MotoMatters.com is delighted to feature the work of iconic MotoGP writer Mat Oxley. Oxley is a former racer, TT winner and highly respected author of biographies of world champions Mick Doohan and Valentino Rossi, and currently writes for Motor Sport Magazine, where he is MotoGP correspondent. We are featuring sections from Oxley's blogs, which are posted in full on the Motor Sport Magazine website.
MotoGP shakes up the rules
Two weeks from now MotoGP’s Grand Prix Commission sit downs in Madrid to decide the future of Grand Prix racing.
The December 17 meeting will finally rubber stamp the biggest regulations shake-up since the four-strokes arrived a dozen years ago, which the manufacturers and Dorna have been arguing over for what seems like forever. As always, they hold opposite positions: Dorna want low-cost, TV-friendly entertainment, the factories want an R&D-friendly technology race.
The GPC – made up of one representative each from Dorna, the MSMA, the FIM and teams association IRTA – will decide on plans to reduce performance, increase fuel capacity and essentially freeze electronics R&D.
After a week of debate and discussion, the Grand Prix Commission has finally reached an agreement on the Factory 2 class. It took many hours of phone calls, and full agreement was not reached until late on Monday afternoon, but the agreement contains some significant changes to the long-term future of the MotoGP championship. The Factory 2 proposal has been adopted in a slightly modified guise, with any manufacturer entering in the Open class liable to lose fuel and soft tires should they win races. But the bigger news is that the full MotoGP class will switch to use the spec software and ECU from the 2016 season, a year earlier than expected.
The proposals adopted by the GPC now lays out a plan for MotoGP moving forward to 2016. In 2014 and 2015, there will be only two categories - Open and Factory Option - with the set of rules agreed at the end of last year. The new proposal sees manufacturers without a dry weather win in three years to compete as Factory Option entries, but with all of the advantages of the Open class - more fuel, more tires, no engine freeze and unlimited testing. However, should they start to achieve success, they will start to lose first fuel, and then the soft tires. If Ducati - for it is mainly Ducati to which these rules apply, as they are currently the only manufacturer who are eligible at the moment - score 1 win, 2 second place finishes or 3 third places during dry races, then all bikes entered by Ducati will have their fuel cut from 24 to 22 liters for each race. Should Ducati win 3 races in the dry, they will also lose use of the softer rear tires which the Open category entries can use. If Ducati were to lose the extra fuel or tires during 2014, they would also have to race under the same conditions in 2015.
It has been ten days since Carmelo Ezpeleta announced to an unsuspecting world that a new category would be added to the MotoGP class to contain Ducati, the 'Factory 2' class. The change was to be ratified on Tuesday, 11th March, in a telephone meeting of the Grand Prix Commission, and Ezpeleta was confident that it would go through without too many problems.
Tuesday came and went, and no agreement had been reached. In fact, it has taken all week and much of this weekend for the situation to approach a resolution. Sources with knowledge of the situation have now confirmed that an agreement will be announced on Monday, allowing the rules to be set in place for the start of the season on Thursday, 20th March.
MotoGP Rule Change Imminent: 'Intermediate' Category To Be Added Between Factory Option And Open Classes
The CRT-replacement Open class in MotoGP is causing an even bigger shake up of the class than was expected. The outright speed of the Forward Yamaha at the first two Sepang tests provoked a testy response from Honda, who claimed it was entirely against the spirit of the rules. Then came news that Ducati was to switch to an Open entry, giving them the freedom to develop their engines and use more fuel, in exchange for giving up their own ECU software. This provoked an even angrier response from Honda, Repsol Honda team principal Livio Suppo telling the MotoGP.com website that they were unhappy with the introduction of the new ECU software Magneti Marelli brought to the second Sepang test, which was much more sophisticated, though it was not used by the teams.
It seems Honda's complaints have not fallen on deaf ears. Today, in an interview with Spanish sports daily AS, Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta announced that a third, intermediate category is to be introduced for 2014. The new category, which Ezpeleta dubbed 'Factory 2', will see Ducati start the season under the full Open regulations: 24 liters of fuel per race, 12 engines per season, not subject to the engine development freeze, unlimited testing, and a softer rear tire, in exchange for using the spec championship software managed by Magneti Marelli. However, should Ducati win a race, or take 2 second places, or 3 third places, then they will lose some of their advantage. Fuel will be reduced from 24 to 22.5 liters, and the engine allocation will be reduced from 12 to 9 per season.
