Before a MotoGP race, the race officials have to ensure that each rider is assigned a grid position that is determined by their riding skill. Much like other motorsports, both two-wheeled and four-wheeled, MotoGP uses a qualifying system to determine the riders’ starting positions.
MotoGP qualifying works using 2 sessions, Q1 and Q2. The 10 fastest riders in the first three free practice sessions progress to Q2, while the rest take part in Q1. The 2 fastest riders from Q1 progress to Q2, where the top 12 grid positions (and pole position) are set. Q1 sets positions 13 onwards.
The system that is currently being used was introduced in 2013. Below, we take a deeper look at the current qualifying system, while also discussing how the process used to work. But first, we must consider how MotoGP’s free practice sessions work.
MotoGP Free Practice Sessions Explained
During MotoGP race weekends, four free practice sessions are held, which are known as FP1, FP2, FP3, and FP4. These four sessions are held on Friday and Saturday, with two on each day. The fastest times set by the riders in the 45-minute FP1, FP2, and FP3 sessions will decide which qualifying session they take part in, with the 10 fastest going directly into Q2.
Free Practice 4 is a shorter 30-minute session that is used by the racing teams to make any necessary adjustments to their bike engines and suspensions before qualifying later that day. The free practice sessions are also a great chance for the riders to familiarize themselves with the track and dial in their setups and racing lines.
The time set by the fastest rider during the first 3 free practice sessions is the standard by which all other riders are evaluated before qualifying. For a rider to be eligible to take part in qualifying and the race, their fastest lap time needs to be no longer than 105% of the fastest rider’s time (previously 107%).
The 105% Rule
For example, if the fastest lap time set by any rider in any of the four free practice sessions was 1 minute 40 seconds (i.e. 100 seconds), a rider must set at least one lap time no greater than 1 minute 45 seconds (105 seconds) in order to take part in qualifying and the race. This is because 105% of 100 seconds is 105 seconds (1.05 x 100 = 105).
The 105% rule is designed to prevent slower riders from entering the race. Slow riders on track along with 20+ other fast riders is a recipe for incidents and unnecessary danger. Other sports like F1 also have a 107% rule for this very reason. MotoGP changed it from 107% to 105% for the 2022 season as the qualifying lap times are now much closer together than they used to be.
Exceptions To The 105% Rule
There are exceptions to the rule, with one being that if a substitute rider only takes part from FP3 onwards and fails to set a lap time in FP within 105% of the fastest time, they will still progress to Q1. However, they must set a time within 105% of Q1’s fastest time in order to be allowed to race. Other exceptions may include if the track conditions change (i.e. it is very wet).
MotoGP Qualifying Explained
What Do Q1 & Q2 Mean In MotoGP?
Q1 and Q2 in MotoGP refer to the 2 qualifying rounds. They’re sometimes referred to as Qualifying Practice 1 and Qualifying Practice 2 (QP1 and QP2). The two rounds are filled with riders according to their fastest lap times in the first 3 free practice sessions.
The ten fastest riders will go directly into Q2, and the others will take part in Q1. Both of these sessions are 15 minutes long, and the riders must attempt to set the fastest possible lap times to set their grid positions for the race. Q1 precedes Q2, and the fastest two drivers from Q1 progress to Q2. Those not in the top two have their grid positions set by their fastest lap times.
With the grid positions 13 and onward now set, there is a 10-minute break before Q2 begins. This session has 12 riders all fighting it out for pole position. This session sets the grid positions 1 through 12.
How MotoGP Qualifying Differs From Other Motorsports
MotoGP qualifying is fairly unique in that in order to take part in a given session, you need to set fast lap times in the free practice sessions. F1 has practice sessions, as do American series like NASCAR and IndyCar, and many other motorsports also have them. But in most cases they are exactly what they sound like they are – practice sessions for the drivers.
This can leave many fans wondering if the practice sessions are worth watching. In Formula 1, it’s not uncommon to see some drivers miss a practice session or only do a couple of laps. While they are still important for the drivers and teams in these other sports, MotoGP gets around this issue by giving riders an incentive to perform well in the practice sessions.
An Incentive For The Riders
Riders must obviously set lap times within 105% of the fastest time in free practice in order to make it to qualifying at all. But aside from this, they’re further incentivized to set competitive lap times in order to make it into the second of the two qualifying sessions.
Provided nothing dramatic happens and you don’t get any penalties, if you make it to Q2, you’re guaranteed to start no further back than 12th on the grid. By putting two Q2 spaces up for grabs in Q1, MotoGP further incentivizes riders to try and set fast lap times in Q1 in order to start further up the grid.
Plus, if you make it to Q2, it’s one less session you need to take part in, which is one less session where you could be involved in an incident. It’s also less wear and tear on the bike, which is always a good thing in such a performance-focused sport.
KEY POINTS• MotoGP riders must set fast enough lap times in free practice in order to make it into qualifying for the race
• Their lap times in free practice are used to determine which qualifying session they take part in
• Lap times in Q1 set grid positions 13 to the back of the grid, while times in Q2 set grid positions 1-12
How Did MotoGP Qualifying Work In The Past?
Prior to the rule amendment in 2013, MotoGP qualifying worked using three 45-minute free practice sessions that were followed by a qualifying session of 1 hour, held on Saturday afternoon. The riders’ times in the qualifying session would determine their position on the starting grid.
The Qualifying Format In Moto2 And Moto3
The rules for qualifying in MotoGP as they have been explained above, have been in force since 2013, but for Moto2 and Moto3, they were introduced in 2019. Moto2 and Moto3 were using the old format where a single session of 45 minutes for Moto2 and one session of 40 minutes for Moto3 determined the grid positions from the front to the back all at once.
This has been done with the long-term goal of getting riders used to the format so that they can move from Moto2 or Moto3 to MotoGP when the time comes. Moto2 and Moto3 adopted the same qualifying format as MotoGP with a few minor changes. Moto2 and Moto3 riders get three free practice sessions of 40 minutes each that decide their initial times.
Differences Between MotoGP, Moto2 & Moto3
In all classes, the riders’ times are compared against the fastest rider with 105% of their time as the cutoff point. The fastest 14 riders in free practice advance directly into Q2. The remaining riders have to compete in Q1, and the fastest four riders in Q1 join the first 14 in Q2. This is to account for the larger grids in Moto2 and Moto3.
The only other difference worth mentioning is that the riders who participate in both Q1 and Q2 are allotted one extra soft tire to compensate for the extra distance covered. In MotoGP, riders that compete in Q1 and Q2 get an extra soft for the rear, but also an extra front tire of their choice.
KEY POINTS• MotoGP has had the same qualifying format since 2013, and Moto2 and Moto3 adopted similar systems in 2019
• Moto2 and Moto3 have larger grids than MotoGP, and so the qualifying criteria are slightly different
• However, the bulk of the systems remain the same, including the 105% rule and the splitting up of qualifying into two 15-minute sessions
MotoGP qualifying involves two sessions, Q1 and Q2. These are preceded by 4 free practice sessions, 3 of which are timed. In order to take part in qualifying, a rider must set a time within 105% of the fastest free practice time, and they will go into either Q1 or Q2 depending on their lap time.
I created and have been writing on this site since 2019, collaborating with drivers, coaches, engineers and manufacturers to provide you with the most reliable information about motorsport. Find out more about me here.