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Is racing about developing motorcycles in the white heat of competition or is it an entertainment show? The factories and MotoGP owner Dorna have fought over this question for a decade

The battle for MotoGP’s soul was triggered by events that took place on two days more than a decade ago. On 29 October 2006, the last MotoGP race was held before the tobacco sponsorship ban took effect, which robbed the sport of its richest form of income.

Then on 15 September 2008, American bank Lehman Brothers went bankrupt. This is usually accepted as the day the global financial crisis really began; and it hasn’t yet ended.

Ducati 800, Qatar MotoGP test, 2007

These two events were catastrophic for MotoGP. Tobacco money had kept the wheels turning for several decades: Marlboro, Camel, Gauloises, Rothmans, Chesterfield, Lucky Strike, Fortuna and the rest.

No other branch of business was prepared to spend anything like as much money on bike racing, because the tobacco industry was already banned from conventional advertising. The loss of big tobacco’s filthy lucre was a huge blow to MotoGP: some teams shrank, others went bust.

Jacque’s Kawasaki ZX-RR 800, Sepang MotoGP test, February 2007

And then the GFC hit. All over the world profits dived, so much so that Kawasaki and Suzuki shut down their MotoGP projects. By 2011 there were only 14 starters and 10 finishers at some races. MotoGP stood on the edge of the abyss. Dorna, with good reason, hit the panic button.

And thus started a war of words that lasted a decade, from 2007 to 2016.

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