After the serious incident at Silverstone, in which Dani Rivas crashed into Steven Odendaal during the Sunday morning warm up, as Odendaal and other riders stood waiting to make practice starts, the Grand Prix Commission has taken steps to regulate practice starts in all three Grand Prix classes. From now on, practice starts will only be allowed from designated locations at the circuit, and practice starts elsewhere will be banned.
Practice starts will be allowed from pit lane exit during practice, and at one or two designated zones around each track, as decided before each race. Marshals will indicate the start of the practice start zones, and all riders not electing to practice a start in that zone will be warned by yellow flags and will have to stay on the opposite side of the track from the start zone.
The new rules are effective immediately. The FIM press release containing the full set of rules appears below:
FIM Road Racing World Championship Grand Prix
Decision of the Grand Prix Commission
If there is one complaint made about MotoGP it is that it is an almost entirely Spanish sport. The three title candidates in MotoGP are all Spanish, the three title candidates in Moto3 are all Spanish, and Scott Redding has his hands full holding off another Spanish rider, Pol Espargaro, for the 2013 Moto2 title. Spaniards dominate in all three classes, and it has been a long time since the Spanish national anthem hasn't been heard on a Grand Prix weekend.
So at first glance, the news that the Spanish CEV championship is to fall under FIM control and host rounds outside of Spain looks like increasing the stranglehold the Spanish have over Grand Prix racing. By raising the importance of the Spanish championship and therefore diminishing the status of other national championships, the FIM is making the situation worse, and handing even more control to Dorna, who run both the MotoGP and the Spanish CEV championships.
Though superficially attractive, there are some fundamentally wrong assumptions underlying that analysis. At the heart of the fear is the misconception that Dorna's main aim is to promote Spanish riders. The opposite is true: Dorna's main source of income is the sale of TV rights, and selling them as broadly as possible. Having too many Spanish riders in the series makes it hard to sell to broadcasters outside of Spain, hence Dorna's push to get more non-Spaniards into the series, especially in the Moto3 and Moto2 classes. Riders from outside of Spain are receiving preferential treatment in MotoGP, while pressure is being put on teams to reduce the number of Spaniards in the top class. The signing of Pol Espargaro has been a major bone of contention between Dorna and Yamaha, the repercussions of which are not yet fully worked out.
As we reported at Mugello, the claiming rule is to be dropped from the MotoGP rulebook. Introduced to prevent factories entering MotoGP under the guise of private teams, the claiming rule allowed any factory to claim the engine of a bike entered by a CRT team. But after the Grand Prix Commission agreed to the introduction of a spec ECU, the decision to run the spec software proved to be an alternative and more effective way was found of separating full factory efforts from privateer teams. The claiming rule was never actually used, the factories having said when the claiming rule was introduced that they had no intention of ever claiming an engine. It was kept there as the ultimate threat, Teddy Roosevelt's 'big stick' to prevent other factories from even considering such a ruse.
The new distinction between factory and private teams is now the spec ECU, and so the claiming rule has been dropped with immediate effect for all teams (Forward Racing, Avintia Blusens, PBM's Michael Laverty, CAME Ioda Racing) currently using the spec software. From 2014, all teams will have to use the spec hardware, and so the claiming rule will be dropped completely for the 2014 season.
MotoGP's Claiming Rule is set to be consigned to the history books. At the next meeting of the Grand Prix Commission at Barcelona, a proposal will be put forward to abandon the claiming rule altogether. With the advent of the new distinction, between MSMA entries and non-MSMA entries, the need to claim an engine ceased to exist. The demise of the claiming rule opens the way towards the leasing of Yamaha engines to private teams without fear of those engines being claimed by other factories.
The claiming rule had been instigated at the start of 2012, to allow the grid to expand. At the end of 2011, with the departure of Suzuki, and both Honda and Ducati cutting back the number of satellite bikes they were prepared to provide, numbers on the MotoGP grid looked like falling to as low as 13 or 14 bikes. The switch back to 1000cc engines meant a rich spectrum of engines was available to custom chassis builders, to produce affordable race bikes. To allow such teams to compete with the full factory efforts, such teams were allowed extra fuel (24 liters instead of 21), and double the factory engine allowance, 12 instead of 6. To prevent new factories from taking advantage of the loophole, the MSMA members - the factories involved in MotoGP - retained the right to claim the engine of such teams. Hence the name, Claiming Rule Team or CRT.
