Engine and aerodynamics development in the MotoGP class is set to be frozen this week. Under normal circumstances, engine and aerodynamics development for factories without concessions is only frozen on the Thursday before the first race, but the COVID-19 outbreak means that we are a very long way from anything resembling normal circumstances.
Engine development was due to be frozen before the opening round at Qatar on March 8th, but the rapid growth of coronavirus cases in Italy caused the Qatari government to ban entry to Qatar for all Italian citizens, rendering it impossible for the MotoGP class to go ahead at the Losail International Circuit. Fortunately for race fans, the Moto2 and Moto3 riders were already in the country for a test, and the opening round could go ahead.
The cancellation of the first MotoGP race had the beneficial side effect for the MotoGP manufacturers that they could continue with development, of both engines and aerodynamics. Tests were scheduled for Jerez in the week after Qatar, but as the vast scale of the COVID-19 crisis became apparent, increasing restrictions on movement forced the factories to cancel the test in Jerez.
Since then, countries around the world have moved further and further toward a lockdown of all movement. But because the situations between countries have varied, the restrictions imposed on the various manufacturers has also differed.
For that reason, MotoGP has decided to freeze engine and aerodynamics development this week, Italian website GPOne.com is reporting. MotoGP Technical Director Danny Aldridge has reportedly already given the factories notice that development will be frozen from Wednesday next week.
This will entail a slightly different approach to the normal engine development freeze. Under normal circumstances, the manufacturers have to present a sample engine to Danny Aldridge, which will then serve as the homologation unit. Only parts identical to the ones used in that engine may be used throughout the season.
Without the ability to present a sample engine, the factories will have to send technical drawings of the engines, with a list of parts and their specifications for homologation. The system for aerodynamics homologation will not change so much, as factories were required to send technical drawings complete with physical dimensions to Aldridge for verification. The one change here is that Aldridge will not be able to verify the dimensions physically, using the jig created for that purpose.
The purpose of the engine and aerodynamics freeze is twofold: first, it creates a more level playing field, as restrictions on movement in Italy are likely to be much more restrictive and last for longer than in Japan, meaning that potentially, testing could go on in Japan for Yamaha, Suzuki, and Honda, while Ducati, Aprilia, and KTM were all locked down.
Secondly, and more importantly, it also reduces costs. By freezing engines and aerodynamics, the factories can't pour more money into developing their 2020 bikes. With large parts of the world locked down, sales of motorcycles have come virtually to a standstill, and with a recession likely to continue even after the threat of the coronavirus has passed, the motorcycle industry is in for a tough couple of years.
This is likely to be just one part of a range of measures taken by Dorna to manage the fallout of the COVID-19 crisis. GPOne's Paolo Scalera suggests that Dorna could look other ways of trying to reduce costs, not just for this year, to ensure the long-term health of the sport.