Interview: Carmelo Ezpeleta On A Spec ECU For CRT Bikes, Subsidizing Factories And MotoGP In Asia
Much was expected of Friday's Grand Prix Commission meeting at Assen, which was set to discuss the major changes coming in MotoGP. The results of that meeting turned out to be a damp squib rather than the expected revolution, as decisions on the big changes were pushed further down the road. On Saturday morning, the day of the race, MotoMatters.com spoke to Carmelo Ezpeleta about those expected rule changes, and about the reasoning behind them.
In the discussion, Ezpeleta told MotoMatters.com that his main aim was to both reduce costs and increase the entertainment value of the series. Part of that would be by helping the CRT bikes where they are weak: the electronics are a major issue for the CRT bikes, and Dorna have enlisted the help of Magneti Marelli to provide the CRT machines with a standard ECU, developed using their extensive experience gained from racing in MotoGP. A rev limit is still on the cards, but whether this will be introduced in 2014 or 2015 is as yet unclear.
While unpopular with a lot of people, Ezpeleta laid out exactly why the rule changes are needed: Dorna is in the entertainment business, and is subsidizing both the teams and factories to race in MotoGP. That contribution is substantial, and the only way to keep the series viable is by keeping costs low. Expanding the popularity of the series was also important, and to that end, MotoGP will be going to Southeast Asia in either 2014 or 2015, though Ezpeleta was coy on exactly where that would be. Here's what Carmelo Ezpeleta had to tell MotoMatters.com at Assen:
MotoMatters: I would like to ask you about the new rules for MotoGP, the rules which are coming in 2014 or 2015.
Carmelo Ezpeleta: We are still discussing. I will continue with the same philosophy, that we need to reduce the costs, and we need to balance out a little bit more the big difference between the bikes. I'm not saying that the only solution is the CRT, and of course from next year, we will improve the CRT bikes. We are talking right now with Magneti Marelli, trying to make our own ECU, more developed, which we will give to all the CRT teams that they will be able to use from next year. I think this will improve also the possibilities of the CRT bikes. And of course for 2014 I continue thinking there is a possibility to limit the number of revs, and one ECU the same for everybody. I don't know if this will be for '14 or '15, but we will continue with this idea. But still there are discussions with manufacturers.
MM: Would the rev limit be for 2014 or 2015?
CE: We are still discussing. We have been speaking since February, and we have said that we will say everything before the end of this season. There is still plenty of time, but still we are in discussions.
MM: How do you think the manufacturers will respond? Are they looking favorably at these suggestions?
CE: Well, this is changing, because some days they agree, then other days they say no, and then they continue saying that for them the most important thing is to develop technology, and we say for us the most important thing is entertainment. So we are more or less in marketing discussions, more than anything, let's say.
MM: CRT will continue to be a very important part of the series.
CE: Yes. But I think it's important to understand very well that CRT has been just a name. It's a name which has been meant to help the number of bikes on the grid. And you can see that the bikes are not far away, you know? Look at the times, the worst is 3.6 seconds from the first, and the difference in the cost is incredible [The cost of the complete Gresini FTR Honda CRT bike is around 1% of HRC's MotoGP budget - Editor]. It's not a bad solution, it's not a bad solution. And if I help them with a better ECU and I can reduce the times by one second, we will have all the grid in 2.6 seconds, which is precisely the gap we had three years ago spending three times the money for everything. This is not a bad solution.
Because the number is the only thing you cannot discuss. If this is OK or not, if it serves the technology level the manufacturers want, this we need to discuss, but in fact this is done. Now it is a proposal from some of the manufacturers to provide from 2014 bikes to be sold at a cost of around 1 million euros per season, including parts and whatever. OK, let's see how that works. But in fact what is the most important thing is we want to maintain the close races, make them more like the races in Moto2 and Moto3, at a reasonable cost.
