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Is a MotoGP scandal what the sport needs? Michael Scott recalls that drug smuggling and money laundering have already been tried, so what will be the next big thing to boost ratings?

So the motorbike season has begun. A week later than F1 and, as usual, lagging behind. Like a poor relation – literally so, when it comes to the money.

It’s worth remembering that our championship may have only half the number of wheels, but it is one year older than the attention-grabbing cars. F1 is a mere 75-year-old stripling; MotoGP its senior, at 76.

With action well underway in the 2024 championship, this column will let the racing speak for itself. And also leave aside the burning questions (Will Marc Marquez smash it on his new Ducati? Will Acosta be a contender in his first year? Will Bagnaia turn out to be deeper than he appears? And so on… ) to be resolved over the forthcoming 20 more rounds.

But how can bikes find a way to rival F1 and finally cast off the dirty-fingernails image that still dogs the sport? In spite of all today’s high science, abstruse electronics and slick marketing. Not to mention the much more sophisticated dynamic equations of a vehicle with a movable centre of gravity and the complication of seldom being exactly vertical. Compared with a four-wheeler, prosaically planted on its corners like a kitchen table.

Being intrinsically more technically interesting and providing a far better on-track show has long been true, but simply hasn’t been enough. The general public just doesn’t really care.

F1’s latest attention-grabbing trick is a prime example: prominent team boss Christian Horner – already well-known as a canny attention-grabber – is mired in scandal. Allegations of impropriety with a (female) member of the Red Bull team, and the attendant shenanigans of internal investigations and lurid counter-claims, commanded newspaper headlines and front pages for weeks on end.

That the opening round in glitz-ghastly Bahrain was just incredibly dull simply didn’t matter. F1 hogged all the click-bait anyway.

What can MotoGP do to compete?

An F1 scandal proved more interesting than the racing in the opening round in Bahrain

Well, a pit lane sex scandal is long overdue. No misplaced dick-pics nor bullying of junior female staff, please… too tacky.

Rather something spicy and amusing: rivals getting caught doing swoppsies in the motorhomes perhaps.

Headlines galore can be generated by gender-fluidity, though one must tread very carefully. It is a, er, sensitive area. But it is interesting to note, however, that this year’s new Women’s World Championship mandarins have so far failed to tackle the issue that many other sports have found it necessary to address – what to do if a trans woman turns up and starts winning the series.

Physical punch-ups between deadly rivals would be good value. Valentino Rossi and Max Biaggi squared up once, but the PR machine swung into action to defuse it. Similarly a serious verbal spat between Jorege Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa was defused by no less than the (erstwhile) King of Spain. Bad mistake. Jorge Martin generally looks ready to start something at the drop of a hat. He shouldn’t be stopped.

The Rossi and Biaggi rivalry was good for MotoGP

Drug smuggling has already been tried (former 500 champ Marco Lucchinelli was jailed for a spell, likewise Juan Garriga, and the Paul Bird MotoGP team didn’t last much past a gun-and-drugs border bust of one of their truckies. But no-one not directly involved really cared.

Likewise money laundering. Don’t even ask.

Of course a giant-ego personality can make all the difference. But the likes of Barry Sheene and Valentino Rossi come along but seldom, and there don’t seem to be any more in sight at present.

Maybe a lift is coming by hanging on to F1’s skirts. There are already rumours that F1 owner Liberty Media is sniffing around to buy a controlling interest in Dorna, although anti-monopoly regulations might get in the way.

But was it coincidental that Pramac Ducati chose to hold its team launch at Bahrain on the eve of the opening F1 race, with support from connections inside the car series?

Here’s a better idea. Let’s keep MotoGP as it is, with a core of fans who don’t need big Netflix series to keep them interested… because the racing is so darned good anyway.

It may be just a niche. But it’s our niche.