One Bike Per Rider Won't Mean More Bikes On The Grid, Say Manufacturers
Tomorrow - Wednesday, February 18th - is likely to be a big day for MotoGP. For tomorrow, the Grand Prix Commission is due to convene to finalize a range of measures aimed at cutting costs in MotoGP, which we at MotoGPMatters.com will report upon fully as soon as news emerges from that meeting. The measures expected are likely to include the scrapping of Friday morning practice, a reduction of the length of the other practice sessions from 60 minutes to 45 minutes, minimum engine life, and for next year, the introduction of one bike per rider.
Whether the suggestion of a single bike for each rider comes directly from Dorna or not, it is no secret that Carmelo Ezpeleta is especially keen on this idea. For the CEO of the Spanish organization which runs MotoGP sees in it a chance to expand the dwindling grid up to a size where a couple of injuries won't mean automatic points for any finishers. Ezpeleta's thinking is that with far fewer bikes to support and maintain, the manufacturers would have spare capacity to provide bikes to extra riders, and help pad out the starting field.
Sadly for Dorna, the manufacturers don't see it this way at all. According to reports in both Motorcycle News and Motociclismo, the chiefs of the remaining Japanese factories are keen to seize the opportunity offered by one bike per rider to cut costs, preferring to save the money spent on the extra parts and maintenance required to provide a spare bike, rather than use that money to field extra riders. Masao Furusawa, head of Yamaha, HRC boss Shuhei Nakamoto, and the head of Suzuki's racing program Shinichi Sahara all said that they would not be expanding the number of bikes on the grid, even if the one bike per rider rule were to be introduced.
The reasons are obvious. The financial crisis is hitting the Japanese manufacturers badly, with Japan's economy one of the worst hit of the developed world. Add to that the fact that the value of the Yen has slowly been rising over the past three months, making Japanese products - including motorcycles - more expensive to European and US consumers, already badly hit both by credit problems and the threat of unemployment, and you can see why Japanese companies are leaving no stone unturned in their quest for cost savings. By presenting the one bike per rider proposal as a way to save money, Dorna has given the manufacturers exactly the excuse they were looking for.
Even if a one bike per rider rule is adopted, there is a good chance that it will not last long. Swapping wheels on a MotoGP bike is likely to add 15-20 seconds to the 30 seconds a bike swap already takes if the rider decides to come in during a flag-to-flag race. If it starts to rain much after halfway in the race, riders will be much less likely to come in for rain tires, regarding the amount of time lost in the pits as an insurmountable obstacle. So more riders will stay out on slick tires, and that is inevitably going to lead to a nasty, and possibly very serious, accident. Once the riders realize that the combination of a single bike, flag-to-flag racing and sprint races is potentially lethal, they are likely to go off the idea altogether.
What's worse, it would also make a mockery of the supposed reasoning behind the single tire rule. The introduction of a single tire manufacturer was put forward on the basis of the safety argument: this way, Dorna could exert pressure to keep corner speeds down, meaning that crashes would happen at a lower speed. Once serious accidents start to happen during flag-to-flag racing, there will be a lot of hard questions asked about just how seriously Dorna takes safety, and how far safety should be compromised for the sanctitiy of television slots.