Sete Gibernau's GFH Team Pulls Out Of MotoGP Championship

It's been a tough season so far for MotoGP, with the withdrawal of Kawasaki before the start of the season, the Japanese factory finally yielding to pressure from Carmelo Ezpeleta and Dorna to provide machinery and limited support for a single season for Marco Melandri. Then came the rider switch at Team Scot, Gabor Talmacsi stepping in, bringing Hungarian oil money to rescue the team which was close to financial ruin.

Now, another dark day for the series, as Sete Gibernau's Grupo Francisco Hernando team has just announced that they will be pulling out of MotoGP with immediate effect. The reasons given for the withdrawal are unsurprising - the global financial crisis - but the announcement came as a shock to Sete Gibernau. In the press release, the Spanish veteran stated "The person most surprised by this decision was me. Everyone in the team worked hard to keep the project on track. On a personal level, it was  a brave gamble, taken with the hope of building a successful project which would achieve targets we had set for ourselves as each Grand Prix passed."

Gibernau said he was very disappointed that the project had foundered at this stage. "It's truly a pity that we are forced to abandon the project at this stage, just when we were convinced we were on the verge of achieving the results we were looking for. I'd like to thank the team, my personal sponsors, the fans and all the press, the treatment I have received, which has repaid in full the hard work and efforts which I have put in to return to racing after two years out of the World Championship. Your support has made me be happy to be racing in MotoGP again," Gibernau added.

Though the withdrawal of the Grupo Francisco Hernando is a shock, due to the suddenness of the decision, it is not much of a surprise. The press release put it down to the effects of the global financial crisis, stating: "The motive for this decision is the crisis which has affected the global economy. The Grupo Francisco Hernando has decided to invest exclusively in its primary role in the construction sector as a promotor and constructor, focusing all of its economic efforts in this area."

The surprise was more that Francisco Hernando decided to invest in the project at all. The Spanish construction sector is in absolute freefall, after a housing boom unrivaled anywhere in the world collapsed, leaving vast tracts of undeveloped and partially developed projects unsold and uninhabited. The housing surplus in Spain is predicted to be in the region of half a million units for the foreseeable future, a huge number in a country of just 40 million inhabitants. Hernando, like so many other construction companies, has found himself holding huge areas of land which have plummeted in value, financed using leveraged loans from Spain's many regional banks.

Initially, the GFH team bore the logos of Equatorial Guinea, a tiny country in West Africa run by one of the worst dictators in the world. Francisco Hernando was engaged in building a vacation resort in the African nation, where Spanish is widely spoken, as it is a former Spanish colony. The team received a visit from a heavily guarded African dignitary at the IRTA test at Jerez, but within a couple of races, the Equatorial Guinea sponsorship quietly disappeared, with no official explanation forthcoming. According to the respected Spanish newspaper El Pais, what happened was exactly what you might expect when doing business with ruthless dictators: The expected support of Teodoro Obiang, Equatorial Guinea's brutal dictator, never came, and a spokesman for the government denied that Francisco Hernando had been awarded any licenses to embark on construction projects in the African country.

The team continued sporting just the name of the Grupo Francisco Hernando, but even that was built on sand, as it has transpired. With Francisco Hernando - a man with an already dubious reputation and a long history of legal difficulties, as both his Wikipedia entry and the special page maintained on the site of El Economista attest - running into increasing financial difficulties, forced to sell back a large number of apartments to the banks who financed the project, the team that bore his name was doomed to failure.

The withdrawal of Gibernau cuts the MotoGP field back to just 17 for the rest of the season, and doubts hang over the size of the field next year. As we have discussed here almost ad nauseam, the switch to the 800cc formula has been disastrous to MotoGP, in terms of expense, spectacle and excitement. Rumors in the paddock are starting to circulate that change is afoot. The realization has dawned, it would appear, that the rules will have to change, and an alternative will have to be found to the current formula. GPone.com floated the idea of a two-tier system, with the current 800cc bikes remaining, but facing 1000cc bikes based on production engines, something along the lines of the new Moto2 class. While over at Superbikeplanet.com, columnist Evan Williams suggested that a return to the 1000cc formula was the most likely path to be followed.

