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Description of the competition

Grand Prix motorcycle racing is the premier class of motorcycle road racing events held on road circuits sanctioned by the Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme (FIM). Independent motorcycle racing events have been held since the start of the twentieth century and large national events were often given the title Grand Prix. The foundation of the Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme as the international governing body for motorcycle sport in 1949 provided the opportunity to coordinate rules and regulations in order that selected events could count towards official World Championships. It is the oldest established motorsport world championship.

Grand Prix motorcycles are purpose-built racing machines that are unavailable for purchase by the general public and unable to be ridden legally on public roads. This contrasts with the various production-based categories of racing, such as the Superbike World Championship and the Isle of Man TT Races that feature modified versions of road-going motorcycles available to the public. The current top division is known as MotoGP since 2002 when the four-stroke era began. Prior to that, the largest class was 500cc, both of which form a historical continuum as the official World Championship, although all classes have official status.

The championship is currently divided into four classes: the eponymous MotoGP, Moto2, Moto3 and MotoE. The first three classes use four-stroke engines, while the MotoE class (new in 2019) uses electric motorcycles. The 2019 MotoGP season comprises 19 Grands Prix, with 12 held in Europe, three in Asia, two in the Americas, and one each in Australia and the Middle East.

The most successful rider in Grand Prix history is Giacomo Agostini with 15 titles and 122 race wins. In the top-flight series, Agostini holds the title record with eight, followed by active riders Valentino Rossi with seven and Marc Márquez with six. As of 2019, Rossi holds the record for most top-flight race wins with 89.

Event format

The starting grid is composed of three columns (four for the Moto2 and Moto3 classes) and contains approximately 20 riders. Grid positions are decided in descending order of qualifying speed, with the fastest on the pole or first position. Races last approximately 45 minutes, each race is a sprint from start to finish without pitting for fuel or tires.

In 2005, a flag-to-flag rule for MotoGP was introduced. Previously, if a race started dry and rain fell, officials could red-flag (stop) the race and either restart or resume on ‘wet’ tyres. Now, when rain falls, a white flag is shown, indicating that riders can pit to swap the motorcycle on which they started the race for an identical one, as long as the tyres are different (that is, intermediates or wets instead of slicks). Besides different tyres, the wet-weather bikes have steel brake rotors and different brake pads instead of the carbon discs and pads used on the ‘dry’ bikes. This is because the carbon brakes need to be very hot to function properly, and the water cools them too much. The suspension is also ‘softened’ up somewhat for the wet weather.

When a rider crashes, track marshals up the track from the incident wave yellow flags, prohibiting overtaking in that area; one corner farther up the track, a stationary yellow flag is shown. If a fallen rider cannot be evacuated safely from the track, the race is red-flagged. Motorcycle crashes are usually one of two types: lowside, when the bike loses either front or rear tire grip and slides out on the “low” side, and the more dangerous highside, when the tires do not completely slide out, but instead grip the track surface, flipping the bike over to the “high side”, usually catapulting the rider over the top. Increased use of traction control has made highsides much less frequent.