Although the Wrooom event at the Italian ski resort of Madonna di Campiglio is formally meant as the launch for Ducati's MotoGP and Ferrari's Formula One season, many other big names from the world of racing are also in attendance. One such person was Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta, and given the major changes coming to MotoGP for 2012 - and even bigger changes from 2013 onwards - Ezpeleta had arranged to give a short press conference to talk to journalists about some of his plans for next season and beyond. But he barely made it into the press conference: on his way in, he was doorstepped by a group of journalists who started grilling Ezpeleta about the future of MotoGP, leaving the Spaniard with little left to say in the press conference. His answers did provide a compelling look at the future of MotoGP as Dorna sees it.
That world will look a little different to the way the series has developed since the switch to four strokes in 2002. The spiraling cost of MotoGP machines has to be brought under control if the series is to survive, and at Madonna di Campiglio, Ezpeleta put a number to what the cost of a MotoGP bike should be: as satellite teams are capable of securing budgets of between 2 and 2.5 million euros on their own, then a MotoGP machine capable of being competitive should cost 1 million euros, GPOne.com reports. "The problem is that now the bikes cost three million," Ezpeleta said.
The problem was that in the balance between research & development for the factories and entertainment for the fans, the balance had swung almost completely towards R&D. Motorcycle racing was built on two pillars, Ezpeleta explained, technology and entertainment, and if you were forced by economic circumstance to choose between one or the other, entertainment was the better choice. History had shown that when manufacturers could spend their way to success, the risk was that a factory could spend what it takes to win, and then pull out, leaving the series empty handed. And so the rules for 2013 onwards would be changed to both drastically cut costs for factories and private teams alike, while attempting to create a better balance between the factory bikes and non-factory bikes, whether those non-factory bikes be leased satellite bikes or CRT machines.
Ezpeleta said there were a range of measures that could be introduced: a spec ECU and rev limits had been discussed earlier, but engine development freezes or adding ballast were also options. The factories were dead set against a spec ECU, as the electronics are the mainstay of their R&D efforts in MotoGP. And while Ezpeleta had proposed a spec ECU, what was more important was to limit performance, and by limiting performance, impose limits on cost. The Dorna boss was already in discussions with the factories about the rules from 2013 onwards, but if they could not reach an agreement by May, then he would impose a set of regulations himself, he said. When the factories had control of the rulebook (under the previous agreement which expired on December 31st, the factories were responsible for the technical regulations, which the other members of the Grand Prix Commission were bound by contract to accept), the prime focus of the rules had been to drive technological development. The result of that focus is clear for all to see, Ezpeleta insisted: the cost of leasing a satellite bike had become impossible for the satellite teams to afford.
And so Ezpeleta's aim was to ensure that a competitive MotoGP machine would cost private teams no more than 1 million euros per season. Just what those bikes were was irrelevant, Ezpeleta said. Whether they be CRT machines, or satellite-spec factory prototypes, the only thing that mattered was that the bikes were affordable and competitive. Ezpeleta said there were several options for ensuring this, apart from the technical regulations: if necessary, he would consider limiting factories to just 2 bikes each, or banning the leasing of bikes, and only allowing factories to sell them to private teams.
Much had been made - especially in the Italian press - of the safety aspect of CRT bikes. The speed difference between the factory bikes and the CRT machines would create dangerous situations on the track, is the objection most commonly heard. Ezpeleta was adamant that safety would not be compromised. Though the grid would be expanded from 17 to 21 - 12 factory prototypes and 9 CRT entries - only four new riders would be on the grid, and measures would be taken to ensure that they do not cause a safety risk. The difference in speed between the fastest and the slowest rider was in any case lower than in Formula One, Ezpeleta explained.
It is not just the rules where big changes are expected, however. The MotoGP calendar could look very different from 2013 onwards. What is certain is that the era of having 5 races on the Iberian peninsula is over: neither the economic climate in Spain and Portugal, nor the image of MotoGP as a world championship was helped by having so many races in one place. And with Texas and Argentina scheduled to take their place on the calendar, something will have to give. Though Ezpeleta did not give any hints as to which of the rounds would be dropped, the dire financial situation faced by Jerez means that this iconic Spanish track is the first one likely to be dropped. The Catalonian regional government have also stated publicly that financial support for the Formula One and MotoGP Grand Prix is also up for question, though it appears as though the main target is F1, as the subsidy paid by the Catalunya region for the privilege of staging an F1 race is vastly bigger than the amount paid for MotoGP, making MotoGP look affordable by comparison.
Even the season ender at Valencia may not be safe: the Valencia regional government is seriously considering dropping the Valencia F1 Grand Prix, as the costs of organizing the race around the street circuit in the center of the city of Valencia outweigh the benefits to the region. But the Ricardo Tormo circuit also receives a generous subsidy from local government agencies (including the Valencia tourist board) to host the MotoGP round, and this, too, is a subject for discussion.
As for Estoril, the economic situation in Portugal is even worse than the situation in Spain, making a continuation after this year look extremely unlikely. Even the 2012 race is at risk, Ezpeleta told reporters, as there is still no contract signed for this year. With the Estoril round due to take place one week after Jerez, there is a reasonable chance that the season will see the schedule cut to just 17 races.
So where will MotoGP be racing in future? Ezpeleta announced that negotiations were already under way to race at the new circuit at New Delhi (where 2010 World Champion Jorge Lorenzo took a lap on a Yamaha R15 on Wednesday), and that talks were also being held with organizers in Korea. Other possible destinations include Brazil and Chile, Ezpeleta said. More tracks would not necessarily mean more races, however. No matter which circuits were added, the season would not be expanded beyond 18 races, Ezpeleta affirmed.
What is clear from Carmelo Ezpeleta's statements to the press is that there are very interesting times indeed ahead for MotoGP.