With the MotoGP paddock once again assembled for the start of the season at Qatar, the four organizations who make up the Grand Prix Commission, MotoGP's rulemaking body, took the opportunity to meet and discuss and adopt a number of rule changes. The rules cover a number of areas, including testing for all three classes, the 2014 technical rules for MotoGP, and further steps to control the real cost of engines in Moto3.
The most significant part of the press release is perhaps also the least obvious. The GPC confirmed the 2014 technical regulations previously agreed upon, after Dorna received assurances - and detailed proposals - that the manufacturers were prepared to supply private teams with affordable machinery. The news that Yamaha has agreed to lease engines to teams was the final piece in the puzzle which ensured that the rule package for 2014 would be adopted. Honda had previously agreed to build a customer version of their RC213V machine, five of which they will supply to private teams, and with Yamaha supplying four engines for lease - or more likely, a package including a Yamaha engine in a Yamaha-inspired chassis built by FTR - the grid will have at least twelve prototypes, nine MSMA-supplied privateer machines, and three other bikes, two of which could be factory Suzukis. Ducati has not been asked to supply privateer teams, unsurprising given the fact that the Italian factory is the smallest manufacturer by a very, very long way, and designing and building a separate engine or bike for customer teams is simply beyond their resources.
The Philip Morris-sponsored Wrooom event is not just the event at which Ducati launches its MotoGP season, it has become the de facto kick off to the MotoGP season as a whole. With an important section of the international media present, Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta inevitably seizes the opportunity to talk to the press about his view of the season ahead, and where necessary, of the future beyond that.
This year was little different. Ezpeleta spoke to the media ahead of the presentation by Ducati Corse boss Bernhard Gobmeier, and answered questions from a number of media outlets separately, answering questions on the future of both MotoGP and World Superbikes. From his statements, a picture of Dorna's vision for the two series starts to emerge: the future of world championship motorcycle racing is to be price-limited, with more support for the current teams, and factories holding a stake in both series, in exchange for keeping a lid on costs. The calendars of both series would come under scrutiny, with MotoGP heading to South America in 2014, and both series only racing at circuits willing to pay a sanctioning fee which would cover the cost of the logistics to get there.
After an almost interminable period of discussions and debate, agreement has at last been reached over the technical regulations to be applied in MotoGP for the 2014 onwards. The agreement has been a compromise, with both sides of the argument being given something to satisfy them.
The new rules see the introduction of a compulsory spec ECU and datalogger, and the ECU now acts as a divide between the two classes of teams in the paddock. MSMA members will be allowed to use their own software for the spec ECU, but the punishment for doing so will be a reduction in the fuel limit from 21 to 20 liters for a race. Teams electing to use the spec software supplied by Dorna will be allowed 24 liters. The MSMA members will also be limited to 5 engines a season, while the rest will be allowed 12 engines. The reduction in fuel and engines was made at the request of the factories, to give themselves an engineering challenge to conquer.
An engine development freeze was also announced, preventing engine development during each season, and in addition, the bore and stroke of the MotoGP machines will be fixed for three seasons, from 2013 to 2015.
World Superbike is to see pit stops introduced from 2013 onwards during wet races. Races affected by changing conditions - either rain falling during a dry race or a track drying out after rainfall - will no longer be stopped, except for 'extraordinary conditions', or conditions which affect rider safety. Instead of stopping the race and restarting with either wet or dry tires, riders will now be allowed to come in to the pits, where the the team will be allowed to change tires and, if necessary, suspension settings. Only three mechanics will be allowed to help each rider during the pit stop, though the rider himself will be allowed to help.
The decision to introduce pit stops is a result of two factors: the first is pressure from TV broadcasters to remain within their given broadcast window, a move that prompted MotoGP in the past to introduce flag-to-flag races. This system was also adopted by World Superbikes, but when the series switched to a single bike per rider at the start of the 2012 season, that became impossible. Reverting to stopping and restarting has not been popular with TV companies, and so WSBK has instead adopted pit stops, allowing teams to change wheels. That change will likely see the widespread adoption of - very costly - Endurance style quick-release wheel axles and brakes to speed up wheel changes, but depending on the speed of the teams it could also lead to riders attempt to stay out for longer in difficult conditions, and risking crashes.
