With major changes to the technical regulations for MotoGP in 2016, it has taken some time for the FIM to produce a new and revised version of the rulebook. The first provisional version was made available today, the new rules bringing together all of the new rules agreed over the past few years into a single set of regulations. Most of the new rules have already been written about during the year, but putting them into a single rulebook helped clarify them greatly.
The biggest changes are to the technical regulations. The abolition of the Open class means everyone is back on a single set of rules. Or rather, nearly everyone. There are still two types of manufacturers: manufacturers subject to the standard rules, and manufacturers who have not yet had sufficient success, and therefore have been granted a number of concessions. Those concessions are more limited than the Open class, though, and relate now only to testing and to engine development. Everyone will have the same amount of fuel, the same tire allocation, and everyone will use the same electronics, the spec hardware and the unified software.
Though many fans are disappointed that there isn't just a single set of rules, the concessions which remain are absolutely vital to the long-term health of the series. With Honda, Yamaha, and since last year, Ducati, all subject to a freeze on engine development and limited testing, Suzuki and Aprilia (and KTM, when they join the series in 2017) stand a chance of cutting the gap to the more successful factories. Without concessions, the smaller factories wouldn't stand a chance of catching the others, especially not a factory with almost limitless resources like Honda. Indeed, without the concessions granted to Ducati, there is a very good chance the Italian factory would have left MotoGP in 2014, after three long years without results. The previous era, when the factories all competed under a single set of rules, ended up with just 17 bikes on the grid, and manufacturers showing more interest in leaving MotoGP than in joining. That situation has been completely reversed.
A more intriguing change has been the introduction of clear rules on the safety equipment to be used by riders. Back protectors and chest protectors are now compulsory, and minimum standards have been imposed for helmets, leathers, boots and gloves. Rider safety equipment will now be much more closely regulated and monitored.
The basic technical regulations:
The biggest technical rule change is the switch to the unified software. Every MotoGP bike must use the standard hardware and homologated sensors (with some exceptions, details of which below), and run using the unified software written by Magneti Marelli. That software has been written with input from Honda, Yamaha and Ducati, and until the end of the coming season, those three will retain a strong say in the functionality. If the three factories unanimously request a specific piece of functionality, then Magneti Marelli will have to implement it. Conversely, if Dorna propose to change the unified software in a particular way, Honda, Yamaha and Ducati can veto that change.
With everyone on the same software and hardware, and the bikes now all much closer in the amount of power they produce, the special tire allocation has been scrapped. All 22 bikes will have the same tires to choose from: a softer option and a harder option. They will all have a maximum of 22 liters of fuel at their disposal, and the minimum weight has been reduced by one kilogram to 157kg.
The only differences between the teams with concessions and those without are in the number of engines allocated per season, the ability to develop an engine during the season, and in the amount of testing allowed. Teams without concessions – Honda, Yamaha, and Ducati – will have all engine development frozen at the start of the season, and will have to submit homologated engines before the season starts. They will have seven engines for each rider for the full season. They will also be limited to just five days of private testing with their contracted riders (i.e. the riders racing for each team during the season), though they are allowed to test at any track they choose. This testing is in addition to the official tests organized by IRTA, during the preseason and on the Monday after three races in Europe.
Teams with concessions – anyone running an Aprilia or a Suzuki – will be free to continue engine development during the season. They will also have nine engines per season, instead of seven. Perhaps most importantly, they will have unlimited testing – or rather, testing will be limited only by the special tire testing allocation, which is 120 tires per season, per rider, a limit which also applies to the non-concession teams.
Teams with concessions will have those concessions taken away from them if they obtain a certain level of success. That success is measured by concession points awarded for podiums. A win is worth three concession points, a second place worth two, and a third place worth a single concession point. If a manufacturer racks up a total of six concession points from any of its riders during the season, then they will lose unlimited testing from the moment they score their sixth point, and lose the other concessions (engine development and extra engine allocation) from the following season.
Conversely, if a successful manufacturer takes a wrong turn in development, they will have a chance to catch up again. Any manufacturer not scoring a podium during the current season will be granted the concessions for the following season. So should Honda, Yamaha or Ducati not score a podium in 2016, they too would have unlimited testing and free engine development for the 2017 season.
The differences between teams with concessions and without concessions are summarized in the table below:
|Engines||Engine development||Private testing|
|Standard:||7||Frozen from Qatar||5 days|
Tire allocations – Michelin brings more rubber
The switch from Bridgestone to Michelin as official tire supplier also has an impact on the quantity and type of tires supplied. Apart from the fact that wheel sizes have changed – for 2016, MotoGP bikes must use 17-inch wheels, rather than 16.5-inch wheels – the supply of tires has been increased and changed. In addition to an extra rear tire, and the dropping of special tires for the Open class bikes, the riders will now have an intermediate tire available for half-wet, half-dry conditions.
The basic philosophy for the tire supply remains the same. Michelin will bring two compounds to each race track, and riders will choose which compound they would like the most of after the first day of practice. Each rider will have ten front tires and twelve rear tires (one more than last year). After the first day, they can choose to have up to seven front and seven rear tires of their preferred compounds. The remainder of their allocation will be made up of the other compound available. The split will either be 7-3, 6-4 or 5-5 for front tires, and 7-5 or 6-6 for rear tires.
