Ever since its inception, the 800cc MotoGP formula has been unpopular with both the fans and the riders. The high state of engine tune has made the formula extremely expensive, as well as requiring the extensive use of electronics just to make the bikes ridable. This, in turn, has taken much of the spectacle out of the riding, requiring an incredible precision of style to get the best out of them, and making passing very difficult indeed.
The biggest problem, though, is the expense. With the cost of leasing a satellite MotoGP bike upwards of 2 million euros a year, grids are shrinking with little prospect of that trend being reversed. Something clearly needs to be done, but with the manufacturers already heavily invested in the 800cc formula, getting any change in engine capacity through the Grand Prix Commission, MotoGP's rule-making body, is a very difficult task.
Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta is determined to try, however. In an online chat with visitors to the website of the Spanish TV broadcaster RTVE, Ezpeleta explained that he intended to push forward his previously discussed plans for a return to 1000cc at this weekend's meeting of the Grand Prix Commission at Valencia. When asked if he would like to see a return to 1000cc in 2011, he replied "Right now, it is not going to be possible to switch in 2011, because the agreement with the manufacturers means that we could only make that change before the end of the 2011 season if there was unanimous agreement among the manufacturers. But we are thinking about a return to a 1000cc capacity from the start of the 2012 season, and we will start discussing it this weekend."
Ezpeleta isn't alone. The FIM president Vito Ippolito has been telling the press all year that MotoGP needs to cut costs, and that he would like to see a return of the production racing motorcycle, like the TZ 750s of the 1970s. IRTA, the association representing the teams, has also been vocal in its support of a larger capacity, preferably based on heavily modified production engines. With three of the four members of Grand Prix Commission already in favor, a return to 1000cc engines looks extremely likely.
There are two major obstacles to overcome, however. The first is the question of the contracts which the Flammini brothers and InFront Motor Sports have with the FIM, which they claim gives them a monopoly on racing production-based engines. How much truth there is in that claim is open to debate, as only the FIM and InFront have seen those contracts, and neither party is keen to make their contents public. The Flamminis also claimed that the new Moto2 class breached the terms of that contract, but so far, they have refrained from taking any action against the FIM, ostenstibly accepting the argument that the spec Honda engine does not infringe their contracts.
The other, more important obstacle is the manufacturers. The MSMA are not disposed to allow production engines to be raced in the series, and though they may not be able to block a proposal in the Grand Prix Commission, they always have the nuclear option - pulling out of MotoGP altogether. That would be a very high risk strategy indeed, as the marketing benefit that they receive from having Valentino Rossi, Dani Pedrosa, Jorge Lorenzo, Casey Stoner, Nicky Hayden et al on their bikes is huge, and may outweigh any political advantage they get from pulling out of the series.
This is not yet settled, not by a very long way indeed.