Here at MotoGPMatters.com, we hope that our suggestion for a truly unlimited class be adopted, the only restriction one based on fuel, and if necessary, on emissions. After all, the announcement of a new racing series for electric bikes points the way to the future, and at some point in the not too distant future will make the current combustion engines completely obsolete. Although our suggestion meets with some sympathy in the paddock, unfortunately, the manufacturers are less inclined to support it. And while the manufacturers control the rule making body, through the MSMA, they will be working to secure their own success, rather than risking their reputation at the hands of upstarts with a bright idea and a set of machine tools.

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Comments

now i am really glad i got to see sete one last time at laguna. i'm sure this is it as far as his gp career.

but my stomach thanks the conditions that caused this...

Total votes: 177

Terrible to See Sete without a ride for the rest of the season. He may not have placed real high in races this year but he wasn't exactly on a factory team. I would like to see a return to bigger engines but with those a cut back on electronics may have to go hand in hand to keep cost lower and more focus on riding. I sure hope I don't have to see electronic bikes riding around in my lifetime. Seeing F1 in it's current state is bad enough.

Total votes: 184

So it comes to pass. Moving from 2 strokes to 4 strokes has eventually killed the class. Whoever thought making the engines an order of magnitude more complicated would increase competition in the long term should be hoisted on their own petard.

Not that 500's could last forever. But we've basically learned nothing from the 60's. Where insanely precise engineering of jewell-like multis killed GP's (so that strokers could come in with an easier, cheaper, lighter way to make HP), so electronics have done the same now. No tuning, you just get the engine in a box and fit it in a frame. Money is spent on software.

Bring back the wiffle files! Or was that the software?

Grumping over...

Total votes: 158

"Here at MotoGPMatters.com, we hope that our suggestion for a truly unlimited class be adopted, the only restriction one based on fuel, and if necessary, on emissions. After all, the announcement of a new racing series for electric bikes points the way to the future, and at some point in the not too distant future will make the current combustion engines completely obsolete."

That's what I'm talking about! The more I've thought about it, the more I feel that your idea is the direction MotoGP needs to take. The series will only improve from it in the long run.

"Although our suggestion meets with some sympathy in the paddock, unfortunately, the manufacturers are less inclined to support it. And while the manufacturers control the rule making body, through the MSMA, they will be working to secure their own success, rather than risking their reputation at the hands of upstarts with a bright idea and a set of machine tools."

Perhaps this is the biggest change that needs to be made, to eliminate the MSMA as it currently exists, or at least reduce it's political power significantly. We need people who are truly looking out for the prosperity and success of the sport to lead MotoGP into the next decade and beyond. The MSMA has shown that what it wants and/or has wanted over the last few years is quite the opposite of this.

Total votes: 175

Your last point: "We need people who are truly looking out for the prosperity and success of the sport to lead MotoGP into the next decade and beyond. The MSMA has shown that what it wants and/or has wanted over the last few years is quite the opposite of this."

Is exactly what Kenny Roberts has been saying for years. Someone with an interesting in the racing exclusively needs to be calling the shots.

Total votes: 175

This is why I am casting my (uncounted) ballot for Ari Vatanen. Number two would be Jean Todt. But anyone even remotely related or involved with Max Mosley or Bernie - I will scream if that happens.

BTW - What is the current state of the FIM? Any changes or chances for change in the near future?

Total votes: 175

Perhaps MotoGP is unmoved, but we the fans are the poorer for your leaving.

Total votes: 164

There is no racing without manufacturer support. It's critical for manufacturers to want to go racing because they are the ones moving technology forward and willing to spend the big bucks.

For sure, we are going through a tough time, globally, and all racing is suffering because racing is supported by marketing dollars and manufacturers. Things will get better when the economy turns around and racing will thrive again. I hope the organizations don't overreact and change the formula yet again (which we know increases costs). The best thing to do now is keep the formula for the bike steady, and find ways to bring new money into the series to support the weaker teams. I don't think the recession will last for more than another year. Keep it steady!

Total votes: 162

Whilst it was difficult to be enthusiastic about his sponsor, Sete did deserve better.
Back to 1000cc, that is an exciting prospect.
The fuel limit makes sense in the medium term.
They're not mutually exclusive are they?

