Misano just about ticked all the boxes in that recent Global Fans Survey. Ninety-four per cent of the fans put exciting racing top of their priority list. The MotoGP™ clash and certainly the last lap between Pecco Bagnaia and Enea Bastianini would have met that particular criterion. Just three hundredth of one second separated the two Italian Ducati riders at the end of 27 laps. Ninety-one cent of the fans put overtaking and on track action top of their list. I think the Moto2™ race, with perhaps just a few too many crashes and less than half a second separating the first four in another breath-taking Moto3™ race, would have sent most people home satisfied and happy.
Ever since that very first World Championship race at the Isle of Man in 1949 the sport has attracted a very loyal and knowledgeable worldwide following. It has always had that extra edge to it that other motorsports have never been able to understand and match. Its popularity has often reflected in the mood of the World and in many cases provided fans with a glimmer of light in countries suffocated by suppression.
In that first year the World and Europe were recovering from the rigours and horrors of the Second World War. People from England flocked to the Isle of Man for that very first race just four years after the war had ended. They were free at last. They could travel again and even to Europe for those other Grands Prix in Switzerland, Holland, Italy and Ireland. Motorcycle racing led the revolution one year ahead of Formula One and soon welcomed back old war time enemies Germany and Japan to join the fray.
When the Iron Curtain cut off countries in the late sixties such as Czechoslovakia and East Germany, it was Grand Prix motorcycle racing that provided the repressed population with a glimmer of light. Despite the problems and restrictions massive crowds flocked to the Brno and Sachsenring road circuits to get a taste of a very different World. The authorities hated it and tried to prevent certain national anthems being played to celebrate race wins but the riders and teams kept coming back.
In 1983 I remember my conscience was in turmoil when I landed in South Africa for the opening Grand Prix of the season at the height of the Apartheid segregation ruling. I came home five days later so proud how the Grand Prix paddock had totally ignored the legislation and laws. In 2011 MotoGP™ was the first World Championship sport to return to Japan after the earthquake and tsunami resulting in the radiation leak at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station. Many riders did not want to go but everybody arrived to put on the show. Some riders may have showered in bottled water throughout their stay but the Japanese people and especially race fans never forgot.
I am convinced Grand Prix racing has retained its popularity because it is prepared to make changes. These changes throughout the seven decades have not been popular at the time. Switching to purpose-built tracks from the road circuits. The demise of the 250 and 500cc two-strokes for the four strokes in Moto2™ and 3 and MotoGP™. The splitting up of qualifying and even last week the announcement of the arrival of Sprint races next season. I, like many others of my generation, have not always agreed with these changes but they are imperative if our sport is going to survive in an ever-changing World. Of course, mistakes have been made but standing still or going backwards is never going to work.
The survey clearly illustrated that increasingly younger fans are following the sport and especially females. They are younger than their male counterparts. One third of those have been following the sport for less than five years and 56% of those female fans are aged between 16 -34 years old.
As one of those grey or in my case white-haired fans, I have two simple requests for the future. Please keep the admission prices at a level which are affordable to everybody. Please don’t price yourselves out of the market. Sprint races next year but please keep the racing as simple as possible. Do not confuse or clutter pure racing with too many regulations.
Finally, my top prize after reading the survey goes to those amazing Dutch fans. Despite not witnessing a Dutch winner for 32 years they are the most active race goers with 73% of them attending a race in the last five years.
The Dutch and all MotoGP™ fans have always been a loyal old lot.