The Philip Morris-sponsored Wrooom event is not just the event at which Ducati launches its MotoGP season, it has become the de facto kick off to the MotoGP season as a whole. With an important section of the international media present, Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta inevitably seizes the opportunity to talk to the press about his view of the season ahead, and where necessary, of the future beyond that.
This year was little different. Ezpeleta spoke to the media ahead of the presentation by Ducati Corse boss Bernhard Gobmeier, and answered questions from a number of media outlets separately, answering questions on the future of both MotoGP and World Superbikes. From his statements, a picture of Dorna's vision for the two series starts to emerge: the future of world championship motorcycle racing is to be price-limited, with more support for the current teams, and factories holding a stake in both series, in exchange for keeping a lid on costs. The calendars of both series would come under scrutiny, with MotoGP heading to South America in 2014, and both series only racing at circuits willing to pay a sanctioning fee which would cover the cost of the logistics to get there.
Ezpeleta gave his clearest indication of the level of pricing he expected to see in both series, though the Dorna boss made no direct mention of price caps being set out by regulation. The factories will be free to spend as they wish - beyond the price caps proposed on parts such as brakes and suspension - for both the factory and the satellite teams. Those teams - now designated "MSMA manufacturers", rather than "prototypes" - will effectively be running fuel-limited racing, with the fuel allowance now at 20 liters per race, and using the standard electronics package with their own software. Those bikes will be virtually identical to the current crop of 1000cc MotoGP machines, though engine development will be frozen throughout the season, the only permitted alterations being in software, inlet and exhaust tracts. As most in-season development involves chassis parts and software, the engine freeze is not as significant as it would have been in years past.
Non-MSMA entries - private teams, currently running the CRT bikes - will have the choice of racing either a production Honda RC213V clone, a Yamaha M1 engine in a chassis to be designed by a third party, or can continue to use the production-based equipment being fielded under the CRT banner. The most important concession by the factories is that both Yamaha and Honda have agreed to limit their prices: a production RC213V will cost a maximum of 1 million euros for an entire season, while a season's supply of Yamaha M1 engines will cost 800,000 euros, both numbers excluding crash damage, of course. The privateers will have to use both the spec electronics hardware and software, supplied by Magneti Marelli through Dorna, but to compensate, they will have 4 extra liters of fuel. That is 20% more, an amount that should allow them to compete with the factory bikes.
The good news for the series is that these rules will be fixed for the three years from 2014 through 2016, and Ezpeleta said that exploratory talks are already underway for the 2017 season and beyond. One of the most important factors in controlling costs is rule stability, and having a predictable set of rules for the next four seasons, and plenty of time to prepare for any changes which may come after that, will be key to the success of the series.
Prices will also be limited in World Superbikes, though here, too, Ezpeleta did not want to speak of an official cap on prices. Competing in World Superbikes should cost no more than 250,000 euros a season, with each manufacturer obliged to be prepared to supply at least six riders, Ezpeleta said. This had been discussed with the teams, the FIM and the manufacturers at a special meeting convened in Geneva back in December, and had met with general acceptance. "The general idea was to make everybody happy, while also controlling the cost, and to give similar equipment for all the riders who use the same manufacturer," Ezpeleta explained. The price for a season of World Supersport should be no more than 100,000 euros. Price caps might be a good idea, but in World Superbikes, this could be hard to monitor, Ezpeleta said. "It will be up to the manufacturers to ensure this," he told GPOne.com.
In exchange, Dorna would be allowing the MSMA back into the Superbike Commission, the series' rule-making body, Ezpeleta said. The MSMA had lost representation in the Superbike Commission with the set of rule changes that saw 1000cc four-cylinders allowed into the series, subject to severe restrictions on modification. In return for controlling costs in WSBK, the MSMA would once again have a clearer voice in the future of the series.
The MSMA gain in World Superbikes was offset by a minor loss in MotoGP, however. Factories wishing to enter the series would not be able to roll up with their own team, Ezpeleta told the media. Instead, they would have to ally themselves with an existing team, and use that team's infrastructure and, to an extent, personnel if they wanted to race in MotoGP. The new arrangement strengthens the position of the existing teams, giving IRTA a stronger hand in the series, but it also gives the series more stability. The rule is a response to the fickleness of previous factories, especially of Kawasaki and Suzuki. Suzuki is keen to make a return to the series, but after the Japanese factory first reduced its involvement from two bikes to one in 2011, then pulled out entirely in 2012, Dorna will only allow the factory back if it is prepared to make a long-term commitment to the series. Suzuki had already obtained a series of concessions from Dorna before they left - their refusal to supply a satellite team, asking for and being granted concessions over extra engines, and an exemption from the now-defunct rookie rule - and so Dorna is loath to show them much leniency. By forcing Suzuki to come in via an existing team, Ezpeleta hopes to ensure a more stable field. That should not be a problem for Suzuki: prior to his entry into MotoGP, Jorge Martinez was in talks with Suzuki to supply bikes to his Aspar team, but that deal never materialized. Aspar would be the prime candidate to run a Suzuki effort, should they decide to return with the inline four MotoGP prototype they have been developing.
The other subject Ezpeleta touched upon was the number and location of the races for both series. He assured Giovanni Zamagni of Moto.it that the race in Argentina, canceled for 2013, would go ahead, and hoped that a second South American could be held in Brazil. Ezpeleta said that the ideal size of the calendar is still 18 rounds, though 19 would be the maxiumum. Reducing the number of races was not an option; each MotoGP race meant income for the teams, which is not the case in World Superbikes. Races would only be held at circuits prepared to cover the costs of racing there, the Dorna chief said, in response to questions about the Brno round of World Superbikes.
The good news for race fans was that Ezpeleta once again reiterated that the two series would continue to exist, and remain separate. "This is to confirm that we will maintain the two separate championships. One will be for motorcycles derived from production bikes [World Superbikes] and the other one will be prototypes [MotoGP]". Moving World Superbikes to a winter championship was an interesting idea, Ezpeleta said, but not feasible. Both MotoGP and WSBK were centered around Europe, and racing in Europe in the winter was not a viable option.
With both MotoGP and World Superbikes under his control, Carmelo Ezpeleta has a very firm grip on both series. He has had to grant a number of concessions to the factories to keep them in racing, but so far, they have shown that they are willing to play ball. The first test of the agreement will come in the middle of the year, when Honda and Yamaha have to start producing bikes and engines for the 2014 MotoGP season. At the same time, the seven manufacturers in World Superbikes will have to come up with ways of keeping costs down in that series, to keep the price of equipment under the maximum proposed by Dorna. There are signs of peace breaking out in the world of motorcycle racing, but it is still just a little too early to be hanging out the bunting.