With MotoGP now one third through its 18 race season, the effect of the engine-life regulations - restricting each MotoGP rider to just 6 engines throughout the entire season - is starting to become clear. The latest engine information list - assembled by IRTA and MotoGP Technical Director Mike Webb, and distributed (if you can call it that) by Dorna - provides an interesting perspective on the impact the regulations are having, and how the factories have approached the problems posed by limited engines.
The clear winner that emerges from the list is surely Honda. Of their six riders, three (Repsol Honda's Dani Pedrosa and Andrea Dovizioso, and San Carlo Gresini's Marco Simoncelli) have used just two engines, and not had to have a third engine officially sealed. Dovizioso and Simoncelli have distributed their races equally, with three races on each of the two engines, while Dani Pedrosa has four races on his number 1 engine, and just two on his number 2 engine.
The one thing that Pedrosa, Dovizioso and Simoncelli all have in common is that they are all contracted to HRC, unlike Aoyama, De Puniet and Melandri, and the fact that the three riders most closely linked with Honda's racing department have all followed the same strategy suggests that this is the official HRC line. Taking just two engines so far would point to HRC making it possible to introduce two new engine specifications throughout the season, at the end of each six race period. Whether they will or not is a separate question, and one which will only be answered at Barcelona.
But even looking at the non-HRC riders, it is clear that Honda has managed to retain their legendary reliability. Interwetten's Hiroshi Aoyama, San Carlo Gresini's Marco Melandri and LCR's Randy de Puniet have all taken a third engine already, but all those engines have just very light use on them, while their number 1 engines all appear to be approaching the end of their life.
While Honda's strategy is clear, Yamaha's is a little more confusing. With reigning world champion Valentino Rossi out since Mugello, it's hard to make sense of his engine use so far, but all three of the other Yamahas all follow exactly the same pattern. For Rossi's Fiat Yamaha teammate Jorge Lorenzo and the two Monster Tech 3 Yamaha riders Ben Spies and Colin Edwards have all used three engines, with each engine having been used for just two races.
Both Lorenzo and Spies have favored one engine heavily, with 22 and 19 sessions on the engine respectively, and 6 and 4 sessions on their third engine. Edwards has shifted engines around a little more, putting in more time on each of his engines.
While Honda have kept the option open to use three different engine specs for 2010, Yamaha appear to have opted for just two. If Yamaha can eke a 10th race out of their first three engines, by mixing and matching engines during practice and qualifying, they could give a new engine spec a run out during the test after the Brno MotoGP round, and use it from Indianapolis onwards. They could then use this same mix-and-match approach to make the remaining three engines last for eight more races, providing consistency of feel between each rider's two bikes, instead of forcing the riders to switch between different bikes with different engine characteristics.
While Yamaha and Honda appear to have dealt with the engine regulations with relative ease, Ducati have had one or two minor problems. All five of Ducati's riders have taken three engines each, but three riders - factory Marlboro Ducati riders Casey Stoner and Nicky Hayden, and the satellite Paginas Amarillas team's Hector Barbera - have all had engines withdrawn from the allocation, two of them as a certain result of crash damage, and the third (Barbera's) with the suspicion of crash damage hanging over it.
Casey Stoner has been hardest hit by crash damage, the Australian losing his engine at Qatar in the strange front-end crash he had while leading the first race of the season. That engine never saw action again, and was finally withdrawn from his allocation after the Le Mans round. Stoner's advantage is that he does so few laps during practice, which may buy the Marlboro Ducati rider a little more time on his remaining five engines.
Barbera and Hayden were luckier with their engines. Hayden's blew up at Assen, but already had three races and some pretty hard miles on it before it let go. On Friday at Assen, he told the press that he'd hoped to get a little bit more life out of the engine, but that the loss had only a minimal impact on their plans. Forced to take a third engine, the bike Hayden is now racing had a fresh motor for the race at Assen.
Barbera's engine also had plenty of miles on, and had been crashed at Silverstone and continued to run on its side. But that motor saw three more sessions at Assen before it was withdrawn, so the damage, if any, was limited.
The fortunes of the Pramac Ducati team are illustrative of the way the engine regulations are working. While Aleix Espargaro is still broadly on schedule, with three races on one engine, two more on a second and just Assen on the third, Mika Kallio is clearly having problems.
The Finn has taken three of the six engines in his allocation, but remarkably, one of those engines has never been raced. Kallio has five races on his number 1 engine, and no races at all on the number 2 engine, that lump being used only during free practice and warm up. The engine would appear to be either down on power or with a problem significant enough to render it unusable either during qualifying or the race. With his number 1 engine now obviously at the end of its life, and number 2 of little use, Kallio may struggle to get to the end of the year without incurring some form of penalty.
Kallio's predicament highlights the risks that engine limits bring. An engine which looks OK on the dyno may turn out to have a problem that leaves it unsuitable to race. The numbers on the HP graph may look just fine, but once the engine is fitted into a chassis, an inconsistency of response, or some structural weakness, or even an unpredictable power delivery mean that the engine is as good as useless out on the racetrack. But the only way to uncover those problems is to take it out on track, and once you do that, the engine is in your allocation, and you're stuck with it.
Kallio's problems pale into insignificance when compared to those at Suzuki, however. The factory's lack of investment in developing the engine has left Loris Capirossi in a hole, the Rizla Suzuki man having already used four of his allocation in just six races. One of those engines was withdrawn from the allocation after qualifying at Mugello, while the other remains in the allocation, but has seen no track action yet. If you were the gambling type, Capirossi would be the best bet to be the first rider to start a race from pit lane, with a fresh engine and a ten second penalty.
Alvaro Bautista has done significantly better, having taken three engines and no signs of taking a fourth. Bautista has been "helped" in this respect by broken shoulder he suffered in a motocross crash, causing the Spaniard to pull out of Le Mans, and to ride very gingerly at Mugello. In this case, injury has reduced the number of hard miles put on the bikes, which would disguise any problems which Suzuki may or may not be having.
The question I am sure you are asking is where I got all this information from, and where you can find the engine information lists so that you can dissect the info for yourselves. Well, the engine lists are available from Dorna, and the agreement with the teams is that the information is to be made public after Sunday morning warm up at every race. But unlike the rest of the information so efficiently supplied by Dorna in the press room and via their excellent results website, the engine lists live an almost secret existence, only available to those that know the right people to ask.
Why such secrecy exists is beyond comprehension, as the five states which an engine may have (not sealed, sealed, used, used in race, and withdrawn from allocation) are sufficiently opaque to readers - be they armchair engineers or MotoGP gurus - that they are open to multiple interpretations, and would therefore generate endless speculation. And speculation generates interest in the weeks when there isn't a race.
In an ideal world, the engine information lists would be available on the official MotoGP.com website, just as the results of practice and the race are. But when it comes to the internet, Dorna, IRTA and the MSMA seem to be utterly allergic to providing information that the fans could actually chew over for themselves. That is a lost opportunity, and a big one at that.