Total votes: 184

The fuel reduction in 2005 killed the sport. Phenomenal racing and increased viewership hid the rising costs and the shrinking grid.

Saving every drop of fuel requires extremely complex electronic systems. It also gives advantage to teams who run naturally balanced engines or who use complex mechanical devices like pneumatic valve actuation. Fuel-limited racing also provides no guarantee that 240hp 700s won't be faster than the current 800s.

I think a peak horsepower cap would be better. The engine and the ECU would need to be frozen after it was approved by the FIM to prevent rampant cheating. HP caps would increase the cost of administering the sport, but the stewards would no longer have to monitor fuel temperature or tank size. Reducing fuel consumption would still be important to reduce tank weight at the start. GP should include massive fines for teams who don't complete the parade lap due to fuel.

Wide powerbands would be the result of a peak hp rule. Hopefully, it would require teams to bring fewer transmission parts since gear ratios wouldn't be as important. If major top speed disparity resulted from aerodynamics relating to engine config, the governing body could do something with min width rules.

More power means additional movable ballast (bigger rider) has a positive impact on performance. Pedrosa would be lauded for his talent not lampooned b/c of his stature.

If MotoGP wanted to make things really cheap they could freeze engine development over multiple seasons.

Total votes: 160

What's the point of MotoGP if you have an engine freeze? Why not just go straight for a spec engine and be done with it? In which case, the whole idea of prototype racing goes out the window. Of course, you may feel that MotoGP is not about racing prototypes, but if it isn't what is MotoGP about? That's the main question behind a lot of discussions about the future of the series.

You say that horsepower caps would be difficult to police, I say they would be impossible to police, and would ensure rampant cheating. After all, programming an ECU to wipe itself and fall back to a single underpowered mode once the bikes entered pit lane would be all too easy. If you don't believe me, look at what happened to the ban on launch control: announced in a flurry of publicity, and quietly dropped before the season even got underway, as it was impossible to police.

The problem (as I've discussed before) is that the 800cc capacity limit put a premium on horsepower, and the fuel limits exacerbated that. By removing the capacity limit (yet keeping the fuel limit), horsepower would become cheap, and torque would be king once again. Torque is much cheaper to produce - especially with unlimited engine capacity - and big engines running low revs to produce grunt rather than power would be surprisingly fuel efficient. I believe the British TV program Top Gear ran two cars against each other - a small car and a big high-powered car - at 80mph around a circuit, and they both used about the same fuel.

With a much wider powerband, the electronics need not be anywhere near as sophisticated, as the rider's wrist is once again subtle enough to manage power delivery. And with lots of drive on tap, corner entry and corner speed no longer becomes crucial to success, as riders can stand the bike up and spin the rear controllably. What's more, lower revs and smoother power delivery make engine braking more predictable, saving yet more fuel for burning on the exit. We get spectacle back, and it becomes cheap to enter the class, as you can compensate a lack of sophistication with raw cubes.

Of course, the manufacturers don't want to make MotoGP cheap, as that would allow more competition, reducing their chances of success, and diminishing the return they get on their investment. It might cost them a fraction of what they're spending now, but if the only publicity they are getting is being beaten by a bloke who built a racer in his shed, the damage to their reputation will vastly outweigh any savings from spending less.

Total votes: 175

I don't think I was clear. The engines would be frozen each year but not in perpetuity. Teams could prototype as much as they wanted, but the introduction of engine updates would occur on regular intervals.

In other words Honda could show up with a 990cc V5 in 2010, but decide that it was quite poor. For 2011 (if Honda could develop a new engine in such a short time), they could "homologate" a 900cc I3. If engines were cheap enough, Honda might even run several different engines to see what works best. The FIM keep a copy of the engine/s and ECU/s so they can police the freeze which is designed to police the hp cap.

I do realize that peak horsepower is quite difficult to regulate and it would require relatively extreme changes in procedure. I think it might be accomplished with a data recorder, or perhaps Dorna could contract with an ECU provider (or several) to develop ECUs for the teams at their specific request (Dorna have already threatened such a move).

