Friday's meeting of the Grand Prix Commission in Geneva had been keenly awaited by fans and followers of MotoGP, primarily because of the expected announcement of the class' return to 1000cc from 2012 onwards. So naturally, after the press release was issued, almost all the press coverage focused on the details of the 1000cc proposal which had been accepted by the Commission, that from 2012 MotoGP bikes will be allowed a maximum capacity of 1000cc, a maximum of 4 cylinders, and a maximum bore of 81mm.
As important as the changes to be made from the 2012 season onwards are, there were just 4 lines in a document comprising some 15 pages (read the entire document for yourself in PDF format here). And amidst those 15 pages are some fairly fascinating details which, although for direct application next season, highlight the direction that MotoGP will be headed in 2012, and how they will deal with some of the issues the series faces.
The bulk of the 15 pages of new rules comprise the details of the engines for the Moto2 class from next season onwards. Although a spec engine had been agreed back in March, it was still not entirely clear just what the teams would be allowed to do to the engines, and how the engines were to be allocated among the teams. The new regulations clarify these points, with the engines for the Moto2 class to be allocated on a random basis by the Technical Director, and provided sealed. The only parts of the engine the teams can touch are the exhaust system, some very minor modifications to the airbox (removal of the top cover or resonance chambers), modification of the fuel maps for the standard ECU and the external Liquid coolant system. Teams are free to design their own radiators, but the standard oil cooler must be used. The teams will be supplied with a standard clutch, which they can maintain (e.g. replace clutch plates) but not modify. The engine supplier will decide how often the engines need to be returned for engine maintenance.
Moto2 also moves to a spec tire, spec fuel and spec oil. The fuel and oil are part of the adoption of a standard engine, but the reason behind the spec tire is the same as it is in MotoGP: to cut costs by eliminating the tire wars, and to level the competition playing field. The Moto2 bikes will have fewer tires than in MotoGP, with 7 fronts and 9 rear tires. Dunlop - the spec tire supplier for the Moto2 class - will provide two specifications for each race, and the teams will have 4 fronts and 5 rears of specification A, and 3 fronts and 4 rears of specification B. The difference between the two specifications is mostly irrelevant, and up to the tire supplier to define. The most logical step is for Dunlop to judge the conditions and define A and B according to what they feel is the best tire for the weather conditions. In addition to the 16 slick tires, the Moto2 bikes will have 3 sets of wet tires, and the possibility of being given a 4th set if every session during the weekend is declared officially wet.
There are also changes in tires for the MotoGP class. The number of tires issued to the teams has been dropped, from 20 to 18, comprising of 8 fronts and 10 rears. The 10 rear tires will be supplied in equal numbers of both available specifications (A and B), but the biggest change will be in the allocation of front tires. As in 2009, the riders can vary the number of the two different specifications they can use, selecting either 5+3, 4+4 or 3+5 of the different specifications. But the biggest complaint about the system in 2009 was the fact that tire selection had to be made directly after the previous race. And so, for example the tire selection for Estoril had to be made directly after the San Marino MotoGP round, some 4 weeks earlier.
Under the new system, the teams will be given 3 of each front tire specification for the first day of practice. At the end of the first day of practice, the riders can then select how they want their remaining tires, either 2 of A, 2 of B, or 1 each of A and B. This should assuage the calls for more tires, as at least the selections the teams make will be relevant to the conditions on the weekend. Although not stated in the rules, Bridgestone is expected to bring asymmetric compound tires to a lot more tracks next year, which should provide a more predictable feel. There are no changes to the rules about wet tires. Intermediates will not be reintroduced, but frankly, few riders have called for them, the performance of Bridgestone's wet tires having been quite phenomenal all year.
6 Engines For 18 Races
A more significant change for the MotoGP class comes in the engine limits. As previously agreed, for 2010, each rider will have 6 engines to last the entire season. This limit has been agreed to by the factories despite the protestations of most of the riders, who are all afraid that 6 engines simply won't be enough. The penalty for infringing this rule has been changed, making it worse for the riders but better for the manufacturers. Instead of riders being put to the back of the grid and manufacturers being penalized 25 points in the manufacturers championship, two different penalties will be applied. If the extra engine is taken before the race starts, the rider taking the extra engine will start from pit lane 20 seconds after the rest of the field. If the extra engine is taken during the race (i.e. by switching bikes during a flag-to-flag race), then the rider will be given a ride through penalty. The ride through penalty rules state that riders may not swap bikes during the ride through, so they can't take advantage of the penalty to swap bikes again.
One interesting note - a sure sign that drawing up rules and regulations is the work of human hands - the new regulations read that the ride through penalty will be imposed for violating article 2.3.6. But the introduction of the new engine rules for Moto2 means that the article numbers have been reshuffled, and article 2.3.6 now covers the engine rules for Moto2. This will be fixed, but as the rulebook stands right now, taking an extra engine is not punishable.
Perhaps the most interesting changes to the regulations concern the banning of materials and technologies. The most significant is the ban on the use of MMC (Metal Matrix Composite) and FRM (Fibre Reinforced Metal). These materials can offer great advantages in terms of weight and physical properties, but can be extraordinarily expensive. They are currently used in high-performance, high-cost areas such as spacecraft and aviation, as well as in some motorsports applications, and the reason for banning these materials is primarily cost. Ilmor experimented with a composite cam cover and some internal baffles made of composites for their X3 MotoGP engine. The banning of their use is probably aimed at the longer term, to prevent the teams chasing revs using lightweight composite materials when MotoGP returns to a 1000cc, bore-limited configuration in 2012. The use of hollow connecting rods has also been banned, with the exception of a narrow oil supply channel for lubricating the small end bearing.
Two other measures are worthy of note. Firstly, tire temperature sensors have been banned, removing one input from traction control system, although the tire temperature is one of the lesser inputs which are used to base traction control on. The other change is the setting of a maximum brake disk size. From 2010, carbon brake disks will be a maximum of 320mm, with that diameter being mandated in 2011, and the choice of two different disk masses. The increasing effectiveness of braking in MotoGP has made overtaking more difficult, and so restricting brake size is an understandable step. The rules have also been changed to ban ceramic disks, which are currently less effective than carbon but which are improving rapidly.
As announced much earlier this year, Constant Variable Transmissions, double clutches (such as used on Honda's new VFR1200), and other automatic gearbox systems are banned, as is variable valve timing and lift systems. The previously announced ban on hydraulic and pneumatic control systems was also introduced, but with an interesting proviso. The ban is to be imposed for all factories currently involved in the sport, but any manufacturer new to the sport in 2010 will be allowed to use the systems for 1 year. This is widely seen as a sop to the FB Corse project, whose three-cylinder engine uses a hydraulically-assisted gearbox. Whether the FB Corse will make an appearance on the grid or not remains to be seen, however.
The use of electronics will be limited, but sadly for most fans, only in the area of suspension. Electronically operated or adjusted suspension has been banned, another measure announced earlier this year. No real measures have been taken to limit the use of traction control systems and other electronic engine controls because of the opposition from the manufacturers. Developing electronic control systems is one of the main reasons the factories are involved in MotoGP, and one of the main R&D benefits which they use to justify their participation in the series. Electronic systems will not be regulated away in the future.
Finally, the minimum weights have been bumped up. Where the 2009 four cylinder bikes had to weigh a minimum of 148kg, in 2010 this must be at least 150kg. This added weight removes the benefits of using some of the more extremely expensive lightweight materials, providing a marginal cost savings.