The MotoGP season resumes in earnest next week, when most of the riders will take to the track at the first official test of 2009 at Sepang in Malaysia. But while the fans will be concentrating on the action on track, carefully scrutinizing the times set to see how they can expect their favorite riders to fare, behind the scenes, according to GPOne.com, the manufacturers will be meeting to ratify a list of changes aimed at cutting costs in MotoGP in the next couple of years.
The main thrust of the changes is aimed at extending engine life, in the hope of reducing the maintenance costs for the highly-strung engines, which continue to spiral out of control. The changes will have two prongs: A reduction in track mileage on race weekends and testing; and a minimum engine life imposed by regulation.
First, the proposed changes as reported by GPOne.com:
- Practice sessions will be shortened by 15 minutes each, from 60 to 45 minutes. In effect, the riders will lose an entire 60 minute session;
- Warm up will be cut to just 10 minutes, instead of the current 25, and the practice start would be scrapped;
- A maximum of 9 engines per season, with penalties being imposed on engine failures, either by way of points, or by way of lost starting places;
- An end to post-race tests, scrapping the 5 days of testing already planned;
- Winter testing restricted to just 8 days, and the start of the winter test ban to be brought forward to November 11th, the day immediately following the Valencia tests. The ban would end on January 20th, as has always been the case.
- One Grand Prix to be dropped - so the MotoGP season would be just 17 races rather than 18 (and as rumors persist that the Balatonring in Hungary will not be finished in time for the first race there in mid-September, this could happen in 2010);
- One bike per rider, a move which Carmelo Ezpeleta believes would allow the manufacturers to field 24 bikes, the spare bikes being made available for more riders to enter the class;
- Steel brake disks, which in combination with a single bike per rider would make it possible to retain the flag-to-flag rule, an important precondition for TV broadcasters, who don't like rescheduling their TV slots just because the weather has caused a race to be delayed;
- A two-day Grand Prix weekend. Friday practice for the MotoGP class would be scrapped; in its stead would come an open paddock - a popular event at World Superbike weekends - on Friday morning, followed by practice for the 125cc and Moto2 classes in the afternoon. MotoGP would have only a single practice session on Saturday morning, followed by qualifying in the afternoon;
- Engines to last three races, with a penalty to be imposed for breaching this rule. The penalty is still under discussion, but could be either being put back on the grid, or having a time penalty added to the race time;
- Engine leasing at affordable prices - forcing the manufacturers to make engines available at a fixed cost, as is set to happen for the 125cc class in 2010;
- Bikes designed to be competitive for two seasons, to allow satellite teams to spread the cost of leasing bikes out over two seasons instead of one.
Almost all of the proposals have been leaked or otherwise given a public airing before, but what is most surprising is the haste with which all this is being done. And though we have gone over the ground on this issue a number of times already, we shall examine these proposals again in more detail later today, and analyze their strengths and weaknesses - and sadly, there are many more weaknesses than strengths - point by point.