The Sealed MotoGP Engine Numbers - An Analysis Of What It Tells Us

Yesterday, Dorna released  a list of engines presented to MotoGP's Technical Director Mike Webb to be officially sealed. The seals are placed to comply with the engine limit which comes into effect at Brno, which stipulates that each rider is only allowed to use 5 engines until the end of the season. The teams only needed to submit 1, or at most 2 engines to be sealed before practice started, but instead most submitted 3 or even more. That demands some kind of explanation, and so we decided to take a closer look at the numbers.

Here's the full list:

No. Rider Team Sealed engines
3 Dani Pedrosa Repsol Honda Team 3
4 Andrea Dovizioso Repsol Honda Team 3
5 Colin Edwards Monster Yamaha Tech 3 3
7 Chris Vermeulen Rizla Suzuki MotoGP 2
14 Randy de Puniet LCR Honda MotoGP 3
15 Alex de Angelis San Carlo Honda Gresini 3
24 Toni Elias San Carlo Honda Gresini 2
27 Casey Stoner Ducati Marlboro Team 4
33 Marco Melandri Hayate Racing Team 3
36 Mika Kallio Pramac Racing 3
41 Gabor Talmacsi Scot Racing Team MotoGP 2
46 Valentino Rossi Fiat Yamaha Team 3
52 James Toseland Monster Yamaha Tech 3 3
65 Loris Capirossi Rizla Suzuki MotoGP 2
69 Nicky Hayden Ducati Marlboro Team 4
88 Niccolo Canepa Pramac Racing 3
99 Jorge Lorenzo Fiat Yamaha Team 3

* There are also 2 spare Suzuki engines not yet assigned to a rider

The first thing to note is that Casey Stoner's absence generates a small complication. Casey Stoner has had 4 engines sealed, and Mika Kallio has had 3 engines sealed. But Kallio is riding the factory Marlboro Ducati bike this weekend, so whose engines is he using?

Fortunately, the rules are fairly clear: the engines are assigned to the rider or his replacement, so at Brno, Mika Kallio is actually using engines assigned to Casey Stoner, while Michel Fabrizio, Kallio's replacement at Pramac Ducati, will be using Kallio's engines. Ironically, Kallio could baby his bike all weekend and be careful not to crash, and still end up with an engine or two gone if Michel Fabrizio crashes, or damages the engine in any other way. The easiest way to think of it is that engines are assigned to garages, rather than riders.

So what do the numbers tell us? Well the minimum number of engines that a rider needs is 2, one for each of the bikes in his garage. The safe option is 3, as that allows the teams to replace a damaged engine (either as a result of a crash or a mechanical problem) straight away, without first having to get another engine scrutineered and sealed before being able to replace it. 

Of course, the riders could elect to have all 5 engines sealed already, and be ready for any eventuality. The problem with that approach is that once an engine is sealed, it cannot be opened or replaced without forfeit. So if the factory supplies a new engine with more power, or better power delivery, a rider who had already had 5 engines sealed could not use the new engine without giving up the penalty of 10 championship point which is applied for each extra engine a rider takes.

The 3 engines taken by most riders are therefore the best compromise. The riders are left with the option to take two updated motors later in the season, once development work has been done, while still ensuring that they have enough engines to cope with any mishaps which may occur this weekend.

If 3 is the ideal number, that makes the exceptions all the more interesting. Toni Elias and Gabor Talmacsi have taken just two engines, though probably for different reasons. Elias will be hoping to receive the engine upgrades given to Dovizioso and Pedrosa at the Sachsenring (and maybe even the revisions that the Repsol Honda riders are testing at Brno), and has opted for the fewest number of engines, to allow himself more room for upgrades. The same may be true for Gabor Talmacsi, but it is also possible that this is more related to the team's financial position than anything else. Perhaps with extra investment from his sponsors, Talmacsi may be able to secure more engine upgrades from Honda, but this is purely speculation.

The Suzukis riders have also taken just two engines, but have also had two engines sealed but not assigned to riders. With Suzuki in the midst of engine development - the GSV-R is still down on power - they are intending to bring more engine parts later in the season, and need the extra room for maneuver. The unassigned engines are probably development units, built to the same spec as the engines to be tested on Monday, and will only be assigned once testing has been completed, and there is a clearer picture of whether the upgrades are improvements or not.

