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."
While he would not be drawn on specifics, Ezpeleta did highlight at least one area where rule changes could be expected. "We think that a championship derived from production bikes that is using 39 engines during one season, while in MotoGP we are using 6 – to be honest it’s not very correct," Ezpeleta said. One of the reasons the CRT teams in MotoGP have struggled to be as fast as the WSBK machines is because of this difference. With just 12 engines to last the season, the CRT machines have been forced to run with much less power than their WSBK equivalents, as the CRT bikes have to last for some 1200 kilometers, rather than the 200 (or 500, if some WSBK teams are to be believed) that the World Superbike engines do between engine rebuilds.
It seems inevitable that an engine allocation will be introduced in World Superbikes from 2014, as a way of cutting costs and reducing performance. It has happened with some success in World Supersport this season, the WSS bikes being restricted to 8 engines for a year. That has seen the gap closed between the mid-pack riders and the front runners, though the same names remain at the front. With few modifications allowed to the engine internals, the only way to increase engine durability is to decrease the state of tune, and so close the gap between the factory (and factory-supported) riders and the privateer teams. It would also open the gap between MotoGP lap times and WSBK times, allowing Dorna to impose other restrictions on MotoGP to cut costs and reduce performance in the prototype series.
The aim was not solely to cut performance, however. The main aim, according to Ezpeleta, is to retain the distinctive identity of each series. "We need to set up both championships with their own spirit. One is from bikes based on production motorcycles, and another is for prototypes," the Dorna boss said. "This is something we will do with the FIM first, and then with the manufacturers who are involved in both championships."
The Spaniard would not be drawn on what this would mean for electronics. "It's too early to talk about electronics," Ezpeleta told the press conference. He emphasized that he was agnostic about specific technologies or ideas, his only aim being costs and spectacle. "We are not 'in favor' of ECUs or rev limits," he said. "We are in favor of reducing the costs and increasing the show."
Though Ezpeleta did not say so in so many words, it is clear that there will be much more coordination of the rules between the two series. With the manufacturers effectively sidelined in both series - Ezpeleta has this year followed the example set by the Flamminis some ten years ago - Dorna will control the technical regulations and harmonize them between the two series. But it will be Dorna who write the rules, not the factories. "The obligation of the organizer of the championship, together with the FIM is to set up technical rules to make the championship." The rules in both series made them too expensive, Ezpeleta said, and that meant working on cost reduction in both series.
This, Ezpeleta let casually slip, was the reason that the Flamminis had been taken out of the equation. "Since Bridgepoint's acquisition of Infront Sports and Media, we have had several meetings with Infront Motor Sports to try to adapt the technical rules of both championships. This was the main aim of Bridgepoint, trying to think of the two championships together," Ezpeleta explained. "We had several meetings during last year, first in Madrid, then in Rome, then in Paris and finally in Donington, trying to accommodate the rules." But the Flamminis were not prepared to play ball. "This was impossible," Ezpeleta said. "So finally the decision of Bridgepoint was to maintain two championships, two separate championships as two separate companies, but both under the umbrella of Dorna Sports."
It was inevitable that in any conflict between the two series, Dorna would get the upper hand. Bridgepoint actively decided to purchase Dorna after CVC was forced to sell the company, and Bridgepoint have been directly involved since the takeover. Infront Motor Sports, on the other hand, was a tiny part of a massive takeover, when Bridgepoint purchased Infront Sports and Media, the parent company of the branch that runs World Superbikes. WSBK was an irrelevance to Bridgepoint, the private equity firm's main prize being the highly lucrative soccer and winter sports rights held by the parent company. The attempt by the Flamminis to defend what they saw as their interests was doomed to be quashed by Bridgepoint, who want to see the two series working together rather than competing.
Where that leaves the Flamminis is uncertain, but it seems unlikely that there will be a place in the series for either Paolo or his brother Maurizio. "In principal we are still talking with the people to know exactly who will run [World Superbikes], but it will run under the umbrella of Dorna," Ezpeleta explained. "At the top of both championships there will be Dorna."
Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing remains to be seen. Giving the control over the two series to a single company makes commercial sense, and allows much more coordination between the two motorcycle racing world championships. It will mean there will be fewer conflicts between the two, and will stop them competing in areas such as circuit contracts, where the two have sometimes engaged in bidding wars rather than working together to maximize the profile of the sport.
The fear is that Dorna will kill off World Superbikes in the hope of putting more money into MotoGP. That seems unlikely, as having races on 30 or more weekends a year is far more profitable than just holding the 18 rounds of MotoGP. As long as World Superbikes and MotoGP make more money as separate series than they would as a single, combined series, Bridgepoint will not allow Dorna to kill off WSBK. That does mean that Dorna has to ensure that WSBK remains a profitable and successful series, however. The question is, how do they do that?