As you have pointed out, the main problem is not that an hp rule won't solve most of gp's problems; instead, the rule would be very difficult to police. Enforcement difficulties can be overcome.

I do like that fuel limited racing opens up the engine regs, but it has troubles as well. There is no guarantee that even more expensive engines won't prove successful over time. There is nothing to stop a manufacturer from building a bike that goes 400kph down the main straight on the first lap in a bid to make easy passes.

What happens if 1 manufacturer achieves HCCI in a racing engine? Do they win for several decades? Are there any rules to stop big teams from using multiple engines during a single season?

Eliminating displacement rules is a fantastic idea, but I don't think it has any chance of succeeding without some type of power limitation or top speed limitation. Really, the entire discussion is academic anyway. The powers that be will crawl back to a rules package that has worked in the past. The MSMA always deny that the sport is in dire straights; they aren't going to risk the sport (though it is already in ruins) to create revolutionary new rules.

Total votes: 161

So a team running multiple engines would be a possible way to decrease cost? No. Honda has had enough trouble winning in the last year with the engine they have and have been desperate for money, I could not imagine them or any other team running more than one engine configuration at a time. Also fines for not completing the parade lap is just dumb. Once the flag drops and the riders cross the line the race is over, any fuel left in the tank was basically just extra, unneeded weight.

MotoGP isn't in such a bad place right now that they need radical changes.

Total votes: 174

Attempting to reduce the amount of money spent by the manufacturers is a lost cause. They will spend what they want regardless of how much cost cutting goes on.

"Cost cutting" is about reducing the amount of money they must spend in order to participate. Reducing the cost to participate helps privateers and small factories.

Eliminating displacement rules reduces the cost required to participate and even allows teams to name their entry price. As long as a small factory is making rapid improvement and developing new technology, they would probably be inclined to stay. Endless attempts to squeeze more power/revs from less displacement is not a cost-effective. It doesn't even represent realistic scarcity. We aren't running out of space for combustible engines.

I think the parade lap rule is important b/c watching a jubilant rider pull off of the tarmac during the parade lap hurts the spectacle. I want to see jubilant wheelies and victory laps with Earl on the back of the bike.

Total votes: 171

I really hope you're joking about the jubilant wheelie thing. The spectacle is in the guys riding balls out for 20+ laps at a time. If you want wheelies so bad I'm sure youtube has tons of those videos.

Total votes: 153

"There is nothing to stop a manufacturer from building a bike that goes 400kph down the main straight on the first lap in a bid to make easy passes."

Yes, there is:  Physics.

There is only so much power that can be put to the ground through one tire while keeping the bike pointed forward and the front wheel near the horizon.  This is why there would be diminishing returns in an unlimited displacement/unlimited fuel formula; the bikes still have to slow down and turn, so there is still going to be a functional limit for usable speed.

The 990's spent very little time on full-throttle, depending on the track.  The 800's spend drastically more, which - coupled with the need to conserve fuel - is why the electronics are so intrusive.

And, as many bike engineers will tell you, they don't have a problem getting peak hp out of their engines, their problem is how to make it usable and tractable. 

Total votes: 163

Going back to vling2000, it's not that I am against manufacturer support at all. Hardly. My problem is what Krop has been pointing out, that the big manufacturers want to use rules that keep the small guys from surprising them, or even being on par with them. This mentality has got to end. If not, then at least the big manufacturers that comprise the MSMA should not be in the position of power that they are. Not without some sort of equal input from small manufacturers and teams as well. The bigger high-$$$$ teams will almost aways come out on top, but the rules in MotoGP need to be set up so that other players came come in and not only be competitive, but when all goes right actually have a shot at victory. Right now, that really isn't possible...

Total votes: 175

Look at Group C prototype racing. It was fuel limited until top speeds scared the FIA. I'm fully aware that the physics involved with bikes and cars are substantially different, but the incentive to pass people down the straight (in order to find clear track at the front) is universal.

I'm also aware that a 1200cc V6 is essentially a "completed" Honda 990 V5. A 1200cc V6 could easily produce over 300bhp and at long-straight tracks like Qatar, Catalunya, Mugello, & Estoril (China if they ever go back) such a bike would make well over 350kph.

