The Engine Situation: Will Lorenzo Make It To The End Of The Year?

Ever since Jorge Lorenzo's #3 engine went up in smoke at Assen after the Factory Yamaha man was skittled by Alvaro Bautista in the first corner, MotoGP followers have been asking themselves whether Jorge Lorenzo will make it to the end of the season with the remainder of his allocation, or whether he will have to take a 7th engine and start from pit lane at some point. As each race goes by, the questions have become more urgent: will this be the race where Lorenzo finally runs out of engines, and hands Dani Pedrosa the advantage in the championship fight?

So how is Jorge Lorenzo doing with his engines? Is he, as many suspect, in imminent danger of losing an engine, and with it potentially his second World Championship? What strategies have his pit crew been using to manage with one engine prematurely withdrawn? And will those strategies be enough to see him through to the race at Valencia?

A few races after the first-corner crash at Assen, I asked Jorge Lorenzo's team manager Wilco Zeelenberg if he believed that Lorenzo would have a problem with his engines. "No," he told me, "it will just give the guys in the garage a bit more work swapping engines". Instead of following the standard pattern of using a pair of engines at the start of the season, then adding in engines slowly until the end, replacing older engines as they reach their mileage limits, Lorenzo's team have spent their weekends juggling engines, swapping them around in a concentrated effort to optimize mileage. They have of course been helped along they way by bad weather - there have been few weekends this year where at least part of some sessions has not been lost to the weather - but the strategy has so far proved successful.

The team's strategy has mainly been focused on getting as much mileage as possible out of Lorenzo's oldest engines - #1 and #2 were both introduced at the first race of the year at Qatar - while saving the later engines for use in the race. Lorenzo's #1 and #2 engines have been used in a total of 46 and 47 sessions respectively, including 7 races between them. Though they have not been raced since Germany (engine #1), at least one of the two engines has been used at every event this year. While those engines help carry a lot of the load during practice, Lorenzo's later engines (#4, #5, #6) have been spared, seeing most of their action during qualifying and during the race, when performance is at a premium.

That this has created an extra workload for Ramon Forcada and the rest of Jorge Lorenzo's crew is clear from the usage patterns. At the nine races that have taken place since Assen, Jorge Lorenzo has used three different engines at three races (Mugello, Laguna Seca and Indianapolis), and four different engines at two others (Brno and Motegi). At the Sachsenring, Lorenzo's team eked an extra race weekend out of his first two engines, and at Aragon, Misano and Sepang, either his #1 or #2 engines were alternated with later engines. 

The contrast to a more traditional strategy is made clear when comparing Lorenzo's engine usage to that of Dani Pedrosa, the Repsol Honda man still having all of his engines available for use. Unlike Forcada, however, Mike Leitner and his team have not faced the task of juggling engine mileage, concentrating instead on working on set up. Of all the races since Assen, Pedrosa has only used three engines twice: Once at Laguna Seca, when Pedrosa had a new engine with upgrades which he had tested two weeks' previously at Mugello and liked; and once at Aragon, where Pedrosa's #6 engine was slotted into the bike for the Sunday morning warm up, ahead of being used on a regular basis. The rest of the time, Pedrosa has been working with the same two engines all weekend.

Pedrosa's more traditional engine strategy is clear from the session count for each motor. His #1 and #2 engines have 35 sessions each on them, having been used for the first seven and nine races respectively. Pedrosa's #3 engine has just 13 sessions on it before being shelved, that engine specification being superceded by a revised version of the engine that is a little smoother than the one they started the year with. Pedrosa's #4 engine has born the brunt since then, racking up 27 sessions and being shelved as a back up since Aragon. Meanwhile, Pedrosa's #5 and #6 engines have been introduced in an orderly fashion, slowly racking up the miles as expected from the start.

Will Jorge Lorenzo run out of engines before the end of the year? The championship leader is actually in better shape than he might have feared. With two races to go - a total of 12 sessions in which he will need two bikes with engines in them - Lorenzo has three relatively low-mileage engines. Motor #4 has the most sessions on it, having been out 11 times, including 3 races. Numbers 5 and 6 are not far behind, with 8 and 9 sessions on them respectively, as well as a race count of 3 for #5 and 2 for #6. Lorenzo's high-mileage engines, #1 and #2, are still available, but will be running to the very limits of their endurance now. Even if Lorenzo were to lose another engine, he should be able to make it to the end of the season without having to start from pit lane. But it would not be a comfortable situation to be in.

