Has MotoGP Started 2021 Better Than Formula One?
It's early doors in 2021, but has the pinnacle of two wheels already thrown down the gauntlet to the pinnacle of four? Here are FIVE reasons why!
Both championships have started 2021 with some exceptional racing, MotoGP already having FIVE different podium finishers from the opening two races, and Formula One seeing Verstappen versus Hamilton light up Bahrain. Which has started 2021 better and why? Let's break it down into five categories: closeness, racing, predictability, stewarding and the story.
Both sports have seen closer racing for very different reasons. In Formula One it is very clear that since the rule changes, Mercedes are no longer the fastest team with Red Bull taking the honours. Because of this we won't be seeing a Mercedes domination this season, the only way that could happen is if Red Bull implode! The opening round at Bahrain saw Red Bull and Mercedes closer than ever, the latter knowing that despite winning the first race, they are on the backfoot. So yes it's close at the front, but unfortunately that trend doesn't follow suit with the rest of the field. The next closest team are Mclaren, but even their top finisher Lando Norris crossed the finish line +46.6 secs behind Hamilton! F1 has close battles throughout the field, Mercedes fighting Red Bull, Mclaren in the upper midfield with Ferrari and Alpha Tauri, followed by Alpine, Aston Martin and Alfa Romeo, with Williams and Haas at the back. Formula One needs the gap between the bottom and the top to close, something that won't happen this season with Haas stopping all development, instead fully focusing on 2022. So yes F1 looks close this season, just not in a way that will see the entire paddock separated by less than a minute.
The story could not be any more different in MotoGP, with round two of the championship being the closest top 10 and top 15 in the history of the sport! Aleix Espargaro crossed the line in P10, +5.3 seconds behind race winner Fabio Quartararo, with P15 Miguel Oliveira +8.9 seconds behind the winner. At least one bike from each manufacturer was within that top 15, showing how close the machinery is in MotoGP. Of course, MotoGP races are a lot shorter, the second round was 22 laps long, whereas the Bahrain GP was 57 laps. However after watching the F1 back, on lap 21 the top 10 were separated by +33 secs, the top 15 +40 seconds. MotoGP is evidently closer, can F1 reduce the gap to below a minute?
The racing itself was brilliant and exciting to watch, in MotoGP an exciting battle between Yamaha and Ducati took place. Ducati were monstrous down the straight, leaving the Yamaha's to close and overtake through the corners. It led to the riders going at an unbelievable race pace, pushing each other to the absolute edge, occasionally beyond! The majority of the overtakes were clean, hard but fair, which resulted in fantastic close racing which we can never get enough of. Everywhere you looked, the front or the back, riders were swapping places at every opportunity. The MotoGP was more like a Moto3 race, notorious for hard, tantalisingly close racing. Throw in the element of how close the racing was just added to the drama, a single mistake seeing a rider lose multiple places, rather than just a few seconds.
The racing too in F1 was brilliant, okay the race wasn't close in a timescale sense of things, but the racing itself within each group was enthralling. Verstappen against Hamilton was everything we've been asking for and gave us a taste of what we could be set to see throughout the season. Elsewhere down the field Perez stormed through from the back, Alonso and rookie sensation Yuki Tsunoda had a great fight, as did Sainz and Ricciardo. The only thing that could improve the racing was if it was all closer, passing also needs to be easier in F1, too often in Bahrain was the overtaking reliant solely on the DRS activation zones, if that was taken away where would the overtaking come from. Cars need to be able to follow each other more comfortably, despite this there is plenty of proof to be excited for edge of your seat racing in F1 this year.
How Predictable is the racing?
With regards to who will probably win the races, Formula One does look somewhat predictable. Verstappen and Hamilton look like they could dominate the year, followed by Bottas and Perez. So it looks predictable who will be locking out the front row and fighting for the win. However, we could see some surprise podiums again, perhaps a more frequent shade of papaya will be featuring. It will be a big surprise to see anyone other than Red Bull or Mercedes on the top step, but as we have seen before when the leaders come too close, anything can happen.
