More than 7 decades ago Grand Prix racing began in Europe, with the riders and manufacturers from the continent itself. The world was much larger, Asia, Africa and America were a distant dream away. 1961 saw the first GP being held outside of Europe and two years later, Asia had its first GP in Japan.
Even though motorcycle racing is predominantly Europe centric, it has over the years seen racers from different countries take charge. After the first 3 decades of European dominance, the 80s and 90s saw riders from America taking control. There was a smattering of Australian riders as well in this era. From the time MotoGP started in 2002, we have seen mostly Italians and Spanish motorcyclists not just win, but almost entirely fill up the grid.
MotoGP like any other professional sport, is driven by commerce. The over representation of Italy and Spain in the championship is primarily because of the number of fans in these two countries.
Which is why 2022 is a historic moment for Asia. For the very first time in GP history, the first two rounds of the season are being held in Asia. The season opener was in Qatar and the second race was held in Indonesia.
A clear indication by Dorna, MotoGP’s promoting body. They are looking east as the future awaits here. Lusail has been hosting MotoGP for over a decade now, and this was the first race in Mandalika. As you would expect there were teething problems with a new track in the middle of nowhere. Look at it as a long-term plan and it makes much more sense.
See the crowds teeming to get a glimpse of their favourite MotoGP stars and it is unsurprising that the sport is desperate to cater to them. As a pre-event build-up for the GP, the President of Indonesia went for a motorcycle ride with the GP stars. Where else in the world would you see something like that!
There are now five Asian rounds through the season in the Championship, with Japan, Malaysia and Thailand part of the racing calendar. But currently only a single Asian rider in the premier class in the form of Takaaki Nakagami from Japan. With a greater push to the sport in Asia, we can hope to see more Asian riders in the coming decade.
ஒட்டுமொத்த விகடனுக்கும் ஒரே ஷார்ட்கட்!
What about India? India currently has an FIA approved track in the form of the Buddh International Circuit, where Formula 1 races were held. It was also homologated by the FIM for the World Superbike, but that fell through at the last moment. India isn’t lacking in infrastructure, the circuit and surrounding areas has better accommodation, airport and medical facilities than many other tracks in the world. What we do lack though is mass interest.
India has a large and growing motorcycle market. We also now have a considerably developed motorcycle lifestyle, where people ride motorcycles by choice and not circumstance. Yet, we are lacking in interest towards motorcycle racing. It is a niche sport in the country. There just aren’t enough MotoGP fans to viably host a race here. All of this might change with the recently launched MotoGP series being aired on Amazon Prime, MotoGP Unlimited. A series made to show all the drama which happens off track, to attract new fans to the human side of the sport. Modern-day gladiators, so to speak.
Which brings us to the actual racing which happened in the first two rounds of MotoGP.
With the two races having happened on tracks which are widely different from the rest of the calendar, we have no direction going in for the rest of the season. Lusail is a night race held after dark on a track which barely sees any use for the rest of the year. Mandalika is a brand-new track, where the surface was degrading under the powerful motorcycles. The race weekend also saw incredibly high track temperatures of 67 degrees centigrade. With the race being cut short because of excessive tyre degradation. It eventually got hit by a tropical downpour, which skewed the entire results.
Enea Bastianini in only his second year in MotoGP and on a year-old satellite Ducati, won the opening round at Qatar. The attack from the other Ducatis which was expected, didn’t materialise. Neither were the Suzukis able to pose any challenge. Second place was taken by Brad Binder on his KTM, who nobody was expecting to find on the podium, while third spot was rounded off by Pol Espargaro on his Honda.
Mandalika’s results were similarly thrown a curve ball with the rain. Miguel Oliveira took the win on board his KTM in decisive fashion. He made a break early in the race and kept the lead unchallenged till the finish. More surprising than the winner was second placed reigning MotoGP champion, Fabio Quartararo. The Frenchman has never been great in the wet on his Yamaha. But in Indonesia after a slow start, he made his way through the pack to finish second. Third was taken by another Frenchman, Johann Zarco on his Ducati, after a tough fight with fellow Ducati rider, Jack Miller.
After two rounds, Bastianini leads the championship. But there is not much you can read into it. This is a long season and the first two races were anomalies.
The biggest takeaway from the season start was the crash of Marc Marquez. In a massive highside, he has re-injured himself. Double vision problems which plagued him through the winter break is back. How will that pan out for the multiple champion and the MotoGP championship? The motorcycling world waits with bated breath.