2016 MotoGP Mid-Season Review Part 1: Spec Software - You Win Some, You Lose Some

Before the second half of the MotoGP season gets underway, now is a good time to take a look back at what happened in the first nine races, and how that reflects on the next nine. There has been plenty to talk about, with new rules turning results around, and riders transforming themselves to chase greater success. There have been plenty of surprises in all three classes, and more likely to come. Despite this, clear favorites have emerged in MotoGP, Moto2 and Moto3. There is still everything to play for in all three championships, but betting against the leaders is looking increasingly risky.

New rules bring the expected and the unexpected

Fans and media were excited about the changes for the 2016 season. New tires and spec electronics should have shaken the field up, and made the racing closer. Halfway into the season, things haven't quite turned out the way we might have expected. The complexities of change have been shown to favor those best equipped to handle them. That, inevitably, means that the factory teams have done better than the satellite teams.

The spec electronics is a prime example of how this has played out. The rationale from Dorna and IRTA for introducing spec electronics was to create a more level playing field, and make the racing closer. That has worked to some extent, but only between factories rather than between teams. Prior to this season, factories such as Yamaha and Honda had a clear advantage over others, such as Ducati, and especially Suzuki. The years of R&D into vehicle dynamics – the science of managing a racing motorcycle through electronic controls – was reaping returns for the two Japanese manufacturers.

Good for some, not for others

Companies with small racing departments like Suzuki could never manage to catch up, lacking the resources and the wealth of data which Honda and Yamaha had. They were always chasing a moving target, struggling even to keep up with their Japanese rivals after giving them such a head start. The difference the spec software has made has been evident from the comments by their riders. Both Maverick Viñales and Aleix Espargaro have continually emphasized how much better the unified software is compared to Suzuki's own ECU software from last year. Talk to riders on Yamahas and Hondas, though, and they will tell you that the spec software is a real step backwards for them.

The case is a little different for the Italian factories in MotoGP. Ducati's software was never quite at the level of Yamaha and Honda, but it was not that far off. But Ducati Corse boss Gigi Dall'Igna made a smart decision in 2015, which has allowed them to close the gap, and maybe even take the lead. The 2016 spec software was based loosely on the system used by the Open class bikes in 2015. Ducati supported their Open class riders strongly last season, sending a lot of Ducati engineers into the garages of the privateer teams. The experience gained has proven to be invaluable, giving Ducati a head start on the 2016 electronics.

Things are a little different for Aprilia. The Noale factory already had world class electronics, developed in part in World Superbikes. The switch to the unified software was a step back for Aprilia, also because their MotoGP effort is being run with such limited resources. Aprilia have had plenty of work to do to get the RS-GP working well with the new software. They have made significant progress, but there is still more to do. Then again, Aprilia's MotoGP bike still has so many weaknesses (not least, a severe lack of horsepower) that electronics is a relatively small inconvenience.

Satellites suffer

The biggest losers have been the satellite teams, however. With so much to learn about extracting the maximum out of the unified software, MotoGP's manufacturers have tended to focus on their factory teams. That means that engineers have been poring over data from the factory bikes, and helping optimize the electronics for their riders. Any spare capacity has been focused there, rather than spreading knowledge throughout the satellite teams.

That has left the satellite squads to try to figure stuff out on their own, for the most part. The factories have provided teams with support and updates, when they have had time, but it has been secondary to the goal of making the factory teams competitive. The gap between satellite and factory has only grown larger.

The notable exception here is again Ducati. The Italian manufacturer has repaid the work done with the Open class teams very well. They were already very comfortable with the systems before the start of the 2016 season, thanks to the data gathered last year. That has meant that the satellite teams have benefited from existing factory expertise, and that Ducati has the engineering capacity to spare to help the satellite squads.

Optimists may point at Ducati as an example of the way forward. As the other factories start to master the unified software, they will be able to pass on their lessons to their satellite teams. With the software spec pretty much frozen, and little or no development expected, the gap between the satellite and factory squads should start to close again. We may see some of this in the second half of 2016, but more likely it will be 2017 and 2018 before real progress is made.


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Comments

New tires and spec electronics should have shaken the field up, and made the racing closer. Halfway into the season, things haven't quite turned out the way we might have expected.

Who is we? Not me. It's always the same thing, someone yells 'this will surely shake up the field!!!' and everybody believes it because they want to believe it. It never works. Factory teams and riders don't just win because rules favour them or because they play politics. They simply have the best people they can have, riders and crew.