And this is something that to be honest I don't understand why we are still discussing about this. Because the world is in the economic mess that it is, and I can't understand how it is that people are still discussing why we need to reduce the costs. And reducing the costs is not one bike or two bikes, something like this, in the meantime we are doing many things to reduce the costs. When we discussed reducing the costs, we said, OK, change to steel brakes. Then we said, what is the problem with the carbon brakes? The problem is just the price. OK, let's continue with the carbon brakes, but reduce the price. How? By making an agreement with the carbon brake manufacturers. The following thing may be suspension.
And one bike or two bikes? Well, maybe we have a good solution for one bike for the flag-to-flag, and to make it more safe, and to maintain the entertainment. But then maybe today in the warm up a rider will crash one bike, and he cannot participate in the race, this is not good. We need to reduce the costs in the things that are not helping the entertainment. That is the philosophy. And OK, I realize I have to wait for people to understand this philosophy.
MM: I've spoken to both Lin Jarvis and Livio Suppo about the need to increase income as well as reducing costs. How can we get more income into the series?
CE: Increasing income is very difficult. It is exactly the same, if we talk about look at what is the problem in the south of Europe: they built a lot of houses that they don't sell. How you can sell a lot of houses? Reducing a lot the price. There is not any other discussions, there are not any other massive things, because the situation economically is, increasing the income... Why does a fantastic team like Yamaha not have a title sponsor? It's not because they are not working well, it's because this is so difficult. But from the other side, many of the resources are coming from us. Because on the entertainment side, from television and whatever, we are obtaining money which we are then passing to the teams.
And this is something that the people don't realize, that I am paying the manufacturers. I am paying the manufacturers. And my contribution to the manufacturers is bigger than what it costs to be a title sponsor. And it's important to discuss about increasing revenues, OK, it's up to them, they can increase and I will be very happy if they increase the revenues.
The situation is very difficult, but it is a question of price. If you are looking for a title sponsorship at x amount of money as it was in the past, you will never reach it for exactly the same reason you are not selling houses at the same price as five years ago. But why do you need to have a main sponsor? Because you cannot cover the cost of participation yourself. If the cost of participation is less, you will need less sponsors, or maybe nothing, maybe you can do it yourself, as it was in the past. In the best years of the - between brackets - world championship, the majority of the teams - not in our age, before our age - were not sponsored. And they participated. Why? Because they consider this is important for them. We need to reflect on this, we can continue saying, we need to sell more sponsorship, we need to sell more sponsorship. In fact, the private teams sell more than the factory teams, except Ducati. And nobody is a bad salesperson or anything, it's because it is so difficult.
MM: One of the still most expensive parts is the travel, because we go around the world to 18 races.
CE: But we are paying the cost for that. When we are going to a Grand Prix outside of Europe, the contribution is double what we pay for a normal Grand Prix, and we are paying a big part of the freight. And if it's more freight, then this is part of the agreement, but we pay when go outside of Europe.
MM: Asia is also a really important market. Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, India. What about that region? Next year we will be going to India hopefully...
CE: Hopefully! We haven't finished the agreement yet, we are discussing with them, most probably we will go to India. We are also talking with people in Southeast Asia for another race there. There are some possibilities, but there will be a new Grand Prix in Southeast Asia before the end of 2014, beginning of 2015. That is the plan.
MM: One more question about the calendar, next year there will be two US rounds probably...
CE: Most probably. Well, two for sure, three would be very difficult, but we need to see exactly where we can go or not go, and exactly what is possible. We will know what we are going to do very soon, but not yet, we are still discussing.
MM: This race at Assen is on Saturday, and the circuit has suggested that maybe they could move the race to Sunday.
CE: No, the circuit did not suggest it, the circuit has considered our plan that they change the day, but they are a little bit reluctant because they think that, as you can see here, it's a big crowd. They are worried that the tradition here is very important, and they are worried, and we too, that if we move to Sunday then the numbers will decrease. We don't think so, but we are still in discussions about that. The fact is, that when we are on Sunday, the TV audience is much, much bigger than if it is on Saturday.
MM: Thank you.