It's not worthwhile to claim that absurd top speeds won't happen because the empirical physics don't line up. The incentives are there, and the power is available. Empirical physics also claimed that the 800s would not be faster than the 990s---GP engineers (who were more in touch with GP than you or I) made such ridiculous remarks.

Ezy and the MSMA won't flirt with the prospect of 250mph MotoGP bikes regardless of what the CURRENT physics claim. Furthermore, the current diminishing marginal returns of hp will be thrown out the window if displacement rules are dropped.

Total votes: 179

The MotoGP rule book has not one but two limiting factors. Alongside a fuel limit, there's also the spec tire. Dorna and the FIM can control the pace of top speed development by merely controlling the pace of tire development. That was already the stated aim of the single tire rule when it was proposed. A spec tire will rule out 250mph bikes, as Bridgestone won't make a special tire to cope with such high speeds.

Your point about the misjudgment over the last round of rule changes is a good one. After all, engineers will always find a way to go faster, no matter what rules you impose. That's part of their job. The only thing you can hope to do is to channel their efforts into appropriate directions.

Total votes: 158

Shinya Nakano @ Mugello in 2004--that's how you propose to limit top speeds?

I like your style, but I'm not sure the insurance underwriters would like seeing riders somersault down the front straight at 200+ mph.

For safety, the control tire is likely capable of speeds much higher than the 800s can currently attain. Catastrophic tire failure probably wouldn't occur until fatal speeds were reached.

Total votes: 187

Back in the 990 days, Michelin stated that the manufacturers could easily get over 300 bhp out of the motors (F1 can get 350hp/liter). However, the tire technolegy and physical limits made that extra hp totally unuseable.

We know that more hp is available but it is expensive as hell to extract from only 800cc - F1 expensive. There is no reason to make hp so expensive as no one can use it.

Total votes: 184

It was unusable during the 990 era b/c of displacement rules. If manufacturers wanted higher peak power they would have raised revs by shortening stroke and either adding cylinders or increasing the bore. Shortening the stroke often kills smooth, low-end torque delivery. Increasing the peak power of a 990 would simply have ruined its rideability/handling and the benefits would have been usable at very few tracks.

Under unlimited displacement there is no trade off. Honda could simply add another cylinder onto the back of the V5. There is no loss of low end power, the engine fires more frequently for each revolution of the camshaft so peak hp is increased, AND the engine could run at lower speeds on short-straight tracks.

Adding a cylinder would certainly affect the handling so Honda would unlikely seek such a primitive solution, but a less sophisticated team would probably have a go.

Unlimited displacement would be an epic change, but relying on diminishing marginal returns discovered during the displacement-limited era to control top speed is unwise.

Total votes: 178

With all due respect, that sounds like conjecture and runs counter to the conventional wisdom that initiated the adoption of the big-bang configuration.

More to the point perhaps is that the very essence of traction control is limiting torque delivery to the tires. This is an implicit admission that the tires have a point at which they cannot maintain traction under any increase in torque (I realize this is fundamentals for everyone here).

There is a limit to the amount of power that the tires are able to manage regardless of engine configuration. There are, of course, configurations that will yield a higher traction threshold but finding and managing those configurations becomes increasingly expensive and yields dmiinishing return with that increase. For a marginal increase the top teams can spend what they care to but it will only get them so much while smaller teams can spend a fraction of that and get competitive results.

And top speeds are not an issue for anyone. The vast majority (well over 99%) of crashes do not happen on a straight at top speed.

Total votes: 168

The big bang theory of engines says that under certain circumstances lap times can be reduced by changing the firing order to improve ridability (even if peak power is decreased).

Unlimited-displacement theory says that ridability and horsepower can be simultaneously increased. Even if the engines got so big that they killed handling and slowed lap times, it would still be substantially different than the big bang phenomenon. UD would say that under certain circumstances, reducing displacement/engine-size/reciprocating mass can improve lap times even if peak power is reduced.

How are big bang and unlimited displacement related?

In a UD formula, additional power is almost consequence free. At most tracks additional power isn't terribly useful, but having the additional hp doesn't ruin ridability or break the budget like it does in displacement-limited racing.

Total votes: 179