The beginner’s guide to MotoGP

The first FIM Road Racing World Championship was held by the Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme (FIM) in 1949. The FIM or the International Motorcycling Federation is the global governing body for motorcycle racing. Grand Prix motorcycle racing is widely accepted as the premier class of motorcycle racing. Of all the racing championships governed by the FIM, MotoGP is considered the highest class of racing. MotoGP is to motorcycle racing what Formula 1 is to a four-wheeler, open seater racing.

In 2002, the top class of motorcycle racing was rebranded and called MotoGP. Since 1949, the Grand Prix Road Racing championship has seen many changes in its format. The primary change was in the volume displacement capacity of the engine. Changes have been affected to improve participation and to even out the playing field. Various classes for 50cc, 80cc, 125cc, 250cc, 500cc and 750cc have raced at different times. Since 2012, Moto racing has settled on three classes: MotoGP, Moto2 and Moto3 in descending order of engine displacement.

SEE ALSO: MotoGP Bikes vs. Normal Bikes; What’s The Difference?

The beginner's guide to MotoGP

MotoGP is the flagship of FIM Grand Prix Racing and is managed by Dorna Sports along with the FIM. MotoGP bikes along with other Grand Prix motorcycles are purpose-built racing machines. These motorcycles are not available for purchase by the general public. The motorcycles are designed and hand-assembled to suit a specific rider. Grand Prix bikes cannot be ridden on roads or highways in any country. Road vehicle authorities around the world believe that these bikes cannot be used safely on public roads. This article will concentrate on MotoGP and the sequence of events during a racing weekend.

What is MotoGP?

MotoGP is a premier motorcycle racing contest with riders from many countries vying for the World Championship. A MotoGP team consists of many members of support staff. Besides the all-important rider of the bike, there are engineers, mechanics and other support staff on the team. Several races take place around the world in a racing season. Races are held on circuits that test a bike and the rider’s endurance capabilities. The courses are designed to also test a rider’s control and his ability to handle the motorcycle.  

A Grand Prix circuit has several straights and many bends. These circuits are specially built to utilise the straight-line speed to the fullest. The bends in the circuit put to test the braking capacity and the rider’s control. A race may be over a distance of 95 to 130 kilometres long depending on the circuit. A rider is awarded points according to his position at the end of a Grand Prix race. At the end of the racing season, all accumulated points are tallied. The driver that has accrued the highest number of points during a season is awarded the MotoGP World Championship. The constructor of the bike is awarded the Constructor’s Championship.

Constructors spend a lot of money on building a MotoGP bike. These bikes use the latest technology to utilise the power output of the engine to the fullest. Research and development to improve the bike’s performance is a never-ending process. Many of the bike’s parts are hand made. Only a few parts are manufactured per season as their design is likely to change the next season. Alterations are made in the assembly shop as required. The bikes are then hand-assembled to suit the driver’s physique and his riding style. 

What are the FIM MotoGP bike specifications?

A MotoGP bike is a single-seater bike and should weigh a minimum of 157 kilograms without the rider mounted on it. Excess weight reduces the speed of the bike. Constructors try to keep the weight of a MotoGP bike to the bare minimum required. Riders themselves go through many weight-reducing regimens while retaining their fitness. The parts of a bike are made from composite materials of Titanium, magnesium and carbon. These composites are lighter and stronger than steel. This helps in reducing the weight of the bike while increasing its cost.

A MotoGP bike engine should have a displacement volume of not greater than 1000cc. The engine configuration is not specified. Most teams prefer the V4 configuration. This configuration gives a better speed to engine weight ratio. Made from lightweight composite materials, constructors strive to keep the engine weight to a minimum. Teams do not declare the power output of an engine. However, MotoGP engines are known to generate close to around 300bhp of power. MotoGP bikes have exceeded speeds of 360kph. 

A bike can use a maximum of 22 litres of fuel during a Grand Prix race. This fuel wouldn’t be enough to last a full race if the bike were to run on full power. As no refuelling is allowed during the race, constructors ensure that the engine gives maximum output with minimum fuel consumption. The Electronic Control Unit (ECU) helps the team engineers and the rider to monitor and control fuel usage. Grand Prix rider’s use all their skills to minimise fuel consumption and ensure that the fuel lasts the entire race. The type of tyres used also to determine the extent of fuel usage. 

A rider has the choice of two types of tyres: dry and wet. Dry tyres are made from three different compounds: soft, medium and hard. Wet tyres are grooved and are only to be used when the track surface is wet. On a dry track, a rider will decide on which tyre to use depending on his experience during practice races and qualifications. Unlike as in Formula 1, MotoGP does not allow for a tyre change during a Grand Prix race. The choice of the tyres will depend on the rider’s previous experience and the predicted weather.