Michelin can choose to bring an optional extra compound for their tires, for tracks where conditions are either difficult to predict or place specific demands on the tires, such as Phillip Island or Sachsenring. In that case, riders can choose up to three front and five rear tires of the extra optional compound.
As for wet tires, riders will have seven sets available each weekend. Again, there will be two different compounds available, with riders able to choose a maximum of six of compound A, or a maximum of three of compound B. Riders will also have three sets of intermediate tires at every event.
Electronics – A level playing field?
In 2016, MotoGP will race using something approaching a level playing field. Everyone will be using the same Magneti Marelli ECU, and using the same unified software. All sensors will have to be homologated for use and made available to any other manufacturer at a reasonable cost, with a few exceptions.
The first exception is that each manufacturer is allowed to nominate one additional sensor, which does not have to be made available to other teams. However, that sensor can only be used for datalogging. This means that, for example, Honda can no longer use their Torductor (the torque sensor on the output shaft) to monitor torque output and use that as an input into the engine management strategy, as they have been doing for the past few years.
The second exception is that there are a list of so-called "free devices" which do not have to be homologated. Those include all power modules (e.g. controllers which do something – fuel injectors, ignition coils, throttle valve actuators, fuel or coolant pumps, etc), the alternator/regulator, the wiring harness, and the dashboard and extra message displays. Manufacturers are free to choose and use these as they wish.
Two more sensors are listed as free devices, and these are arguably more troubling. Each manufacturer can use an additional two inertial platforms, which do not have to be homologated. The inertial platform (often referred to as an IMU) consists of a range of sensors such as gyroscopes and accelerometers, and is used to gauge the physical state of the bike: the yaw and the pitch; the lean angle it is at; whether it is pitching forward under braking or lifting the front wheel under acceleration, and by how much; how much it is accelerating, and in which directions, and so on.
The rules also list "any device specifically allowed by the Organizer". This would give Dorna the power to allow a manufacturer to use a sensor however they wanted to. However, the power lies specifically with Dorna, and the manufacturer would have to present a good reason for asking for the sensor to be used. It is conceivable that Honda could ask to use their Torductor under this clause. Whether Dorna would allow them to is another question, however. We shall see at Sepang.
The fear among some manufacturers – Ducati, in particular – was that having inertial platforms as free devices would allow some factories (and in particular, Honda) to hide extra functionality in the inertial platform. Because of their great complexity, inertial platforms (or IPs) often have a significant amount of processing power. They have to monitor and assimilate a large amount of fast-changing data. The fear was that a manufacturer could use the IP to preprocess the sensor data and manage traction control or engine braking strategies in the spec ECU. By feeding the spec ECU subtly modified data, the strategies in the unified software could be manipulated to give more control. This would effectively allow a manufacturer to bypass the unified software, albeit partially.
The technical regulations have tried to counter this by demanding that the CAN bus protocols (the communication channels by which the sensors communicate with the ECU) be homologated. This does not mean that the functionality of the inertial platform will be limited – any extra strategies a manufacturer programs into the IP will remain in place – but it does mean that the messages the IP sends to the ECU will be known, and Dorna can ensure that the CAN bus is not used to bypass the ECU altogether. The spec ECU will still be in overall control.
Wings and valves – the Suzuki exception?
The sudden proliferation of winglets on both the Ducati and the Yamaha have forced a minor change to the aerodynamic rules. While there is no intention to start regulating aerodynamics too closely – that way madness lies, as F1 has found to its considerable cost – there are some safety concerns with the winglets. The rules already say that winglets may not protrude beyond the widest part of the fairing, and the fairing may have a maximum width of 600mm. A new clause has been added to ensure that the edges of the winglets may not be too sharp. Each edge may have a minimum radius of 2.5mm, meaning the edges must be rounded, rather than pointed.
Though the rules have been updated, there are still plenty of loopholes. Suzuki appear to have found one of them: at the introduction of Suzuki's GSX-R1000, due to hit the streets in the middle of 2016, Suzuki engineers told the media that the new Gixxer included "technologies developed in MotoGP, such as VVT". VVT, or variable valve timing is banned in MotoGP, however. Or rather, variable valve timing which is controlled by electronic or hydraulic means is banned.
Suzuki have found a way of implementing mechanical VVT, however, using centrifugal force acting on steel balls running in guide grooves to rotate two plates slightly. One plate is connected to the timing gear, the second is connected to the intake camshaft. By rotating the camshaft, the timing of the intake valves can be altered, reducing valve overlap at low revs, increasing it at higher revs. This allows the engine to make more power at the top end, using exhaust tuning to suck more mixture into the cylinder, while boosting midrange, by reducing overlap. The elegance of the system is that it is also continuously variable, as centrifugal forces overcome the force of springs incrementally as engine speed increases.
