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:
|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.