That is also the reason the sattelite teams will never catch up, no matter how much David or anyone else wants you to believe they will. Does anyone really think once the factories have understood every bit of the new software they are just going to sit on their butt and do nothing else? Very naive. We've already seen the first chapter of this with the wings. Restrict development on one part of the bike and the factories will find another part to develop on, almost always more expensive as well. Banning the wings was a terrible idea and it started MotoGP down the dark path F1 has been going for years. Banning everything until there's alsmost nothing left to develop on and then trying to regulate the series race by race because Mercedes still wins every race and the FIA needs to distract people from that. It's absolutely ludicrous. Do we really want that for MotoGP?

People tend to forget that if you slow development for the factories that goes double for the sattelite teams. A lack of funds can sometimes lead to innovation and creative thinking but there's no place for that in MotoGP anymore because the bikes are so heavily regulated. And it will only get worse.

speculation about how much was gigi's call, but...

it sure seems as though treating all of ducati racing as one big team is paying off for ducati. even without a win, their expertise sharing has led to literally all of their bikes being at the front at one time or another. 

this exposure leads to more value to the respective sponsors, which leads to the teams being able to ask for more money for those sponsorships, which leads to the teams having more resources to entice higher caliber talent both in the garage and on the bike, which will lead to wins.

genius.

Ofcourse the factory teams benefit from larger budgets. More data and more technicians to sort things out.  If nothing changes they are still in a better position, since they provide equipment to sattelitte teams and so can devide the level playingfield as they feel comfortable with. With a small army of technicians they are theoretically able to make te most out of a weekend.

But... while developing with a small army of technicians there are some constraints in what can be obtained. in general the larger the team, the more difficult it is to work together in an efficient and constructive way. Further, while changing multiple variables there is always the possibility to get in terribly wrong (and lose some tenths of a second).

I think we should not expect that changes in rules will level the playing field. We should expect that the best teams will sort things out the quickest. But, changes offer new opportunities for smaller teams as every team has to work and deliver again to make things work and too maintain their position. in the change there is just a bigger element of suprise. Once again Ducati had made a great strategic move to use the spec software for their sattelite times and in keeping this teams very close. In the past they also did the right thing to coorporate exclusively with Bridgestone, before they got the mainsupplier.

I think this great article illustrates what a great job the factory teams are doing in making the difference... and what a great job the sattelite teams are doing to keep up.

what actually suzuki and aprilia doing on motogp? is the sponsorship on this motogp game really that big? are their recent performance really have bargain power over their sponsors partner? are they really could cover their R&D resources from sponsorship fund?

why they didn't change their show, for example go to SBK, or supermoto&cross, or whatever you name it, full focusing, and go rampage in there? ...is prize pool for sponsorship still too small compared to their current motogp?

any chance peugeot factory joining motogp? and bmw factory? i wonder why bmw missed this chance to milking some free funding, for their R&D department from motogp, they're clearly didn't lose anything to another manufacturer here, and peugeot too, lately they're so super serious on their dakar division, why don't go motogp? rider factor?

 

Over consideration of the factory - satellite gap can shadow the importance I think is there around the Ducati/Suzuki/KTM steps forward. Tons can be said about what effect 2016 rules are having in the factories. And re Ducati especially, the effect the factories did or didn't have upon the rules. It seems a HUGE deal that Honda (and then Yamaha following suit) are not dictating anymore.

Re the factory - satellite gap, my eye is on the horizon for what will happen with packages and support for satellites when the (2.2M Euro?) price cap rolls out. It isn't clear what ought to happen nor how to do it. Good consideration David of both the "wave and tide" of the speed at which factories can adapt to the new software. The satellites have some untapped potential...especially the Yamahas.

Speaking of which a few things going on prior to the tire/electronics change are also at play. Honda having doubled down on a strategy prioritizing sophisticated electronics to tame a beast motor in a point-shoot-overload the front on the brakes sticks out as emblemic of the previous era's complexion. It even echoes their manner of relationship with Dorna, the Manu's organization, etc. Honda has been inflexible in their approach.

