The Lusail International Circuit is to undergo major renovation work at the end of 2022 and into 2023, to upgrade the facilities and paddock. As a result, it will relinquish its position as the first race of the MotoGP season, instead being moved back to the end of the year.
With Qatar out of the frame as the first race of 2023, this hugely increases the chances of Phillip Island as the first race of the season. There were rumors in 2019 that Dorna was looking at a calendar shake up starting in 2021, but the Covid-19 pandemic put those plans on hold. Those plans included having the season start in Phillip Island, rather than Qatar, and this would be the ideal opportunity to try this.
Previously, the Australian Grand Prix Corporation, which runs both the F1 and MotoGP races in Australia, had opposed such a move, but it is believed that they lifted their objections a couple of years ago, and were open to rescheduling the Phillip Island race to the start of the year.
One possible complication is the preseason testing schedule. Testing is set to be limited to just 8 days of official tests for 2023, kicking off with a 3-day test at Sepang as usual, followed by another 2-day test before the start of the year. Officials had told me previously that the 2-day test would be at Qatar, but that may be complicated if the Lusail International Circuit is being renovated. The second test would either have to be moved to a European track - most likely, Jerez - or be held at Sepang once again. Given the costs of freight, keeping the bikes and equipment at Sepang seems the most likely option.
This looks like being the prelude to a wider reshaping of the calendar from 2023. There has been widespread criticism of the crowded calendar in 2022, with 21 races being jammed together to produce difficult travel schedules, in some cases. Another sign was the renewal of the contract between the Motorland Aragon circuit and Dorna, in which they agreed to host 3 races in the period from 2022 to 2026.
This is part of an ongoing process to reduce the number of rounds in Spain, with the plan being to hold 3 races on the Iberian peninsula in coming years. That means that those 3 races will alternate between Jerez, Valencia, Aragon, Barcelona, and Portimão. This then opens the door to more races at new tracks outside of Europe.
The press release about the renovation work at Qatar appears below:
Lusail International Circuit facilities set for extensive remodelling
Saturday, 14 May 2022
Lusail International Circuit is set to undergo extensive renovation and remodelling to the paddock area and circuit facilities for 2023. The track is already confirmed on the MotoGP™ calendar until at least 2031, and the works will see the Middle East’s flagship motorsport venue further confirm its status as one of the world’s best-equipped racing facilities.
The remodelling project will begin to take shape in 2022 and will see various areas redeveloped to create an even better experience for all those racing at and visiting the venue, from riders and teams to fans and guests. That includes new areas for spectators, establishing Lusail as a truly state-of-the-art, cutting edge racetrack.
Lusail will host the 2023 Grand Prix of Qatar upon completion of the work, meaning the event will therefore not be the opening round, as it has been from 2007. Instead it will take place towards the end of the season, under the spectacular floodlights of Lusail as the sport returns to enjoy some incredible racing – as has become tradition at the Qatar GP.