As regular readers of MotoGPMatters.com may well be aware, we are fascinated by the impact of rule changes on motorcycle racing, and how the engineers try to work around them. So we were fortunate enough to spend 10 minutes with Andrea Dovizioso's crew chief Pete Benson, to ask him a few questions about how the new tire rule is working. But we got a bit sidetracked, and ended up talking about the impact of all sorts of rule changes.
MGPM: You've gone from a Kentuckian to an Italian, how's the communication with Andrea Dovizioso, do you speak Italian?
PB: No, I don't speak Italian, Andrea speaks English. His English is very good, so the communication is easy.
MGPM: Is he easy to work with?
Yeah, basically. Like all riders, he knows what he wants and expects to get it, which is normal. Once we sort of worked out what we both expected of each other and how to go about it, it's all sort of fallen into place very nicely. It's pretty good.
MGPM: About the single tire rule, and how it's affected your way of working, are you spending more time on setup now because you can't just throw tires at the bike?
Yeah, that's a lot of it. Obviously you've only got two tires to choose from and everyone's got the same tires, so you just try to get more out of the bike. You've got a basic setup from previous years, and so you kind of know what you want to do once you get to each track, and you just fine tune it. So now, you go out and test your two tires, and see which one you think is going to be the race tire, and then just work on fine tuning the thing from there. Instead of going "well, maybe we've got another tire that might work better", you just go "these are the two tires we've got, this one's the race tire, and this one we might be able to get a better lap on". So we're just trying to make the bike a little bit better.
MGPM: How's it affecting bike development? Before you could throw a different tire at a specific problem.
Yeah, sure. Before we had a single tire rule, Michelin and Bridgestone were very accommodating. They made special tires for every different manufacturer, if you needed a different front tire, they'd make you a different construction. Same for the rear tire. And the same for the riders, different riders have different requirements, so they come along and say "We've made you this because this suits your style a little bit better or suits your bike a little bit better". Now that's all gone and everyone's got the same thing. It's made it a bit more of an even playing field I guess.
MGPM: Has the emphasis shifted from solving things with tires to solving issues, chatter issues, with forks, frames, swing arms?
Definitely. Now when you've got a problem, you don't have the option of going to the tire manufacturer. You've got to work it out with what you've got. As Honda, we've got to go "well, we have this problem every week, we need to do something about it". It has changed the focus of how things get done to solve a problem.
MGPM: So you'd be testing new swing arms, forks - if you had the testing time....
That's another thing that I'm not a fan of, now there's no testing. It's gone from too much to now there's nothing. And unfortunately, especially in our situation - where until after Misano last year, we only had Michelins, and all Honda focused on were Michelins - we've gone to a completely different type of tire, which requires a completely different sort of setup, different loading and everything to what we used to have. So we're actually kind of behind the 8 ball from that point of view. Other manufacturers have quite a lot of experience with the tire company and the tires, where we haven't. So we've actually got quite a bit of catching up to do.
MGPM: You didn't get enough data from the end of last year with the first few races that Dani had on the Bridgestones? And from the Gresinis that had the Bridgestones too?
The Gresinis have had the Bridgestones for a while, but the thing is, they're a non-factory team, and the factory really focus on the factory. So even though they don't ignore what's going on in the privateer teams, obviously the focus is always on the factory.
Nobody really knew there was going to be a one-tire rule until about a year ago, so up until a year ago, they were thinking, well we're OK, we'll just keep doing what we're doing. Then all of a sudden, everything changed. There wasn't really a lot of time. And also, from my perspective, I got a new rider at the end of last year. I'd had Nicky for years, then I got Andrea, and we had a process of probably about three tests where we're just learning what he wants, and what you need to do to the bike to make it work for him. Probably the first three tests, you don't really learn that much .. well, you learned a lot, but everything from then is pretty much gone, it was just a learning process.
MGPM: You're learning more about the rider than about the bike?
Right, and how to make the whole thing sort of gel and tick, whereas now, we've got to the point where we know what we need from each other, and we can just try to make the bike better. So that's more our focus now. So the focus kind of changed a lot, and since then, we've really only done one test, and we were lucky to get that.
MGPM: So you're looking forward to Brno, when you've got the next one?
Well, I'm not a fan of testing at Brno, but yes, I am looking forward to it. Brno's quite a unique circuit. So the result is always interesting, but for me, it doesn't translate into 70% of the other circuits we go to. Personally, I've never really liked it as a test track.
MGPM: About the rookie rule, will that help you as a crew chief, in that you won't be training a 250 rider to be a MotoGP rider?
I think it's completely the wrong thing to do. If you've got a 250 rider who is very talented, like Pedrosa or Lorenzo, the best thing to do is to put them into a team where they're properly supported. They get to learn all about all the options that are available. If you go to a satellite team - probably not all of them, but a lot of them - and you're very limited on what's available. Whereas on a factory team, sure, there's a lot more to learn, but I think they benefit a lot more from it in their career. I'm not a fan of that rule. For some guys, it will be extremely frustrating, sitting there knowing "well, I know I can be doing better than this. Of course, you've always got to do the best that you can with the equipment you've got, but I just think it's the wrong thing to do.