Lorenzo's biggest challenge may come not from an exploding Yamaha engine, but from the Honda's dreaded reliability. Dani Pedrosa has engines to spare, and nothing to lose by using them. Sound analysis of Honda's RC213V at recent races, undertaken by educated fans, is showing an increase in the maximum revs the engine is using. Pedrosa appears to have been given an extra couple of hundred revs to play with, meaning that he has a little more horsepower at his disposal. This would fit with the step forward which Pedrosa has made in recent races, winning 5 of the last 6 Grand Prix. That performance step was clearest at Aragon, Motegi and Sepang, where Pedrosa controlled the race utterly, following Lorenzo until it was time to get past, and then opening up a gap to the Yamaha man almost at will. There is no doubt that Dani Pedrosa is riding better than he ever has, but one possible factor in that improvement is the confidence of knowing he has a little more in the tank if he needs it.

The question of whether the engine which Lorenzo lost at Assen could end up losing him the championship is thus a little more complex than it at first seems. Lorenzo being forced to start from pit lane after taking a 7th engine now seems vanishingly unlikely. But the crash may have ended up handing Pedrosa a small but significant advantage in their battle. Lorenzo may not lose an engine, but he cannot afford to lose his concentration: one slip and the title could be gone.

Below are the engine usage charts for both Jorge Lorenzo and Dani Pedrosa. The table shows a list of engines, with the number of sessions each engine has been used in, the number of races each engine has been used for, the status of the engine (active - currently in use, withdrawn - unavailable for use due to engine damage, shelved - available for use, but left unused for multiple races), the total Grand Prix at which the engine has been used, and a list of which Grand Prix the engine was used at. The Grand Prix names are using the three-letter abbreviations Dorna uses for the races.

Jorge Lorenzo's engine usage

Engine Sessions Races Status Total events Events used
#2 47 3 Active 14 QAT, SPA, POR, FRA, CAT, GBR, NED, GER, ITA, USA, IND, CZE, RSM, JPN
#3 4 1 Withdrawn 1 NED
#4 11 3 Active 5 ITA, USA, IND, CZE, JPN
#5 8 3 Active 3 CZE, RSM, JPN
#6 9 2 Active 2 ARA, MAL


Dani Pedrosa's engine usage

Engine Sessions Races Status Total events Events used
#1 35 5 Shelved 7 QAT, SPA, POR, FRA, CAT, GBR, NED
#2 35 2 Shelved 9 QAT, SPA, POR, FRA, CAT, GBR, NED, GER, ITA
#3 13 2 Shelved 3 GER, ITA, USA
#4 27 5 Shelved 5 USA, IND, CZE, RSM, ARA
#5 17 0 Active 7 USA, IND, CZE, RSM, ARA, JPN, MAL
#6 11 2 Active 3 ARA, JPN, MAL


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I was among those most concerned for Lorenzo, but always quick to point out a weather caveat.  In that regard, things could not have worked out much better for him.  For example:  not only was this past race (and some practice time) run in the rain, it was shortened.

If not for the number of rained-out sessions, things would be much different now.

While being within the tolerance limits is always ideal, one doesn't every really know when something is going to go boom (as evidenced by my RS125 having the main gear retaining bolt back out last time out destroying the crank). ANYTHING can happen in racing as we all know, and it ain't over until it's over...

Thanks for the analysis - top notch!

I think the real danger for Jorge is not having to start from pit lane - he would probably still make the top 5 - but rather to have an engine blowing up during the race. They can minimize the risk, but not eliminate it. The same is true for Dani, of course, but it is much less likely.

What I find interesting about the Honda engine performance increase is that it is able to comfortably beat the Yamaha engine without running out of fuel. So the Honda has both reliability and engine management efficiency.

I imagine that Pedrosa's throttle control has something to do with the fuel efficiency of the Honda too.

Stoner doesn't have to worry about engine life... wonder if his team will bump the rev limit up even higher than Pedrosa's for the Island?

So far, the increased Honda revs have been seen only only during Sepang Qual. I haven't bothered to look at race revs, since much of it was run in submarine mode. I'd guess that the riders can use the extra oomph during the race as needed, but that's not to say they can run the whole race at elevated power levels w/o running into fuel issues.

Hopefully PI will be dry. Then we can see if Honda has made a real fuel efficiency step, or has just uncorked the engine somewhat.

You can't fight the laws of physics. Pedrosa's weight advantage allows him to use less gas to move the machine a certain distance and allows him to run a richer (safer) and more powerful mixture. The pedrosa/simoncelli clashes in the past on "identical" bikes demonstrated that pretty clearly. Sic would outbrake and out corner due to his extra weight providing more friction, then pedrosa would zip past on any straightaway.
The difference isn't as pronounced with Lorenzo, but its still a major issue as to gas consumption over 26 laps.
It's the reason I am opposed to GPS engine management, and tight fuel limits. Base the fuel limits on a combined weight of rider and machine, and then things will change.