The repercussions of Bridgepoint's decision to hand control of the World Superbike series to Dorna are just starting to become clear, as each of the protagonists get to explain their side of the story. After Paolo Flammini spoke to the media at the final World Superbike round of the year at Magny-Cours, at Motegi, it was the turn of Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta to face the press.
He did so an hour before the traditional pre-event press conference, giving a statement and answering questions from assembled journalists on the implications of the move (a full transcript of the press conference is available on the official MotoGP.com website). Ezpeleta did his best to first of all quell any fears among the legions of World Superbike fans that Dorna intended implementing any major changes for the coming season, ensuring the assembled media that all would go ahead for 2013 as planned. "For next year things will continue as they are, and both MotoGP and WSBK will continue the same way, with exactly the same system of organization and with the same technical rules," Ezpeleta told the press. "For 2013 the regulations will be the ones that have been approved between the FIM and Infront Motor Sports," he said in response to questions, "In 2013 it will be exactly as proposed by the different parties involved, there will not be any changes for 2013."
Beyond 2013 is a different matter, however. Ezpeleta made it clear that his goal was to harmonize the regulations between the MotoGP and World Superbike series, each maintaining their separate identities, but cutting costs and increasing the spectacle in both. "From now, together with the FIM, the manufacturers, the circuits and with the teams, we will try to accommodate these difficult economic times to set up two championships that are able to continue and to grow together," Ezpeleta said. "This is the main aim of both championships - reducing costs and increasing the show."
This may very well turn out to be the biggest week in MotoGP since the decision to replace the two stroke 500s with large capacity four stroke machines. This week, Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta is set to have meetings with each of the MSMA members at Motegi, to hammer out once and for all the technical basis for the 2014 season. If they succeed, the ground will be laid for a set of technical regulations which can remain stable for the long term, the goal being at least five years. If they fail, then one or more manufacturers could leave the series, reducing the number of factory bikes on the grid and potentially removing two of MotoGP's top riders from the grid. There is much at stake.
So much, in fact, that neither side looks prepared to back down. On the one side is Dorna, who see the costs of the championship spiraling out of control thanks to the increasing sophistication of the electronics, and the racing growing ever more clinical as fewer and fewer riders are capable of mastering the machines these electronics control. On the other side are the factories, for whom MotoGP, with its fuel-limited format, provides an ideal laboratory for developing electronic control systems which filter through into their consumer products and serves as a training ground for their best engineers. Dorna demands a spec ECU to control costs; the factories, amalgamated in the MSMA, demand the ability to develop software strategies through the use of unrestricted electronics. The two perspectives are irreconcilable, at the most fundamental level.
Sunday is going to be a big day for World Superbikes at Magny-Cours. Not just because the 2012 title is to be settled in what could be a fascinating showdown, helped in no small part by the weather, but perhaps most of all because on Sunday morning at 9am local time, Infront Motor Sports CEO will speak to the media for the first time since the announcement that Bridgepoint, the private equity firm which owns both Infront and MotoGP rights owners Dorna, has decided to bring both series under a single umbrella, and that umbrella is to be Dorna.
That news has sent a shockwave through the motorcycle racing world. The World Superbike paddock is hardest hit of all: the mood there is somber, with everyone from Infront staff to team mechanics fearing the outcome of what amounts to a coup by Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta. Optimists are few, especially as Ezpeleta is one of the most reviled characters among denizens of the WSBK paddock, because of what he represents: the perceived arrogance of the Grand Prix paddock, and a culture which is anathema to everything which World Superbikes stand for. MotoGP is truly the Beatles to WSBK's Rolling Stones.
There is some justification to their fears. WSBK, in the person of Paolo Flammini, has been holding out on requests from MotoGP's organizers to impose further restrictions on development of the WSBK machines, bringing them much more in line with the Superstock-style regulations proposed by FIM to harmonize regulations at the national level. He does so with good reason: the manufacturers currently racing in World Superbikes have made it very clear that they have no desire to see any further restrictions on tuning and bike modification put into place. Given WSBK's increasing reliance on manufacturer teams - though blessed with six different manufacturers, teams without some form of manufacturer backing are finding it increasingly hard to survive, leading to shrinking grids and gaps opening between the factory-backed and privateer squads - keeping the factories happy is becoming ever more important. WSBK does at least have the freedom to change the rules without factory interference, something which was until recently unthinkable in MotoGP.