means, according to some insiders, is of course obvious. Their Lenovo factory team and the Italian management really wanted to see their own driver as world champion. In retrospect, one also remembers a saying from Francesco Bagnaia at the beginning of the second half of the season, when he was asked in a press conference how he wanted to prevent Jorge Martin from winning the title. The Italian responded to this with a suspiciously interesting joke: “Of course we have to come up with something for the Ducati factory team to slow it down if necessary,” said Bagnaia in an interview with a grin, as if he already knew what resources were available for this has. A prime example of how you can make your wishes come true when you can’t see any other way.

Marco Bezzecchi (Mooney VR46 Racing Ducati) was the second best Italian behind Bagnaia in the 2023 season instead of the new Ducati factory driver Enea Bastianini, who was injured for too long. However, the man from Rimini, who only turned 25 on November 12th, definitely lacked consistency for the fight for the title in the premier class. Nevertheless, this is certainly something to be proud of for his second season in MotoGP after three Grand Prix victories and one in the sprint race.

Questionable FIM decisions cause people to shake their heads

In the WorldSBK, a one-sided interpretation of the regulations by the FIM commissioners made it possible for Bautista to win two titles in a row. The competition actually had no chance in most races before the start. More on this shortly in our separate article about the most boring year in the history of the series-based World Cup. But there were also sporting scandals among the MotoGP factory riders for Ducati. As watched by an audience of millions, he was guilty of so-called track limit offenses with impunity. On the other hand, the FIM commissioners never spared other pilots. Brad Binder, for example, lost important World Cup points several times for this reason. But things get even worse and more unsportsmanlike, as we saw at the French Grand Prix on May 14, 2023.

Our shot of Le Mans Cathedral, a city that has become an integral part of motorsport history. With an incomparably beautiful old town, in which you feel like you have been transported back centuries. An event happened here in mid-May 2023 that cast a dark shadow on MotoGP and also the FIM, the highest motorsport authority for two-wheeled competitions, which is responsible for sporting matters. Their commissioners caused a scandal when they allowed gross unsportsmanlike behavior by the reigning world champion to go unpunished.

The absolute lowest point – a hooligan-like behavior goes unpunished

In Le Mans, the carelessness and dereliction of duty by those responsible at FIM was a historically sad crown. Francesco Bagnaia was overtaken by Maverick Viñales after 4 laps and tried the crowbar one corner later. Both fell and the Italian then attacked the Spaniard in the gravel trap in the worst possible way. Pecco not only misbehaved verbally, but he even hit the Aprilia factory driver, who was completely innocent of the shared crash. This unsportsmanlike behavior was seen by millions of spectators. The behavior of the reigning world champion was inexcusable and deserved to be severely punished. In football, this results in a red card and a suspension for several games. Bagnaia, however, was spared by the FIM commissioners and escaped punishment, receiving neither a ban nor a move back to the starting grid for the following Grand Prix. This is something that many observers see as the biggest scandal in the history of motorcycle racing. What is particularly shocking is how conspicuously Ducati factory pilots have repeatedly been spared from punishment by the FIM, see also Bautista in the WSBK.

Shocking images that went around the world. Bagnaia, who was initially sitting in the gravel after the double crash with Aprilia Ace Viñales, which he was responsible for, is asked by the Spaniard about the reason for his pointless attempt to overtake, then gets up and attacks his opponent, even though he is completely blameless for the shared crash. Such unsportsmanlike behavior deserves severe punishment, but the FIM officials dismissed it as a normal racing accident.
The two rain races from 2023 are shown in blue and the sprint race from Phillip Island (Australia), which was canceled due to bad weather, is shown in red. Failures due to injury are marked with “inj” in red and “nc” means no classification due to failure to reach the finish line. The large number of these red entries underlines the incredibly high number of cancellations, which is particularly due to the sprint race that was introduced this season. On average, in 39 runs per race, 7 pilots did not see the checkered flag, something that has certainly never happened in modern times.
Alex Rins (LCR Honda) caused a sensation in Austin (Texas) in 2023 when he won the US Grand Prix on the mostly inferior Honda. Unfortunately, two laps later, the likeable Spaniard was out for a very long time due to a serious injury sustained at Le Mans and thus missed around the last two thirds of the season.

