As the global financial crisis continues to hammer the world of motorsports, the Spanish magazine Motociclismo has revealed the Grand Prix Commission's proposals aimed at significantly cutting costs in MotoGP. The commission, composed of the MSMA representing the manufacturers, IRTA representing the teams, Dorna and the FIM, has spent the last few weeks putting together a range of measures which should help to reduce the expense of participating in MotoGP.
The most radical change suggested is to limit riders to a single bike per race, instead of the current two bikes they have. This would save both in costs of leasing the bikes, as well as mechanics to maintaing the bikes and spare parts. The biggest obstacle to this change would be the current flag-to-flag rules, which means that riders are allowed to switch machines if the weather conditions change during a wet race. With only a single bike, riders would be forced to switch wheels instead of bikes.
There are likely to be safety objections to any change of the flag-to-flag rules. Just changing from slick to rain tires - or vice versa - will not be sufficient to prepare the bike for the changing conditions. Usually, adjustments to the setup are also required, including changing the suspension to make it either softer for rain or harder for dry conditions. These changes require more time than just a change of wheels, and so the gamble of coming in to the pits becomes that much greater. More riders may choose to stay out on unsuitable tires rather than coming in for a time-consuming change of tires and setup. More riders out in the rain on slick is likely to mean more crashes, and more crashes means more injuries, and more holes in an already decimated field.
The one thing the teams would not have to worry about under the new rules is changing brakes. The proposals also include a ban on carbon brakes, which Fausto Gresini has lobbied for, claiming it would save him some 250,000 euros a year. The argument against carbon brakes is fairly solid, in that they are of no practical application outside racing, as carbon disks wear out too quickly and don't work in the rain, making them impractical on the streets. This change is almost certain to go through, and may as a side benefit make the racing more exciting. Steel brakes take longer to stop a bike, and if braking distances are longer, then outbraking maneuvers are more likely to succeed.
The final proposal under discussion, according to Motociclismo, is an extension of engine life. Under the plan, engines would have to last for three race weekends before the engineers are allowed to change them. A minimum engine life has been in force for the past couple of years in Formula 1, and has spectacularly failed to reduce costs in that series. As we explained in our series on saving MotoGP, the manufacturers can either choose to reduce performance so that existing engines last longer, or they can radically redesign the engine using more expensive materials to make the engines last longer. It's almost blindingly obvious which path the manufacturers will choose to go down.
Imposing longer engine life will save on engine rebuilds, which Honda's old steel spring engines required every 300kms, while Ducati's desmodromic engine needed very 700km or so, and this would be a big saving. The only question which remains is whether the extra development time and more expensive materials required to make the engines last longer will be less than the amount saved by the reduced maintenance requirements. The lesson from Formula 1 is that any savings achieved are likely to be minimal at best.
What is clear is that the Grand Prix Commission is taking the question of cost-cutting very seriously. Unfortunately, what is equally clear is that their thinking is still flawed: too many suggestions fall into the trap of trying to circumvent the law of unintended consequences. And that's what got us into this trouble in the first place.