But the most interesting development of all is the fact that both Nicky Hayden and Casey Stoner have elected to have 4 engines sealed. This is a clear statement that there will be very few engine developments in the second half of the season, with room left for one last engine which could incorporate some upgrades. That would make things rather complicated, however. With 4 engines already sealed, if the final Ducati engine is different (e.g. it produces more power, has different power delivery, etc) then both Stoner and Hayden would have only one bike with the new improved engine, and another with the old engine. This will make testing during practice extremely difficult, as it would effectively leave the factory riders with just a single machine.

On the other hand, it is also a statement of intent by Ducati. By taking more engines, they are making it clear that they are both happy with the power their engines produce and with the reliability of the Desmosedici power plant. They are saying that they expect their engines to last the distance easily, and that they can control the behavior of the engine sufficiently using just the airbox, exhaust systems, and most importantly, the engine management system.

The engine limits add a layer of complexity to the MotoGP series, and it is debatable whether this will prove a positive thing for the series or not. But what it will do is allow armchair pundits and paddock gossips to speculate endlessly about how to interpret the current state of the engines. And that can't be all bad.

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Comments

In a static world where weird things don't happen, this makes for an interesting strategic game between teams and it is likely to provide the random advantage to satellite teams.

That said, when circumstance catches up with Rossi and brings down his championship challenge with several races to go because he is out of motors, we can count on this rule being scrapped.

Total votes: 115

I've forgotten, so for the sake of any others in a similar state I'll ask:

Only the sealed engines can be used on the Monday test?

Total votes: 154

we were discussing this last night for motogpod and i'm pretty positive that the test has to use the same engines. it would seriously complicate [motogp]matters if that were not the case.

~j

Total votes: 133

That's not the way I read the rules. Here are the two relevant parts:

2.3.6 1) In the MotoGP class the number of engines available for use by each rider is limited. For the 2009 season a maximum of 5 engines may be used by each rider for the final 7 scheduled races of the season, that is from and including the Czech Grand Prix until the end of the season. Should a rider be replaced for any reason, the replacement rider will be deemed to be the original rider for purposes of engine allocation.

2.3.6 6) To prevent the running of a used, allocated engine outside of MotoGP events, all allocated engines will have security seals placed over either exhaust or inlet ports (on at least one cylinder bank, in the case of V-type engines) before leaving the circuit. Teams wishing to re-use such an allocated and sealed engine must request the Technical Director to remove the security seals. If the Technical Director or his staff find that the security seals are not intact, the engine will be deemed to be a new engine in the allocation, with the appropriate penalty.

The way I read those is that a) they have 5 engines for 7 races. And b) an allocated engine cannot be used outside of MotoGP events (in this case, races). Which I would interpret to mean that you can't use allocated engines for testing, but can only use other engines for testing.

I'll check with someone who ought to know. 

Total votes: 123

the official test are motogp events.

however, as we now know (thanks!) it's even more complicated then that :D

~j

Total votes: 119

we were just talking about this on motogpod this morning (well, yesterday really :D) and when the numbers came out we were scratching our heads.

excellent analysis (as always)

~j

Total votes: 140

i think it's safe to say that the ducati powerplant which has not failed all year (right?) delivers, if anything, too much power. so yeah, i can totally see why they'd seal em up and work on the electronics, exhaust, and probably a lot of engine internals unrelated stuff like front/rear weight distribution which seems to be one of the trickiest bits of the bike to get right for each rider.

in addition, they are not going to win the riders or manufacturers or team championships so they could go even further with their strategy and take the 10 point hit should the need arise. given their "rolling the dice" strategy at donington this seems just up their alley.

~j

Total votes: 129

As so beautifully captured by Scott Jones, one blew up straight away at Losail.

Beyond that, I would probably argue the "too much power" claim, as well, but that is a separate set of issues.  As you suggest, this has more to do with the belief that they won't need or want to change any internals for the rest of the year, and figure they need more work on the electronics.  It's also a good way to save money, especially since the war is over for them.

Total votes: 120

So Jorge signs with Ducati, Rossi burns up all five allowed motors before the final race, and all of a sudden Fiat/Yamaha "let Jorge go", and Rossi "substitutes" for him and uses one of the engines he'd kept up his sleeve in the final race...

I bet they haven't worded the rules carefully enough to make _that_ illegal...

Total votes: 137

or...

Rossi burns his last motor with one round to go and a 26 point lead and so sits out the last race instead of risking a race with only 16 point lead.

Crazy rules.

Total votes: 115

That is a very, very good point. One of the reasons they made every race count in points is because racers were choosing to skip races. This rule encourages riders not to race again. 

Total votes: 127