Once upon a time, Grand Prix racing rules were fairly simple: bikes had to have two wheels, weigh 130kg, have a maximum capacity of 500cc and a maximum of four cylinders. The switch to four strokes in 2002 added a lot of complexity to the rules, and things have been getting slowly worse since then. MotoGP now has two different categories with three different rule sets covering a single class, depending on entry type and results in recent years. With Suzuki and Aprilia entering the series in 2015, and another rule change on the horizon for 2016, it's time to take a quick look at the rules for this season, and see what has changed since last year.
The basic formula for MotoGP is unchanged. A MotoGP bike is limited to a maximum of 4 cylinders, a maximum capacity of 1000cc, and a maximum bore of 81mm.
For 2015, the minimum weight has been reduced by 2kg to 158kg. That limit is likely to be reduced again for 2016. Bikes are weighed in race trim, including coolant, onboard cameras and electronics, but with an empty fuel tank.
Factory vs Open
As in 2014, MotoGP is divided into two categories: Factory Option and Open class. Factory Option is meant for motorcycle manufacturers, the Open class for private entries and smaller teams. However, just as in 2014, the threat of Ducati's defection to the Open class means that the concessions they were granted in 2014 stay in place, and will be extended to the new factories entering the class, Suzuki and Aprilia.
This means that although there are officially only two categories, Factory Option and Open class, the Factory Option class retains two subdivisions: factories who have won a dry race since the start of the 2013 season, and those who have not, or are new to the class. That means that only Honda and Yamaha are subject to the full force of the Factory Option rules, while Ducati, Suzuki and Aprilia are all granted extra concessions to help them with performance.
To help keep the various categories straight, it is easier to refer to three classes: Factory Option, Factory Option with concessions, and Open class. Here are the basic rules for the three categories.
Factory Option (Yamaha and Honda)
Although all entries must use the official Magneti Marelli ECU hardware (the computer that sits at the heart of a racing motorcycle, or any modern vehicle), they are free to run their own software on it. That means they can develop their own electronic strategies for traction control, launch control, wheelie control, engine braking, and other aspects of vehicle dynamics.
To counter the potential advantage of using their own software, and to try to keep costs down, Factory Option entries are not allowed to develop their engines during the season, and are limited in the amount of testing they can do (see table below). They can only use 20 liters of fuel a race, and a maximum of five engines a season. That is the same as last season.
Factory Option with concessions (Ducati, Suzuki, Aprilia)
Though nominally this group runs in the same class as the Factory Option entries, and is allowed to use their own ECU software, they have special concessions granted to help make them more competitive. The concessions are the same as those granted to Ducati last year: they get 24 liters of fuel, 12 engines a season, which they are free to develop during the year, and are allowed unlimited testing. They also get a softer tire than the Factory Option riders, allocated the soft and medium option rear tires, rather than the medium and hard allotted to Yamaha and Honda.
The extra fuel and different tire allocation are subject to results obtained in dry conditions. If one of the factories succeeds in scoring either three podiums, two second place finishes, or a single win, then the fuel allowance will be cut from 24 liters to just 22 liters for that factory. If that factory scores three wins in the dry, then they lose the softer rear tire, and will have the hard and medium at each race, rather than the medium and soft.
The loss of the extra fuel is unlikely to make much of a difference. Ducati staff told us last year that they never used more than 22 liters per race during 2014 anyway. The loss of the soft tire will be a bigger blow, taking away the advantage they have especially during qualifying.
At the moment, Ducati have one dry podium, Andrea Dovizioso's third place finish at Austin in 2014. If Ducati score two more dry podiums, or one more win, they will lose the extra fuel.
The concessions on engine development, the number of engines and the freedom to test are not affected by the results a factory might score.
The Open class remains exactly as it was last year: they have 24 liters of fuel, 12 engines per season, the medium and soft tire, and unlimited testing. Those rules are not subject to results. In the unlikely event of an Open Honda scoring three wins in 2015, they will keep the softer tire, the extra engines and the extra fuel.
At A Glance
The table below shows what rules apply to which entries in simplified form:
|Factory Option||Factory Option, with concessions||Open class|
|Fuel||20 liters||24 liters (22 liters)*||24 liters|
|Engines||5 per season||12 per season||12 per season|
|Testing||Official tests, plus 5 test days||Unlimited||Unlimited|
|ECU||Official Magneti Marelli||Official Magneti Marelli||Official Magneti Marelli|
|ECU Software||Proprietary, free development until 30/06/2015||Proprietary, free development until 30/06/2015||Official Magneti Marelli|
|Tires**||Hard and medium||Medium and soft (Hard and medium**)||Medium and soft|
* If a factory scores three podiums, two second places or a win, fuel will be reduced to 22 liters
** If a factory scores three wins, they will have to use the official Factory Option tire allowance of hard and medium, currently used by Yamaha and Honda
Only results from dry races count towards having concessions removed. Results from any rider on the same manufacturer count.
