‘Grand prix’ is the mark of the elite. It’s the main event, an occasion of significance, the climax of a weekend.(Click to Tweet)
MotoGP has long heeded the principal, just as Formula One has thus far avoided making tweaks to its Sunday schedule in reverence of the grand prix concept.
The two express the subject distinctly, however, and it cuts to the way each sport understands its place in the motorsport world.
On the one hand MotoGP has built itself as the pinnacle of the motorcycling ladder, a natural conclusion to a series of junior classes.
On the other hand Formula One has styled itself as a fortress, closed to the world and accessible by invitation only.
It isn’t surprising – Formula One has long played a conservative game tainted by fear of other sports. Its attitude to Le Mans, with which the calendar has deliberately clashed since Nico Hülkenberg’s 2015 win, is an obvious example.
But more than that is the lack of cohesion with which Formula One presents itself as an apex sport. It claims to be the king of the four-wheel scene, but it chooses to make itself an island.
Consider the way a MotoGP weekend is consistently supported by junior categories Moto2 and Moto3. The trio operate in harmony and alongside race-by-race support categories every round of the year in a regular, predictable, and comprehensively covered schedule that makes supporting the three-series event as a whole extremely simple.
In contrast is Formula One, which is supported by nominal feeder categories GP2 and GP3 at just 11 and 9 rounds respectively. Most of the year’s F1 flyaway races aren’t present on the junior calendars, leaving racegoers outside of Europe to watch only what local categories are able to afford to appear on the F1 bill.
Worse still is that neither GP2 nor GP3 are incorporated into the overarching F1 programme. They are support categories, yes, but not part of the F1 bill. If F1 broadcasters choose to screen them, the presentation isn’t consistent with Formula One. Both are distinct from the sport they were specifically designed to support.
As is Formula One’s preferred outcome, there are no real winners from this scenario. GP2 and GP3 get some exposure, but both remain open to challenges to their credibility from alternatives like Formula Three or Formula V8 3.5.
The aspiring grand prix drivers lack maximum exposure, too, by missing out on coverage as extensive as that received by their two-wheeled cousins. Because it’s difficult for motor racing fans at home or at the track to follow their junior stories, it’s equally difficult for these drivers to make names for themselves if they’re not dominating the category like Stoffel Vandoorne crashing as regularly as Sergio Canamasas.
Rio Haryanto is a prime example of a driver deprived of fair exposure. Attached to his Formula One debut were the usual pay driver slights, but his critics neglected to take into account that he was equal second on wins at the end of the 2015 GP2 season. Notably one of those victories came in Austria, where he defended against eventual champion Vandoorne despite his damaged front wing.
Formula One suffers in the long run, too, by depriving itself of a pipeline of drivers with established fan-bases and known narratives. If the sport’s followers had more opportunities to see the junior drivers in action, Formula One could better engage viewers with battles throughout the entire grid rather than just those comprising big-name drivers.
A more comprehensive approach to the junior series would be in the interests of Formula One, of the junior categories, of the drivers, and of the fans. MotoGP already knows this, and it serves up three categories of racing every weekend, virtually guaranteeing at least one race on Sunday will be a thriller in the event one of the others fizzles into anticlimax.
Formula One doesn’t like to admit other categories can go racing better than it can, but in this case at very least, Formula One could do worse than to study MotoGP.
Michael is one-third of F1 podcast Box of Neutrals, as heard weekly on ABC Grandstand Digital nationwide. Though he's been part of the F1's travelling press room since 2012, people seem to be more interested in the time he was sick in a kart - but don't ask about that.
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