Unworldly new regulations are destroying the sporting value of victories

Dorna and FIM have done a lot in recent years to be able to manipulate the WSBK and MotoGP at will. For example, the track limits introduced in 2019 are, from a sporting perspective, a sporting joke. Anyone who touches certain green marked areas off the track must expect punishment. If this were handled like in tennis and generally measured opto-electronically in the future, it would still be somewhat tolerable, although still questionable. In principle, no driver can gain an advantage by driving in this area. When decisions are made by humans, things ultimately become questionable. Those responsible for the FIM are playing a highly implausible role in this because they are obviously measured with unequal cubits or are simply judged unfairly. The various newly installed “long lap” areas on all routes are also completely ridiculous. In some cases, a so-called long lap penalty is completely ineffective as a punishment, as some cases have proven.

Example of a so-called track limit offense by Francesco “Pecco” Bagnaia (Ducati) in Misano 2020 – the Italian went unpunished, while other pilots have to expect ongoing warnings for this and, in the event of a repeat offense. The FIM commissioners are notorious for their one-sided and therefore extremely unfair decisions.

Unworldly new regulations are destroying the sporting value of victories

Since 2023, MotoGP has seen a further increase in senseless punishments. Recently there have even been so-called tire pressure penalties, which has further expanded the range of manipulative possibilities by the FIM commissioners. Completely pointless from a sporting point of view, it also punishes something for which the pilots are not to blame and which is almost beyond their control. On the other hand, Dorna and FIM are refraining from making long overdue changes to the regulations, such as interventions regarding the increasingly dangerous aerodynamic aids that are currently being used. As demanded by six-time MotoGP world champion Marc Marquez, they should also urgently abolish the use of so-called start devices. Electronics that lower the tail to give you an advantage when starting. Because all manufacturers have been using this for a long time, it could have been dispensed with for years, also because this system involves risks. Johann Zarco and some other pilots can tell you a thing or two about it. And no matter what questionable tricks FIM and the Spanish-dominated Dorna come up with to manipulate results, having Spanish citizenship or driving for the Ducati factory team definitely helps in order not to be punished.

Fabio Quartararo (Monster Energy Yamaha) has a strong new teammate in Alex Rins. In order to catch up again in the coming season, new so-called concession regulations were presented for his factory and Honda by FIM and Dorna in collaboration with the manufacturers’ association. With more freedom in further development and fewer restrictions on testing compared to the competition, this plan is intended to ensure more balance in 2024.

If drivers criticize Dorna or FIM, it will boomerang

Johann Zarco is not only one of the most popular MotoGP riders in the paddock among journalists. The Frenchman from Cannes is undoubtedly one of the best interviewees you can imagine. The former gymnast is a sportsman through and through, always fair and always open to honest answers to questions asked of him. In addition, he not only does a lot for motorsport and its popularity in his country, but he is also a talented hobby musician and a fun-loving fellow. In short, a face that gives color to racing and adds spice to every press conference he takes part in. In MotoGP it is an unwritten rule that the winner of a Grand Prix takes part in the PK of the following event. Until 2023, we hardly remember any exception to this rule. But after the southern Frenchman’s sensational first MotoGP victory in Phillip Island (Australia), his face was sorely missed in the following press conference by BuriRam (Thailand). He was probably bullied by Dorna because he publicly criticized their newly introduced “Riders Parade”. It was not without reason that he pointed out in the interview that this can seriously disrupt a pilot’s concentration before the newly introduced sprint race. He also cited this as a possible reason for the significantly increased number of racing crashes.

Despite countless successes and a Grand Prix victory, Johann Zarco (Prima Pramac Ducati) was dropped by Ducati at the end of the 2023 season and will be replaced by Franco Morbidelli for the coming season. However, at LCR Honda in the family team of former racing driver Lucio Checchinello, the two-time Moto2 world champion was welcomed with open arms. As before at Pramac, he will also be supplied with factory material there and, as fifth in the 2023 World Championship, should be one of the strongest private drivers again next year.

Unless otherwise stated, this applies to all images (© MotoGP).