For a fuller explanation of how Suzuki's system works, see the story on the Motorcycle News website. For a detailed explanation of the benefits of variable valve timing, and why overlap is needed at high revs and not at low revs, see Kevin Cameron's excellent explanation on Ducati's DVT system on the Cycle World website.
Will the Grand Prix Commission act to plug this loophole? It seems unlikely. The idea behind it is stunningly elegant in its simplicity (so simple, indeed, that I once devised a similar system for varying the opening duration of a two-stroke disc intake valve as an idle youth), and yet powerful in its potential. Unlike electronically or hydraulically controlled systems, there is much less potential to throw vast amounts of money at developing such simple mechanical system. Suzuki's advantage is likely to be short lived, however. The other manufacturers are almost certainly looking at ways of getting around Suzuki's patents at this very moment.
Penalty points – The "Rossi rule" introduced
As we have written several times before, the strange position of riders with expiring penalty points can find themselves in needed to be addressed. The situation of Valentino Rossi increased the urgency of addressing the problem. The three points Rossi was given at Sepang were added to the single point he picked up at Misano, and meant he was forced to start from the back of the grid at Valencia. However, when his single point from Misano expires in September, he would then have three points again. An extra point would then take him to four points, which would incur another back-of-the-grid penalty.
This would clearly be unfair, and not the point of the penalty point system. So a clarification was added to the penalty point system. Each penalty can be served only once by a rider, until they have passed the ten points needed to be banned for a single race. In Rossi's case, once his Misano point expires, he will be back to three points. If he then picks up an extra point, then he will not have to start from the back of the grid again. Only if he accumulates another four points, taking his total to seven, will he have to serve the next penalty, which is to start from pit lane.
Safety equipment regulated – introducing rules on leathers, helmets and protective gear
The one anomaly in the Grand Prix rulebook was the lack of rules on the gear riders wear to protect themselves. There were rules on helmets, and that riders had to wear leathers, boots and gloves, but little guidance on exactly what level of protection they were supposed to afford. The most glaring omission was the fact that a back protector – one of the most fundamental pieces of safety equipment a rider can wear to protect them from severe spinal injury – was not compulsory, but only "highly recommended".
That has now been rectified. Now, both a back protector and a chest protector is a compulsory part of safety equipment, along with helmets, leathers, gloves and boots. It has been customary for every rider in racing to use a back protector for many years now, but only a few were using chest protectors. Those that didn't will now be forced to.
At least as important is the introduction of rules on certification and homologation of safety equipment. There were always accepted standards for helmets, but now, there are set standards for leathers, gloves and boots as well. There are also rules for impact armor used inside leathers as well. All gear must now comply with industry standards, including ISO and EN standards. MotoGP's Technical Director Danny Aldridge has the power to inspect and enforce quality standards on safety gear.
Aldridge's powers go further. He also has the power to inspect gear a rider has crashed in, and prevent them from using it again if it is too badly damaged. This power has also been granted to the manufacturer of the equipment: if the on site staff from Alpinestars or Dainese believe a rider's suit is too badly damaged, they can prevent them from using it.
Leathers manufacturers will now also be forced to keep a database of every suit used by each rider they supply. That database must also be supplied to the Technical Director, so that the suit usage can be checked, to ensure riders are not using suits which have been found to be substandard.
There is as yet no mention of airbags in the technical regulations, but rules are likely to be set on this at some point in the future. The pending lawsuit between Dainese and Alpinestars over airbag technology will have complicated the issue. But at some point in the next few years, airbags too will become compulsory.
The new rules on rider safety equipment are an enormous step in the right direction. Though riders were already acutely aware of the need for proper and safe riding gear, formalizing the situation means that safety innovations can be tracked and implemented more quickly. The rules apply to all three classes, and so everyone in the Grand Prix paddock will enjoy the same levels of protection.
Moto2 and Moto3
The rules for Moto2 and Moto3 have remained relatively stable, with only minor updates for 2016. The highlights:
Testing is now more limited. Moto2 and Moto3 riders are limited to ten days of private testing each year. They are also only allowed to test using standard road bikes of their own capacity. In addition, Moto2 riders are not allowed to use a Honda CBR600RR for practice, as that is the official engine used in Moto2.
Two minor technical updates in Moto2. First, the rules now state clearly that the throttle body butterfly valves must be operated by a physical cable, connected to the throttle twist grip. Secondly, rules for the quickshifter have been tightened up. Quickshifter strategies was one of the areas where the wealthier Moto2 teams were able to gain a little ground, by spending time optimizing timing of ignition cuts.
In the Moto3 class, the biggest difference is the increase in minimum weight. The combined weight of rider and bike is now 152kg, up three kilograms from 149kg in 2015. This should make it a little easier for the larger and heavier riders to keep up. The price cap rules have also been tightened, in an attempt to reduce the loopholes being exploited by factories. A manufacturer may charge €85,000 for a Moto3 bike, and that bike must be fully complete. The cost of performance packages (including such parts as exhausts, radiators, etc) may not increase the total cost of the bike to 120% of the price cap.
If you would like to read the full provisional rulebook for yourself, you can download it in PDF form from the FIM website.
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