While I wholeheartedly agree Pedrosa's size is one of his biggest advantages the factories want it that way so it will stay.

At this point JL's engines are really a non-issue. Can't he secure the title with a win at PI? And if he takes a safe 2nd and chooses to use a new engine at Valencia can't he still win by taking 8th place, regardless of what DP does?

I'm thinking he would rather have his victory celebration at Valencia anyway. He certainly deserves it.

Can any one shed some light on what is the mileage for a MotoGP engine please? And what happens to an engine when it completes its mileage? Does it cease to run or just slows down? A normal bike's engine would still perform ok even after 10/15K kms, what is specific about the MotoGP engines? I have not been able to understand this concept properly..

I dont think there is a predetermined KM limit that the engineers have in mind. They will use the engines until the rider has probably determined that its slowed down via lap time analysis comparison or something ridiculous like that.

Its an extreme competition level race engine. Almost all top level race engines are rebuilt as often as the rules allow. Quarter mile top fuel drag engines are rebuilt after running for as little as 90 seconds. Of course it helps that their race is only 3-4 seconds long, but still. Tolerances are tighter, compression levels are higher, the engine spends more time in a higher rev range effectively decreasing its efficiency and power output. It breaks down faster and therefore becomes slower as it ages. It doesnt shut down or explode after reaching a predetermined mileage, but it ceases to be competitive in the arena of MotoGP.

Your store bought sportbike engine may be in a high state of tune compared to other bikes, and even it will slow down as its life progresses, but compared to a race engine, its in a very mild, if not down right slow, state of tune.

Watched some of Aragon onboard.

Pedrosa was enjoying increased revs for that rate too, hitting high 16,6xx a few times, when pushing. Also lots of lower shift points, presumably at the request of the fuel computer. ;)

Lorenzo racing comfortably in his usual <= 16,300 range.
Yam haven't had to neuter the engine.

Update. Watched the rest of Aragon.
Even as Pedrosa was pissing off into the sunset, he was still hitting high 16,5xx on the straights. Seems Honda has plenty of confidence in the unit. Krop's "Engine #6" may indeed be something new and improved. Without knowing how tight the race is for fuel, it's hard to say if the engine is inherently more efficient.

What is interesting to me is not only are Honda engines much more reliable, but they also seem to outrun Yamaha on the top end. An old retired mechanic friend of mine always said you can get the power off the top or the bottom, but rarely will you get both when it comes down to tuning without the computer side of it.

The output for both bikes is ridiculous, but it seems to me, that Yamaha are going to start to work overtime on improving their engines. More and more I am reading about Jorge stating more power is needed. Even in the practice sessions where he was holding the top speed for some time. He does bacause when he and Pedrosa get close to each other, or the sector has a long straight, the Hondas are always faster, everytime. They may have chatter, but they do not seem to be that much slower through the corner.

It seems like Yamaha is missing a key component in engineering somewhere. Masao Furusawa departure seems to have left a hole at Yamaha that has not been filled. All this just gives the title chase some suspense for me. The racing has been horridly uneventful in the front. If it was not for Moto3 and Moto2, the GPs would hardly be worth watching for casual fans. Motogp has actually fallen to Formula 1 like levels of entertainment. It would be nice to see the title come down to the wire due to a problem with Jorge Lorenzo's engines, (with nothing physically bad happening to him of course), because at one time it seemed like he was just running into the sunset alone. It would be good to see the nerves on high, and it all coming down to a last race battle that lasted the whole race. Dream or not, that would be great way to end this year. It would make up for some naps I took during the middle to end of a couple of races.

"It would be nice to see the title come down to the wire due to a problem with Jorge Lorenzo's engines, (with nothing physically bad happening to him of course), because at one time it seemed like he was just running into the sunset alone."

I like tight championships too, but I wouldn't want to see Jorge's lead vanish because he exceeds # of engines or has some problem with an over-worked engine (as unlikely as that would be apparently).

If Dani won because of that it would ruin the whole season IMHO.

The manufacturers used 6 engines per season in the 800cc formula. Yamaha should have no issues reaching the reliability requirements for 81mm 1000cc engines, unless an unforeseen design flaw suddenly afflicts his remaining 5 engines.

Lorenzo will definitely make it to the end of the year. Will he have full power for his QP and RAC engines??????

I have no idea, and the people who know will probably never utter a word about it.