If there's one subject that makes a MotoGP fan's blood boil, it's electronics. Electronic rider aids have removed a lot of the spectacle that formerly characterized the series, controlling wheelspin and managing tire wear, turning MotoGP into a series where the front wheel is paramount and the winner is the rider who can carry the most corner speed.
The electronics consist of a battery of sensors, monitoring the location and state of the bike on the track. GPS tracks the precise position of the bike as it travels round the track; gyroscopes monitor its attitude; accelerometers measure the forces being exerted through corners; and a range of engine and wheel sensors monitor wheel speed, engine speed, throttle position and a multitude of other parameters. All this data is fed into (for Yamaha and Ducati, at least) the Magneti Marelli Marvel 4 ECU, which then translates all that information into an engine mapping perfectly matched to the conditions on the track.
At least, that's what we thought they did. For at the annual (and fascinating) debrief held by Yamaha in which they share with the media how they developed the YZR-M1 race machine to help keep it competitive, Yamaha's departing MotoGP project leader Masao Furusawa revealed that they don't just match the data coming in via the sensors to calculate the correct power characteristics for the bike.
In fact, as the bikes are circulating, the on-board electronics are running a series of real-time simulations with the data, predicting how the bike will behave in the next couple of laps. The ECU takes data from sensors to map tire wear and traction over the course of the laps, and runs simulations to predict how those will develop based on current conditions. Not only are the electronics matching the power and throttle response to the current conditions, they are also working out what to do on the next lap as well, and what changes the harsh or careful treatment being handed out to the rear tire by the rider will require to the engine mapping.
Running real-time simulations on incoming data is a direct result of Moore's Law, the rule-of-thumb used in the computing industry that predicts that the number of processors per square millimeter of silicon on a computer chip doubles roughly every 18 months, a prediction that has held good since the early Seventies. As a result, the ECUs being fitted to MotoGP bikes are now roughly equivalent to the Supercomputers being used to model scientific problems twenty-odd years ago.
With Moore's Law still holding good, despite continuous predictions of its imminent demise, the simulations being run by the MotoGP electronics are only going to get ever more sophisticated, including ever more parameters and running multiple times per lap, producing more precise predictions. Technologically, that is an astounding feat. Whether that is good for the show is another thing altogether, though.