The Valencia test saw two of the major changes for the 2016 MotoGP season make their public debut. Testing with the Michelin tires has been going on since Sepang in February, though Valencia was the first time the riders were allowed to speak about them. The 2016 spec electronics package, the so-called unified software, made its first appearance on track in public, it having only previously been used by test riders at private tests.
The unified software was met with a mixed reception among the riders who used it. Though everyone said it was very much a step back in time, some riders were fairly happy with it, while others were much less so. The main criticisms leveled at it were that it reacted inconsistently, and it was difficult to get a handle on exactly how the software would react from one lap to the next. Whether this is fundamental to the software, or related to the fact that this was the first real outing on the software, and the factory software and engineers needed time to sort the electronics out will only become clear as the season progresses.
To find out more about the software, we spoke to Corrado Cecchinelli, MotoGP's Director of Technology, who has overseen the development of the unified software, after the first day of testing with the electronics. The software was still very much under development, Cecchinelli said. "This is a development version, but you have to understand that work will never be over. Our intention is to improve and follow the manufacturers request but of course the pace at which we do that is higher now. For instance we are using a version here that has already been superceded by a version that is ready for the manufacturers in Sepang."
The inconsistency reported by riders was largely down to the fact that the teams had so little experience with the software, Cecchinelli said. "I would expect that the tuning at this moment is about ten percent of the potential. Everybody is very far from using the best potential of this software." Despite this, he said, the goal was not to replicate the performance of the software the factories had been using until now. "We all have to understand and share that we are in the project of making the best unified software possible, which by definition, will not be as good as the best factory software possible. If you want it’s a bigger and more challenging project, but the way the bike will behave will be a bit poorer of course to what the factory software could do. This gap to me when everything is ok and we are using 100 percent the potential with one of the future releases, this gap, compared to a theoretical ideal factory software is hundredths or tenths of seconds a lap. Here [at Valencia] we are in tenths to seconds per lap."
Cecchinelli had some sympathy for the complaints of the riders. "All the riders comments makes sense to me. From a rider perspective I believe it’s a step back. Today, for sure it's a step back, but they have to understand that it will be the same tomorrow as well. It will work better but they will be used to it. The potential performance will still be a bit less."
Though Cecchinelli was open to feedback from the riders, the most important link for him, and for Magneti Marelli, who develop the software, was with the engineers and crew chiefs from the teams. They were able to convert rider feedback into a format more useful for the software engineers. "I think that the feedback which is most important for us is the feedback from the manufacurers engineers. They have the data and riders’ opinion and they can put them together and turn them into something usable from an engineering side. Of course the rider can only say to me this is a step back. That is not so useful to make it better. The engineer must translate it into something useful for us. I mean maybe it could be the wheelie, things like this we need to understand better. It makes sense that the riders feel it worse than two days ago but it’s not enough to make it better."
Cecchinelli emphasized that the first avenue of attack for the inconsistency reported by the riders would be through optimizing the existing software, and using it better. "I know you can understand that this [inconsistency] can’t be something related to software. This is a matter of tuning. There is no reason why it should be inconsistent from corner to corner. It’s just a matter of tuning it to the best in corner to corner." The most surprising aspect to him was the complaints from riders about inconsistency in the same corner. "I think we have to understand it better because there is no reason for it. There’s no reason in general for software to be inconsistent. We need to understand what they mean because the language is different. The language of bits is different to the language of riders, which is sometimes rude! This is why I’m not that worried. So far I didn’t hear of anything that was caused by really wrong software."
A new version of the software is due to be used at the Sepang tests, but the main objective of updates at the moment is to reduce the chance of error and make the software safer. "The version for Sepang is actually better for failsafe aspects. There are more recovery strategies and things like that." The new version of the software would not improve performance, but that does not mean that the bikes will not all be going faster at the test, Cecchinelli said. "I don’t expect the performance to be better by itself. It must be better because everybody is more used to it and the calibration is better. There is no reason to go faster because of the software. For me there is a strong reason to go faster because everyone is more used to it. At the moment we are so far in the tuning process that you can find out things here so big that work in Sepang as well."
Cecchinelli also gave some insight into the planning for the unified software. "The latest release schedule was November sixth and that was for Sepang and it is done. Now we’re making a meeting in December tenth and then we will make a decision about the next release, which will be after race one I guess, depending on what we’re putting into it. I cannot say now because I don’t really know what we’ll decide to put into that release. To me the idea is that the version from Sepang will probably be the one for race one. That is my guess now. You understand it’s sort of a risky guess because we are in a very quick process but this is my guess now."
The biggest question mark Cecchinelli was left with was how the software would work with the Michelin tires, which will be used for 2016. Some factories and teams were still using the 2015 software, which he felt was a wast of time. The new tires would make a big difference, he explained. "It brings a lot of difference in the calibration process because of course the software contains in some way a tire model. I mean every strategy refers to the tire behavior, after all, so calibration changes a lot but not the software strategies. To me it’s wrong to work here with the factory software with the Michelin tires because all the work you are doing. There is really no point. I’m not doing that job but it’s just to say there is a lot of calibration job related to the tire. Just imagine the profile. If you consider the software and the strategy there is no reason to change it. There is no reason to change it depending on the tire. The numbers you put into the strategies change a lot."