17.8.23 this article was updated to reflect the qualifying rule changes when the Practice qualifying timed session does not take place.
MotoGP Qualifying – The Basics
Each race weekend we wait to hear who has made pole position and often tune in just prior to the race to find out the starting grid.
But how does MotoGP qualifying actually work?
- How are Q1 and Q2 determined?
- How doe the sprint race affect things?
- What is the role of Free Practice in bringing us the starting grid?
First let’s look at what we hear about the most: Q1 and Q2.
This stands for Qualifying 1 and Qualifying 2, referred to in the rule book as qualifying practice 1 and 2.
Both are 15-minute sessions held on the Saturday afternoon and determine the final starting grid.
Qualifying will count for both the Sprint Race and The Main Race grid line ups.
But how do we know who will be in Q1 and Q2?
For those new to MotoGP you will notice if you tune in for Qualifying the field of riders is already divided into two groups with positions on the grid.
How does this division of the field occur?
The term timed here does not refer to the duration but rather that the lap times are counting towards qualifying.
The times are used to calculate qualifying as follows: the 10 fastest times recorded across the timed 60 minute Friday Practice session go directly into Q2.
The remaining riders will go into Q1 where if they are placed first or second, they get into Q2 and therefore possibly pole position in both races.
Rule Change for 2023 Pre-Qualifying
Following a decision on the 17th of July by the Grand Prix Commission (GPC) the pre-qualifying format for the Premier class of MotoGP has been changed for the first time since 2012.
From the round Silverstone round (August 2023) the pre-qualifying format will be as follows:
- FP1 45 minutes – Friday morning, untimed, does not count for Q1/Q2 – previously named practice 1 in 2023
- Practice 60 minutes – Friday afternoon, timed, the only session that counts for Q1/Q2 (top 10 go direct to Q2)
- FP2 30 minutes – Saturday morning, does not count for Q1/Q2
Why The Change?
The change comes after unanimous decisions by teams that the new format for 2023 was too intense.
With the Sprint race on Saturday afternoon Qualifying was moved to Saturday morning having a knock on effect to all the time available to teams to get the bike ready for the main race.
Riders and teams felt they barely had chance to set up the motorcycles for a particular track before it was necessary to start pushing for a top qualifying time in the very first session on Friday.
Qualifying Rule Change for 2022
In 2022 we saw a rule change for qualifying with a reduction in the 107% rule to 105%.
What is this you ask?
Math during motor racing!?
It’s a simple calculation I promise – for example if the fastest time is 100 seconds, then all other riders must put up a time of 105 seconds or less to qualify.
If they fail to make this time they start from the back of the grid.
For this purpose, the back of the grid means the grid position immediately after the final rider’s qualifying grid position.
If they fail to make the qualifying time in Q2 they start from 12th.
A rider may be in this position, for example, if they crash or for some mechanical reason cannot complete the sessions required.
For 2023 there was one other minor rule change to qualifying and removes the right of Race Direction to waive the 105% rule except in the MotoE class.
What if Practice is cancelled?
If Practice is cancelled then the results of the Saturday morning FP2 will be used.
IF FP2 cannot be used then the results of FP1 will be used.
If no practice sessions take place then it will be at the discretion of Race Direction to adjust the schedule and procedure as required.
How Does The Introduction Of The Sprint races Change Qualifying?
The addition of Sprint races to the weekend for MotoGP class does not change qualifying itself. The same qualifying procedures remain and they will decide the grid for both Sprint and the Main Races.
But recent changes (July 2023) mean there has been a change to pre-qualifying procedures.
And it changed the overall layout of race weekend since Dorna did not want to increase track time but rather redisperse it.
To do this they have changed the length of Practice sessions and renamed them.
See our graphic flowchart at the bottom of this article for an explanation of the sequence over the race weekend.
Free Practice 4 is No More?
As of 2023 The “old” FP4 is now a 30 minute warm up called Free Practice 2. Since this did not count towards qualifying anyway it is really only a change in name.
It will still be held prior to the Q1 and Q2 qualifying sessions.
This gives riders a chance to warm up and make any last-minute changes needed, for example in the event of weather changes or repairs.
It is interesting to note that the rules state grid positions once determined (around 60 minutes after the timed practice for qualifying times and just 5 minutes between Q1 and Q2) are final and not subject to any protest or appeals and will not be revised for any infringements discovered after their determination even if reported to FIM MotoGP Stewards.
While many watching skip right over the Practice session and qualifying figuring it’s the race where all the action is, they are missing some of the most action-packed track time of the weekend.
From Friday afternoon the riders are pushing the limits aiming for Q2 and pole position.
And now with the addition of Sprint Races which offer riders additional points towards the championship, qualifying is even more important as it counts for both grids.
However, we can’t underestimate the Q1 riders, many assume this is the back end of the field, the slower riders and that’s simply not the case.
Due to the MotoGP format of collecting up the times from the Practice session to divide the field for Q1 and Q2, no rider is safe from finding themselves in Q1 on the day.
A crash, mechanical issues, physical injury or even a penalty can change the game on race weekend.
We do quite often see big names, factory bikes, and even the championship leaders in Q1 because of poor times in the Practice session.
The golden opportunity to fight for pole again if you top the Q1 leader board results in the Q1 session being an action packed 15 minutes well worth tuning in for.
It’s rare, but the way they have it set out, technically, the slowest rider across the Practice session can still find themselves on pole.
How you ask?
Simple really, during FP sessions if a rider fails to produce a time fast enough for Q1 (top 10 times of the FP sessions) then they will find themselves in Q1 – 13th and below, but let’s say the rider had some issues getting the bike set properly for the track in question and by Q1 on Saturday they have this sorted.
Now they are back in their top racing form and are the fastest of Q1 – this means they get to move up to Q2 which decides the 1st to 12th position on the grid.
Now, let’s assume they are the fastest in Q2 and make pole.
Meaning one of the slowest riders of the FP sessions is now sitting on pole. Rare but it happens.
Free Practice in MotoGP vs F1
Until the recent changes by the Grand Prix Commission to rework the format of Race weekend, MotoGP was different to F1.
Prior to the change, the way pre-qualifying was set out gave fans excitement and action from the first session on Friday.
It has been determined the intensity for riders needing to set the fastest times in that first session needed to be reduced in order to give teams a chance to get the bike set up.
This is due to the arrival of the Sprint Race.
MotoGP is now more like F1 in that 2 out of 3 of the Practice Sessions are now exactly as the name indicates Free Practice Sessions, with the newly named 60 minute Practice Session the only one which counts in terms of fastest times.
If you are not watching the free practice sessions you are really missing out
There is still a need to push on the Friday, especially in the afternoon session to set the best times and it will be interesting to see how riders adjust to the new schedule with only one chance to qualify for Q2 straight away.
No second chances could see for even more excitement on the Friday afternoon than we saw across the two sessions in previous years.
So, if you don’t already have access to the FP sessions and qualifying this fan suggests getting on it, you will not be disappointed especially now you understand how it works and what all the sessions mean in the lead up to qualifying.
Below is a flowchart which we hope will help you better understand the MotoGP qualifying sequence.