There used to be a time in which almost every big MotoGP decision was made in Japan.
It's the event at which Honda liked to make their big rider renewal announcements, where series rights holders Dorna were brought into the closest proximity to the Japanese factories' head honchos and just far enough away from the end of the season to give time for adjustment.
It's where we've seen announcements about the move to a single tyre manufacturer, for example.
This past weekend, we had an official statement confirming what had been rumoured at Aragón: qualifying is getting a revamp for 2013.
You've most likely read the format by now. If not, a quick recap: Friday remains unchanged, likewise Saturday morning. The session formerly known as qualifying, however, gets split into three —and the MotoGP field gets split into two.
It's either a scaled-down version of Formula One's format from 2010 onwards, or an evolution of World Superbikes' innovative and longstanding Superpole schedule. Either way, it comes with the typical double intentions of a MotoGP rule change.
Firstly, it is an attempt to make a more exciting spectacle on Saturdays, although the change comes just as we've seen some extremely close qualifying fights throughout 2012.
There's always going to be a certain amount of stalling, slipstreaming and setup adjustment in qualifying, as it is a key session for preparing a bike for race day.
The only difference that is really going to be made for the usual pole-sitters is that if it rains there will be no putting in a scorching lap at the beginning of the session and hoping it's enough; they will be obliged to go out for further, slower laps later on if they want to pick up a Tissot watch (and some might very well be content with the 'Tyssot' or 'Faux-lex' knock-offs that they can pick up for a tenner at Kuala Lumpur market this week).
The second aim of this new era of qualifying is surely the same as many of the adjustments made over the past few years: Giving the slower bikes television time.
This is the eternal struggle of the satellite teams, passed on to the CRT outfits this year. How can one convince sponsors to back a project if their name is not going to be seen on the broadcast?
IRTA President and Tech 3 Yamaha boss, Hervé Poncharal, has been one of the key campaigners for more airtime equality, putting his case to Dorna and convincing them to make changes to their production. This hasn't always been done smoothly and has on occasion been a rather cynical exercise in ticking boxes, cutting to a twelfth-placed rider on his own on the last lap just to ensure his five seconds of TV time.
With the new system, CRT riders will get far more prominence in QP1. The direct path to QP2 will almost always be taken by ten of the twelve factory/satellite machines confirmed for the 2013 grid, with the two who don't make the cut taking prominence in QP1 alongside the lesser-spotted CRTs. You aren't going to see too many Repsol Hondas in the first session.
It's an even bigger move than when Bridgestone decided to abolish qualifying tyres and will certainly give a new look to Saturday afternoons, but is it really going to provide that much better entertainment?
My view is that there will be few extra viewers tuning in, whatever the format. Qualifying is an aside to the weekend, followed by the dedicated and only attracting slightly more interest than Friday practice (hidden away on secondary stations of national broadcasters or, in the case of the official MotoGP feed, not even commentated due to lack of audience).
Those who do make a weekend of it, probably enjoyed the old format anyway.
- Sports & Recreation