A MotoGP rider has two bikes ready for racing. One of the bikes is mounted with the dry type of tyres while the other is with the wet type. All MotoGP bikes use carbon brake discs in dry weather because they perform well in dry conditions. Carbon discs, however, have to be very hot to break efficiently. The wet weather cools them off quickly lowering braking efficiency. Wet bikes are mounted with steel rotors and different brake pads and are ready for racing in wet conditions. The suspension is also softened sufficiently for wet weather racing. 

How does a MotoGP race work?

A MotoGP racing weekend has four free practice rounds, two qualifying rounds and the Grand Prix race. The events of a racing weekend start on Friday with two rounds of Free Practice sessions (FP1 and FP2) of 45 minutes each. Another Free Practice session (FP3), again of 45 minutes, is held on Saturday. Later on Saturday, two Qualifying sessions (Q1 and Q2) each lasting 15 minutes, are held. Good performances in FP1, FP2, FP3 and in Q1 and Q2 are crucial and determine the rider’s place on the grid.

Here’s how a rider’s place is determined on the starting grid.

  • To accommodate the rider’s making decisions regarding the choice of tyres and other bike adjustments, a fourth Free Practice session (FP4) is held before the qualifying rounds. The performance in this session is not recorded and will not influence either the qualifying or the starting grid placement.
  • Both the Qualifying sessions are held on Saturday, preferably afternoon.
  • Each rider’s lap time is calculated on their fastest times in FP1, FP2 and FP3. 
  • The fastest ten riders from the first three Free Practice sessions advance directly to Q2. 
  • The remaining riders contest for their place on the starting grid in Q1.
  • The two fastest rider’s from Q1 will participate in Q2, taking the number of contestants to 12.
  • The remaining slower riders from Q1 will start the race from 13 positions onwards depending on their top speeds in Q1.
  • The 12 riders that participated in Q2 will be placed in the starting grid from the pole position onwards.
  • If there is a tie in the timings of any two or more rider’s, their combined times in all the sessions (except in FP4) will be tallied to break the tie.
  • If one or both the Qualifying sessions are cancelled, the rider’s combined times in the Free Practice sessions will be used to determine their place on the starting grid.
  • The Grand Prix will be held on the weekend Sunday, mostly in the afternoon.

Moto3 followed by Moto2 races precede the MotoGP race during any racing weekend. Each MotoGP race lasts between 40 to 45 minutes. Pit stops are rare during a Grand Prix and are avoided to save precious time lost during the race. Pit stops are taken to change bikes in case of adverse weather.

What happens if it rains during a MotoGP race?

Previously, if it rained during a dry Grand Prix race, the race marshals would red flag, or stop the race. The race would resume when the riders have switched their bikes to one with wet tyres. In 2005, MotoGP introduced the “flag-to-flag” rule. Now if it rains during a dry Grand Prix, the match officials wave a white flag. This is an indication for riders to pit and switch bikes. Riders can switch to a similar bike so long as the bike is mounted with wet tyres instead of the slick tyres that were mounted before.

The newly mounted bikes also have different brakes mounted on them to facilitate better braking in wet conditions. As explained before, dry weather bikes use carbon discs and brake pads. Carbon brakes work well only when they are very hot. One can see riders repeatedly braking during the warm-up laps trying to heat the brakes.

As the wet weather cools the brakes quickly, the brakes do not work as efficiently as they do in dry weather. The new bikes have steel rotors and different brake pads mounted for better control when cornering.

If a rider crashes, the marshals will wave a yellow flag. This flag will indicate to riders that overtaking is prohibited in the area. A stationary yellow flag is shown one corner down the track. If the crashed rider cannot be evacuated from the track, a red flag is shown and the race is stopped. Crashes are either low side or high side crashes. A low side crash occurs when a driver slides on the low side.

A high side crash is the more dangerous one. It occurs when the tyres lose grip on the track and then regains it. This results in the rider being thrown off the bike on the high side. Thankfully, high side crashes are rarer with the use of traction control.

Who is the Champion of the season?

There will be 18 Grands Prix during the 2022 MotoGP season. Every rider will want to be a champion at the end of the season. After all, that is why these daredevils risk their limbs and life every time they mount their bikes for a Grand Prix race. The riders have to be in peak physical and mental conditions for every Grand Prix event. The slightest slip up will cost them dear points which matter greatly at the end of the season. The bikes are tuned to perfection and tyres are selected with great care to prevent this from happening.

Each rider and constructor are awarded points when a rider finishes among the first 15 in a Grand Prix of 20 racers. The fastest five finishers in a Grand Prix get 25, 20, 16, 13 and 11 points in the descending order of finish. The next ten fastest riders get points from 10 to one with one point less than the faster finisher in that order. At the end of the season, all the points earned by a rider and constructor are added. The rider with the highest number of acquired points wins the MotoGP Championship for the year. The same goes for the bike constructors.

What safety precautions do MotoGP riders take?

All said and done, both the MotoGP riders and the race officials are eager to see that no one is hurt during a Grand Prix weekend. MotoGP has seen a lot of injuries and casualties over the years. That is because MotoGP riders travel at speeds exceeding 350 kph without any protection that riders have in other motorsports racing. Every time a rider opts to race in a MotoGP event, he knows that he is risking serious injury or the loss of life. Remaining safe and fit will lead to a successful season for a rider.

