During its 70-year history, the MotoGP™ landscape has undergone some incredible transformations and the last decade has been no exception. Beyond the new trends that have emerged like MotoE™ and the eSport World Championship, the technology has evolved considerably as well as the categories!
The introduction of a new format
On the one hand, they have been reorganised for clarity. At the end of 2009, the 250cc disappeared in favour of the Moto2™ World Championship: motorcycles equipped with the same engine - in this case a four-cylinder, 600cc Honda. The idea was to get young riders more acclimatised with powerful machines so that the step to MotoGP™ wouldn’t be as big. A highly competitive category, where the prototypes would dissociate above all by their chassis, which was also inaugurated by the late Shoya Tomizawa’s victory in Qatar.
Two years later, a new era was also beginning in the smallest category. 125cc became the Moto3™ World Championship: 250cc, four-stroke, single-cylinder engines but this time without a single-engine manufacturer. Now MotoGP™ star Maverick Viñales won the very first race there.
And then within these categories, brands arrived whilst others returned. At the end of 2011, Suzuki decided to take a break from Grand Prix racing but thankfully the Hamamatsu factory bounced back. In 2015, the Japanese manufacturer returned to the world stage with Aleix Espargaro and Maverick Viñales. Just a few months later, Viñales made sure Suzuki were back on top of the world again with victory at Silverstone. In total, their first campaign back in the premier class resulted in four podiums, but it was only the beginning! Alex Rins (Team Suzuki Ecstar) triumphed in these colours at the 2019 Grand Prix of the Americas and better still, he managed to put in a repeat performance at the British Grand Prix, finding a last lap, last corner move on the dominant Marc Marquez (Repsol Honda Team) Results that speak volumes about the level they’ve now reached. Their pre-season points towards further success.
Aprilia, for its part, has had a few more difficulties since its return to MotoGP™ in 2015. The Noale factory has, however, a revolutionary 2020 RS-GP that stunned everyone with its performance at the Sepang and Qatar pre-season tests. The Italian outfit appear to have put their struggles behind them.
KTM was embarking on a larger challenge in 2017 when they entered both Moto2™ and MotoGP™. Without any experience, the brand deployed their great resources and became a true challenger in the intermediate category, winning a handful of races and contending for multiple titles before exiting in 2019. In the big leagues - the class that it will focus all its attention in 2020 – it has managed to reduce the gap year on year, race by race. Top ten finishes have multiplied, with Pol Espargaro (Red Bull KTM Factory Racing) even earning the Austrian factory’s debut podium at the wet season finale in Valencia just over a year ago. Other highlights have included front-row starts in Brno and Misano last season, as well as a sixth-place finish in Le Mans, their best in dry conditions. With another step forward taken ahead of the 2020 season, there's no question of knowing where the KTM journey ends.
The 2019 campaign was also marked by the arrival of a new engine manufacturer in Moto2™: Triumph. The new weapon of choice? A 765cc in-line three-cylinder, inspired by the 2017 Street Triple. The noise a total contrast to what we had become accustomed to. Its introduction brought incredibly close gaps, a multitude of winners, a rewriting of the record books in both speed and lap record chapters, plus very few technical issues for the riders to encounter.
More importance given to satellite teams
The aim of making MotoGP ™ as equal and level as possible means the rules are forever evolving. First there was CRT - Claiming Rule Team - in 2012; a class within a class that was created so that teams working with a smaller budget can also take part in the MotoGP™ World Championship. Help came in the form of having twelve engines instead of six and putting 24 litres in the tank instead of 21.
CRTs were then replaced by the Open class from 2014. This time, the teams entered in this class agreed to have the same Magneti Marelli ECU in return for certain privileges, again linked to the number of engines, the litres of petrol, and also the types of rubber. These same privileges were also given to certain manufacturers who hadn’t tasted victory in previous years or were simply making their debut. Ducati thus decided to join the class in order to properly prepare for the future.
Just two years later, the Factory versus Open fight was ended. Everyone was, therefore, suddenly in the same boat. The same ECU, 22 litres of petrol and seven of the exact same engines for the season. However, concessions were still granted to new brands, or to those that didn’t stand on the top step of the podium between 2013 and 2015, with their concessions reviewed and renewed depending on results. For the upcoming season, just two manufacturers will benefit from a helping hand. Both Aprilia and KTM will, among other things, have nine engines throughout the season with one upgrade permitted throughout the course of the year.
Now, in modern-day MotoGP™, nearly all of the factories have their own satellite teams, which all carry greater importance than ever before. Proof of this is Cal Crutchlow (LCR Honda Castrol), Jack Miller and Francesco Bagnaia of Pramac Racing, Fabio Quartararo (Petronas Yamaha SRT) and Red Bull KTM Tech 3’s Miguel Oliveira and Iker Lecuona only competing with the same machinery as their factory counterparts. Truth be told, manufacturers are well aware of the benefits that having as many competitive motorcycles on the grid as possible can be for data collection, especially since these riders are fully capable of fighting victories, podiums and pole positions. Just look Jack Miller’s Assen win in 2016 or by Cal Crutchlow conquering Termas de Rio Hondo in 2018, plus Brno and Phillip Island in 2016. Fabio Quartararo is not to be forgotten too, with seven podiums and six poles last season; performances which convinced Yamaha to give him a full-factory Yamaha M1 for the 2020 campaign.
Over the years, the classes have evolved with the sole purpose of maintaining the cornerstones of MotoGP™ - passion and excitement. As we enter a new decade, the premier class boasts the closest and most competitive field arguably in its history, whilst continuing to smash lap records and speed records at every circuit year on year.