MotoGP needs heroes, but also characters capable of touching the heart
Jarvis: "The absence of personalities had a negative impact on MotoGP. If we think back, the MotoGP world in the years before that was a lot about Marc Marquez vs. Valentino Rossi". Yamaha's number 1 hits the spot, but by now even this wall has been overcome: sport is participation in the event. Once it was the newspapers that created the wait and the characters, now not even TV is enough anymore. Dorna is tackling the change.
The 2023 season is upon us and there is no doubt that, with the arrival of the new sprint + grand prix race format, it will be a different championship.
It is not clear who wanted this change, whether it was a push from the TVs or, rather, a Dorna decision. What is certain is that a desire to regain popularity is hidden behind the change.
Regaining spectators in the circuits, but also TV viewers and, why not, space in the newspapers, which has decreased enormously in recent years.
A phenomenon that has many reasons, including an increasingly dilated and expensive world championship to follow, without real support from the manufacturers involved. A sign of this disaffection may be seen in the withdrawal of Suzuki, or with Yamaha being reduced to a single team, but also in the way of presenting the teams themselves reduced to cold and anonymous social media appearances.
In this sense, after a double world title - MotoGP and Superbike - only Ducati was a pleasant exception.
The fact is that all of this, combined with the almost simultaneous exit from the scene of major protagonists such as Valentino Rossi, Jorge Lorenzo, Dani Pedrosa, Andrea Dovizioso and let's also add the ordeal suffered by Marc Marquez, has deprived MotoGP of true characters. Attention: we are not talking about personalities in the 'social media' sense, but about sportsmen who have gained the attention of the fans thanks to their results.
Now there is a lack of those serial winners who, even in other sports, attract the attention of the media and make us dream. In this perspective, non-characters are also needed, guys like Pedrosa and Dovizioso, because they act as counterparts. It is normality that beats genius. People like this too.
And then there is the ability to create stories and, from this point of view, motorcycle racing in recent times has done very little compared to its rival, Formula 1, where managers speak their mind, and you can often hear not exactly politically comments by drivers over the radio. The world is moving in this direction but bringing it all down to the same level doesn't suit the competitive spirit, which is domination, albeit sporty.
So, we need to follow the tastes of the people, but guiding them in the desired direction. Aping is the worst idea. Remember Jorge Lorenzo when he did skits of Rossi, or Marquez himself?
They were just bad copies. But Jorge and Marc have never needed this to be two major protagonists and personalities of motorcycle racing.
Thus, the question that Speedweek asked Lin Jarvis, the boss of Yamaha Racing, must be interpreted. Was the impact of Valentino Rossi's retirement perhaps underestimated?
"There is no doubt that Valentino Rossi had this unique attraction, history and charisma... He is a household name all over the world and the absence of Valentino definitely had some negative impact on the World Championship. Another factor was the absence of Marc Marquez, who had physical problems at the same time as Valentino's departure. If we think back, the MotoGP world in the years before that was a lot about Marc Marquez vs. Valentino Rossi. And Marc is also a phenomenon. He's an eight-time world champion who hasn't been in the game for two years. So it was once the Valentino factor, secondly the Marc Marquez factor and thirdly, I think Formula 1 has done a very, very good job over the last couple of years and has generated a lot of interest from new viewers – partly because of the Netflix series and the way they have changed with social media. Formula 1 has become 'hip'," said Jarvis.
This is the point: riding the fashions instead of being subjected to them. Joining instead of fighting them, therefore in a certain sense controlling them. Something that Dorna is also timidly starting to do, albeit with enormous difficulties because for the Spanish company, opening up to the new world of social media is a bit like giving permission to your eighteen-year-old virgin daughter to go out and stay away from home with a 50-year-old man…
We had confirmation of this a few days ago by speaking in Vallelunga with the rider/youtuber Luca Salvadori, who this year will make his debut in MotoE with the colours of the Pramac team paired with Tito Rabat. Luca has a social media soul and he wants to make the most of this experience, both from a competitive and professional point of view. So, he was wondering what Dorna would allow him to do. He was experimenting with where to place the GoPros. In short, he wanted, wants, to make his own show from MotoE, regardless of what TV will do. He wants, indeed desires to make his own product.
From his words we understood the resistance of the system, with a smile because we know it well. Salvadori, moreover, is right to insist because MotoE is still transparent for those enthusiasts who do not like electric bikes, but perhaps by means of a youtuber/racer or, if you prefer, a racer/youtuber, they will be able to see it in a different light.
Other riders are embarking on this path, such as Aleix Espargarò, so much so that Luca wondered: who is a youtuber? Simply anyone who publishes their content on that channel. And we must admit that contrary to the past, today we spend much more time on various social media entertainment networks than looking at a TV. And this is because compared to the old cathode ray tube, as it used to be said, today there is a limited capacity for participation.
Lin Jarvis realizes this.
"Five years ago, the opposite was true. Formula 1 was in trouble; we were the reference in many ways. We need to become more active again. Valentino won't be coming back; we have to get used to that. We need a fit Marc, and we need Honda back in the game. Honda is also an important reference and at the moment they are not really there. They are definitely not where they should be. So there are many, many factors, but I think the positive thing is that the competition is great and the show on TV is still very good," said the Yamaha racing manager. "We need to work harder to change the way we promote sport to regain relevance. Sport and industry must come together. We need to work together, sit down together and look at every aspect we can work on."
This seems to me to be a very intelligent approach which, however, unfortunately clashes dramatically with the recent request, initiated by Yamaha, to somehow restrict access to the shakedown of the Sepang tests. We've already talked about it. It's a problem solved. But as we often say, you need to make peace with your brain and follow words with deeds.
We like, for example, the fact that TV8 (Italy) will broadcast the first six Sprint Races free-to-air, obviously hoping to attract an audience. In this regard, F.1 is already well ahead as it will allow the team principals to intervene from the pit wall. But basically, Sky already does this making them talk. Perhaps the difference is that they will choose when to intervene.
Without a shadow of doubt, we are moving towards the sharing of events. Participation. After all, when sport becomes so bulimic that it needs twice as many races to arouse interest, it means that there is an addiction and we try with quantity to make up for the quality that over the years has been provided by riders capable not only of winning, but also to enter history. And of course, we're not talking about the GP Legends, where nobody is denied a place on the blackboard.