The FIM has stipulated strict safety standards for the riders’ helmets. This is to protect riders from a brain injury in case of heavy impacts. The helmet manufacturers have to comply with the recognised standards for helmets. Only then can they apply for FIM approval for their products. The helmets are constructed from carbon composites with a Styrofoam layer inside. The innermost layer consists of check pads and is removable. Ventilating features are built into the helmet. These helmets are highly resilient and can withstand heavy impacts.

MotoGP riders are exposed to the elements and have nothing to protect them in case of a crash. The riding helmets come with visors to protect the riders from the debris flying around the track. If dust and grime accumulate on the visor, tear off strips can be removed from the visor to clear visibility. While some rider’s use rose-tinted visors, most riders use clear visors. Special visors are used when it rains. These visors are double padded to prevent fogging. A rubber seal around the edges prevents the water from seeping into the helmet.

MotoGP riders wear special suits that protect them from abrasion in the event of a crash. Leather panels made from camel skin or cowhide are stitched together to fit the rider. These panels are hand-stitched with due allowance to the rider’s posture when racing. An accordion-like folded panelling at the arm, lower back and knee joints give the driver freedom of movement. A humpback on the suit not only improves the aerodynamics of the bike, but it also helps to store water to cool the suit. The humpback also houses the electronics that are used in monitoring the bike.

The rider’s racing suit is also well ventilated to keep the rider cool and keep him from sweating and dehydrating. Most riders use knee pads to protect their knees and support the legs when they brush against the tarmac when cornering. The rider’s suit is also lined with silicone padding on the inside of the knee. This padding helps the rider grip the bike better and get more control over the bike. Race suits also have an airbag inside them. These airbags protect the rider’s back, shoulders and rib cage when a rider falls off his bike. Protective armour is also inserted in pockets around the rider’s vulnerable areas.

Riders wear protective gloves made from leather. These gloves are reinforced by protective cladding on the knuckles, wrists and palms. The gloves must overlap the rider’s suit by at least 50mm. The inner lining of the gloves, in the palm area, is thinner than that in other areas. This is to give the rider a better grip on the throttle and feel of the brake levers. This measure helps the driver better control the bike and is in itself a protective measure.

A rider’s riding boots are a marvel of modern engineering. The boots consist of two layers with the inner layer and outer layer protecting the heel and ankle. An inner foam layer distributes the shock of an impact over a wider area giving the foot added protection. The outer shell is finished with stitched leather. The sole of the boot is thin to give the rider a good feel of the footpegs. A thin reflective shell reflects the heat generated by the rider’s foot against the footpegs. Some riders prefer to insert toe sliders into the outer shell.

What safety measures are taken in MotoGP?

The FIM is also serious about rider and officials’ safety. It has taken several measures towards this end. MotoGP stewards and marshals not only ensure that the MotoGP riders follow the rules and regulations but also put in effect appropriate safety measures. The race stewards show the appropriate flags to indicate to the riders the condition of the track. They are also among the first responders in case of an incident. They are the key to effective Grand Prix safety management and do their duty religiously.

The FIM has also installed air fences on racing tracks. Air fences are filled with air and are effective shock absorbers. They protect riders and bikes in the event of a crash by absorbing most of the shock from the impact. Air fences are placed at points on the track where there is the likelihood of an impact with a short and direct trajectory. Pozzolan traps cover those areas where the distance is great enough to stop the rider and a bike without causing much damage. Pozzolan traps are areas covered with gravel.

Asphalt run-off areas provide the rider with enough space to regain his composure and control his bike. A rider can then go back on the track and continue racing with a minimum penalty. A penalty is better than a crash at any given time. Fires are likely to occur on high-speed tracks like MotoGP circuits with a lot of combustible matter around. Fire extinguishers are placed in areas where there is a high likelihood of riders slipping. Race stewards are trained to handle the fire extinguishers and rush to immediate rescue of a rider in trouble. 

Medical teams are available for instant action around the track in case of an emergency. Ambulances are also placed at various critical points that can respond immediately. At points that stewards cannot see, surveillance cameras can spot any sign of trouble. The FIM officials then alert the stewards and the medical teams via radio communications. These are the various safety measures that the FIM has implemented to ensure the safety of riders and race officials.

Conclusion: The beginner’s guide to MotoGP

Various safety precautions are taken by riders and the FIM to ensure an incident-free MotoGP season every rider tries their best to win a Grand Prix and ultimately the championship every year. The competition is stiff and unrelenting. Every year the time difference between a win and the second place keeps narrowing. With advancing technology, things will only get tighter in the coming years. Manufacturers pour a lot of money into improving the performances of MotoGP bikes. Riders also try their best on improving their riding styles and get the maximum out of their bikes. Things bode well for MotoGP.

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