Yamaha and Suzuki can be contrasted re mechanical grip and such. Their bikes got quite a boost by virtue of a design philosophy fit w the new electronics and tires. But the big contrast for me is Ducati. Flexible in design and organizational strategy. A bike that manages a HUGE motor with the 2016 electronics well. Some of this is Gigi, some appears to be great contrast to Honda re the DNA of their bike/engineering relative to the new tires. Consider the 14.2 wondrously being cured of its front end feel and turn in problems on the Michelins...this issue had dated back to the 800cc years. Gone! Honda's point-shoot-smash strength is even a bit older. Also...gone, but notably first from hubris in 2015 on Bstones, and a second kick while they were down from the Michelins. If HRC didn't have Marquez during this time I might start feeling a bit badly for them.

Which leads to what you might be getting into w another article eh? The riders. Ducati have finally secured an alien befitting their bike's potential. Or have they? Lorenzo - is flexible ingenious adaptivity something he and Ducati share? Or will the Lorenzo - Yamaha marraige be something we look back on as something very special? Perhaps Lorenzo is someone that doesn't adapt well to sudden changes (a weekend w tires he doesn't prefer, weather) but that he has determination and ability that CAN adapt to longer term changes that the new bike and team will ask of him. But the paddock isn't sitting still, especially Vinales and Yamaha.

Iannone comes to mind in terms of congruence with bike. 2015 he showed greatness in some battles and performances where it counted. So is the Ducati. He unfortunately committed some major high profile errors, and has not managed to continue moving the Ducati forward in the order. He and Ducati have had something in common in the potential dept?

Look where Iannone goes - to the Suzuki which may be, like him, showing great potential that doesn't QUITE actualize. Or does it? This pairing may be just the right thing, or just the wrong thing, for both of them. Brivio, sincere best of luck massaging more power out of Suzuki engineers AND that certain something that Aliens get out of Earthly orbit with for IA#29. He seems to do well with some pressure but dive with lots. The two efforts juxtapose richly. Hell, thirdly similar, whatever major sponsor stream comes after tobacco and energy drinks (or LCR piecemeal funding) can complete the sublime trifecta. Keep the orange paint off and get some red folks.

Sure hope you are right David re satellites drafting in w the electronics for the second half of the season and closing the gap some. But I am happy w the shakeup that is here. There is reason for hope - Don't forget we just had Miller pull an OJ19, Ducati has an alien, KTM has what could be a Ducati - like motor, Vinales got on a Yamaha, several rookies look promising for Spring, we finally get to stop reading about off track personal crap between top riders, and enjoy witnessing Marquez's mastery of a very erratic and unruly 2016 Honda machine. That I hope he falls off of unhurt soon so we can enjoy a championship battle.

This article is good stuff - more please, including on the tech/development side. Back to work for me. Is the break over yet?
Cheers!

Open vs Factory Option. The hardware and software are closer a match to the factory option from last year and not the open class.  The rule change to make this swap in philosophy happend quietly and so it is still generally discussed as if this were not the case.

The result is satellite teams effectively are now forced to use a level of software which prioviosly was considered too advanced for them and prompted a new class overnight just for Ducati when they tried to introduce it a few years ago. That ended up with concessions as a legacy.

Ducati satellite advantage.  Rather than being linked to any prior knowedge of open software , the simple act of being involved at a higher level on an ongoing basis compared with other factories gives them their satellite advantage.

This direct involvement is even more critical in that the United software now controls the eninge output on a tourqe reduction basis, like the factory options did before , instead of a throttle position basis as open class did. The result is better suited to partial load conditions like those seen in motorcycle road racing but it requires a detailed mapping of the engine tourqe output to be programmed into the ECU.  Having the factory help with these settings would be essential. Being there to tweak it on a continual basis track to track would be invaluable. 

Software updates.  There is nothing frozen about the software.  The last update I noted was a change to input fields from a single data point to an arrays of numbers.  Thereby expanding the capability within the exiting functions.  That is of course only if you know what to put in that array to get the most out of the bike.  Otherwise you may just still have a single value input many times over now.

The distance to the stars.  Taking a quick look at the benchmark for satellite teams, Tech3, and three races Qatar, Jerez, Mugello, the distance finished back from the race winner is essentially the same on total race time than 2015.  The difference now is that  same performance gap can have them finishing several places lower than it did last year. 
 
So we could say that others in the midfield have now pulled up to that point even if the distance to the top beyond is the same. The good news is there should be a lot of good action and close racing going on back there off the podium as a result that we just are not seeing on the tele. Indications are that this is where the benefits have been. Perhaps it just needs to be shown.