Although both the Factory Option and Factory Option with concessions entries are allowed to use their own proprietary ECU software for 2015, that is due to come to an end in 2016. To that end, a freeze on software development has been instituted from mid-season.
At stake is the development of the ECU software for 2016. That process is due to be led by Magneti Marelli, with all factories free to contribute ideas and algorithms to the 2016 software. In effect, this means that as of 1st July 2015, the factories will switch their software development focus from their own proprietary software, to the common spec software being developed for all of the teams for next year.
However, if a factory wants to continue developing its software past the deadline of 30th June 2015, they can. But if they do, they forfeit their right to contribute to software development for 2016. In effect, they will be stuck with the software ideas put forward by their rivals. Once they cease development of their own software, and submit an ECU to Dorna for verification, they can start work on the common software.
In effect, this makes the software freeze voluntary. No one is forced to quit development of their own software, but doing so has a price. It is not beyond the realms of possibility that if the race for the championship is very tight, then Honda and Yamaha could choose to ignore the software freeze and keep developing their own software. If just a few points separate Marc Márquez, Jorge Lorenzo, Valentino Rossi and Dani Pedrosa, some brinkmanship could come into play. One of the factories may judge that it is worth skipping the first month or two of development for 2016, if they can gain an advantage in 2015. After all, the 2016 season will still be eight months away at the start of September, but Honda or Yamaha could gain another four races and one test worth of development in July and August.
The Tire Situation
Working out who got what tires was already complicated enough in 2014, with the concessions allowing Ducati to use the same tires as the Open class bikes. Things are even more complex in 2015, with Bridgestone adding an extra rear tire compound, and Aprilia and Suzuki given the same allocation as Ducati.
The front tire allocation remains unchanged from 2014. Bridgestone will bring either two or three specifications to each track, and Factory Option and Open class entries will all have the same allocation. They will be allowed to use a maximum of either 9 front tires if there are only two different specifications available, or 10 front tires if Bridgestone has brought a third specification. Each rider may only choose a maximum of 6 of either specification.
As for the rear tires, Bridgestone will be bringing an extra compound for 2015, an extra hard rear tire to be used at Argentina, and probably at Indianapolis as well. There is a difference in the rear tires allocated to the Factory Option entries (Honda and Yamaha), and the Factory concession (Ducati, Suzuki, Aprilia) and Open class entries.
Bridgestone will bring three specifications of rear tire to each race. Depending on the track, those combinations will be one of the following: extra hard, hard, medium; hard, medium, soft; medium, soft, extra soft.
To keep things simple, we will refer to the options as hard, medium and soft. The Factory Option (Honda and Yamaha) riders will have the hard and medium available, the rest will have the medium and the soft available. All riders will have a maximum of 11 rear tires. Factory Option entries will have up to 7 medium and 5 hard; the rest will have up to 7 soft and 5 medium.
Ducati, Aprilia and Suzuki all currently have the softer tire. Should they rack up three wins this season, they will lose the softer tire. Their allocation will revert to being the same as that of Honda and Yamaha.
A Brake On Costs
The other major rule change for 2015 is the introduction of price capping for brake components. Brake component manufacturers (Brembo and Nissin) must submit a price list of components for homologation at the start of the season, with the prices fixed for three years. They must undertake to supply a complete package to the teams at a maximum price of either €60,000 without brake calipers, or €70,000 with three sets of calipers. The package includes 3 master cylinders, 10 brake discs and 28 brake pads. Teams are free to buy extra components at the homologated prices, as they see fit. But the brake package is regarded as being the minimum necessary to complete a season.
Will it really help to reduce costs? Firstly, only the cost of front brake components is included, leaving a potential loophole of selling a combined package of front and rear brakes at a vastly inflated price. Secondly, the cost of service and advice is not included: rich teams and factories will be able to afford much more advice than the poorer teams, and will consequently get the best service. No cap has been imposed on the amount the brake manufacturers can charge for their service.
Teams are now free to use either 320mm or 340mm brake discs at their discretion. The only place this is limited is at Motegi, where the use of 340mm brake discs is mandatory.
The price cap on brake components will serve as a test bed. A similar system is under consideration for suspension components from next year. The example of Moto3 is not promising. Though the cost of almost every component is capped, the factories still manage to charge getting on for €500,000 for a single season. There is always some nebulous invoice item where factories can hide their true costs.
There have also been a couple of minor tweaks to the sporting regulations, but nothing particularly major. Minor movements on the grid are now tolerated, with Race Direction having the authority to judge whether an advantage was gained or not. Major movements will still receive an automatic penalty.
The remaining restriction on tires for flag-to-flag races was phased out previously. Riders can now come in to swap to a bike on the same tires, instead of having to change at least one tire from either slick to wet, or wet to slick. This is better for safety, allowing riders to come in and fit another set of wets in half-wet, half-dry conditions.