In the last season of MotoGP, the main class of the World Championship, eight different riders have won at least one Grand Prix, out of the thirty participants. Fifteen drivers have been on the podium at least once, and six have alternated in pole position. The winner of the World Championship, the French Fabio Quartararo, is just 22 years old and has a whole career ahead, as are most of his opponents. The new season will not be very different: they ran two races and had two different winners, one of which was – surprisingly – the Italian Enea Bastianini of Gresini Racing, a team that uses Ducati bikes.
For a few years now, MotoGP has been an increasingly open championship, made up of often spectacular races and many twists: all characteristics that Formula 1, the most important car championship in the world, has been aiming for for some time and for which it has specially introduced the new technical regulation, inaugurated with the victory of Ferrari in Bahrain.
Yet these are years of great changes for MotoGP, so influential that some believe a new era has begun. These changes mainly concerned the riders, with the older generations, those who for years drove the popularity of the World Championship, now almost completely disappeared. The first to retire were the Spaniards Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa, last year it was Valentino Rossi’s turn and the next will be Andrea Dovizioso, who has just turned 36. The former world champion Marc Marquez, on the other hand, has yet to recover from his recent serious injuries and his return to the levels of the past is by no means a foregone conclusion.
Of all these, Valentino Rossi’s retirement is the one that weighed the most. In fact, he was the rider who, from the 1990s onwards, brought the World Championship out of a niche of enthusiasts, all in all, to bring it to global popularity. Over the course of his career, the television broadcasts of the races have reached over two hundred countries, spectators at the circuits have reached a total of 3 million in a season – in normal years – and social networks reach over 30 million people around the world. For Carmelo Ezpeleta, head of the company that manages the World Championship, Rossi “has been crucial for many years, he has approached people who had never been interested before”.
However, there are some characteristics that still limit the global growth of MotoGP. The championship is strong in its traditional markets, such as Italy and Spain, and managed to enter the emerging markets of Southeast Asia several years ago, as well as Japan, another country with a deep-rooted motoring tradition. As Ezpeleta explained, “the popularity in different countries is due to the presence of manufacturers, then the drivers and finally the Grand Prix”.
It is for these reasons that in India and China, but also in the United States, MotoGP has not arrived as elsewhere. The first two do not host races, have no drivers or teams, except for some isolated participations with little following. In the United States, the situation is different. The country has had and still has world champion riders, top-level teams and races, but MotoGP finds intense competition there, between the growth of Formula 1 and the many local motorsport championships, from Nascar to IndyCar.
Then there is the demographic question. According to recent research, 84 per cent of the MotoGP audience is male, and 62 per cent is in the 18 to 34 age group. In the following bands, the audience drops sharply, with 28 per cent in the 35-54 range. The spectators that MotoGP loses with advancing age, if they remain tied to racing, most likely move on to more structured car championships such as Formula 1, whose largest portion of fans is in fact the one that goes from 35 years onwards. .
A structural limit of MotoGP is the duration of the races, around half an hour. Hence the need to bring together even the lesser and less followed classes, to organize longer events which, in any case, are unlikely to compete with the longer and more structured races of Formula 1 or the North American championships. This is believed to play an important role in the low average age of the MotoGP audience, who with age begin to prefer other motorsports.
The generational change underway, however, could give a new boost, helped by some new commercial initiatives. The presence of Spanish and Italian pilots is still predominant, but other nationalities are carving out more and more spaces. In the last two seasons there have been South African, French, Australian and Portuguese victories. For its part, MotoGP has also launched a new series in streaming in the wake of the great success achieved by Drive to Survivethe Netflix series about Formula 1. MotoGP Unlimited it was built over the past season by closely following teams and drivers. It has eight episodes and in Italy it can be seen on Prime Video.