On the other hand, MotoGP is possibly the most unpredictable motorsport at the moment. Five different riders have featured on the rostrum in the opening two races. The opening races have seen a rookie lead and start on pole, the GOAT (Valentino Rossi) at the back and both race winners Vinales and Quartararo fight through to the front in the closing stages. MotoGP is impossible to predict, virtually anyone can fight for the win, as proven last season where all but one manufacturer featured on the podium and nine different riders took a victory. The factory Yamaha team do appear the strongest, but in MotoGP they could be outside the top 10 in the next race. There is also the small factor of Marc Marquez making his highly anticipated return in Portimao! MotoGP is more unpredictable and it all links back to how close the racing is, closer racing leads to more unpredictable circumstances.
(Credit: Motorsport Magazine)
We might only be one round into the F1 season, but already the race officials have made the front pages. Should Verstappen's overtake have been allowed? A question which has been discussed too many times to count already. A problem I have always had with Formula One is that time penalties don't work. If first place has a three-second penalty to be added to their time at the end of the race, and second is only +0.5 seconds behind, understandably they have no need to try to overtake. In some scenarios this form of penalty could work, but not in a situation of close racing. Simply letting the driver back past is also somewhat questionable, the driver who committed the illegal move can decide which turn to give the place back, they can also set it up so they give up the place but get a better drive out of the corner.
There are two solutions to sorting the problem of track limits. Firstly, make the rule clear! Being allowed to use the outside of the track when not overtaking makes it almost part of the track, so the simplest thing to do is to make the rule clearer for the drivers and the audience watching. Or introduce and trial a new rule to see if there are other possibilities with regards to a penalty, to make sure the racing stays exciting and that the driver committing the illegal move loses the advantage. It could be worth the F1 officials taking a look at how MotoGP deals with track limits. In my opinion, MotoGP deals with track limits perfectly. If a rider exceeds track limits (identified with green paint) three times, they receive a long lap penalty. This is an outlined part of a corner, right on the outside off the racing line, riders lose a second roughly and have to go onto the dirty part of the track. Everything is then sorted, no time penalties needed. F1 could very easily trial this, the likes of Paul Ricard would be a perfect track to trial this. MotoGP works so well in this area, with the opening rounds seeing the long lap loop used several times. Had this been in F1, Verstappen would have taken the loop, and have come back out a second behind Hamilton. F1 needs to make sure track limits isn't a defining topic of 2021.
The Story Setting Up for 2021
Both have very different, yet equally exciting stories for 2021, F1 perhaps even edging it. The narrative of the season is a critical part to a exciting season, F1 has struggled with this the last couple seasons. 2016 was unbelievable, Rosberg versus Hamilton and in 2018 Hamilton versus Vettel. Hamilton against Bottas has failed as a narrative, with the outcome being too predictable. 2021 looks like a story and a season for the decades, Hamilton versus Verstappen, Mercedes against Red Bull, will Hamilton become the GOAT and claim an eighth world title? So many narratives to get excited about, and actually the outcome of the season will lead to the narrative in 2022. The story that this season follows can set up the next few years for the sport. With F1 you can personalise the narrative, this is more difficult with MotoGP at the moment.
The narrative this season is all about Marquez's return and whether he can equal Rossi's nine world championships, or if Mir can retain his crown. In previous years the story has been Marquez against Dovi, or Lorenzo versus Rossi. MotoGP is more difficult to personalise the narrative because of how unpredictable it is, which of course isn't a bad thing as unpredictable racing is fantastic, it just means a story or a battle for the season between two people can't be outlined, like you can this season with Hamilton versus Verstappen. Both stories for the season are so exciting, but Formula One is probably more impactful, will Hamilton's domination of the hybrid era come to an end?
So which has started 2021 better?
Overall MotoGP, the racing is closer, less predictable and is officiated better. Formula One is by no means boring and in fact has the potential to be one of the greatest seasons in its history with the battle of Hamilton versus Verstappen heating up. Work needs to be done already though for the racing to become closer and more unpredictable like MotoGP. The imminent announcement of sprint races being trialled could be the ingredient Formula One needs to make all these things happen and more! For now though and to answer the question of this piece, MotoGP has started the season better, but will it still be on top come the end of the year?
What do you think?
(Credit: Motorsport Magazine)