As many of you will have spotted, this was in fact an April Fool's story. As far as we know, MotoGP and F1 will not be merging, and if they were going to, then they certainly wouldn't use April 1st to make such an announcement. The story was concocted and (brilliantly) realized by one of our contributing editors, Rusty Bucket, whose clever writing managed to fool a lot of people, including one or two who should have known better! All compliments on the piece aimed at me (David Emmett) are unwarranted, and I have passed on all your compliments to the writer. Normal service has now been resumed...
In a surprise press conference held during the regular pre-race event for the MotoGP round in Jerez, Spain today, the following headline topped the shocking press release:
"Due to the economic pressures of the global financial downturn, and as an opportunity to bring together the World's premier prototype motor racing series, Carmelo Ezpeleta and Bernie Ecclestone have today announced the landmark merger of their two organizations to create the ultimate racing series: MotoF1."
Mr. Ezpeleta: "We (Dorna) realized that in our efforts to become increasingly like Formula One, we were losing ourselves in trying to compete, while always changing our schedules to accommodate theirs. Now, all the greatest racing technological minds will be together nearly every weekend, and we can continue the cross-pollination that we've had to pursue surreptitiously in the past."
Mr. Ecclestone: "This is just the first step in our ultimate goal of sharing as many elements of the prototype racing world as possible. We realize that we are the larger partner in this endeavor, but we also greatly appreciate the spectacle that has been MotoGP racing, and would like to work together to enhance the best features of both series. Naturally, there are many details to iron out over the next couple of years, but we are all very optimistic about the possibilities!"
This announcement comes as a bit of shock to the racing world, even though each series in recent weeks separately announced new formula agreements in which engine configurations will be limited to 1500cc and 4 cylinders from 2014 or 2015. At first, the cars will be allowed to have turbocharging and KERS, though there is a clearly implied intent to make some kind homologation of the powerplants an eventuality.
The first step in the process will be for the series to travel together to the races throughout the season, when the tracks are suitable for both formulae. This could begin to happen as soon as next year, they stated.
When confronted with the safety issues of putting MotoGP bikes on the streets of Monaco, Mr. Ezpeleta replied, "Obviously, this would not be a safe endeavor, so there will be some weekends when we (MotoGP) will not race, and there will be others when they (F1) will not race."
Mr. Ecclestone added, "There are some racetracks that are beloved to the motorbike racing community that simply cannot accommodate the Formula One cars, so we will coordinate our schedules to allow for these venues to be scheduled on off-weekends for the F1 series."
The truly remarkable and surprising details of the new series lie in the new combined team structures. F1 and MotoGP teams will be "paired" to form "alliances" and, eventually, their points won in races will be combined in the season-long Championship.
Also announced, though not fully disclosed, is the process by which points will be allocated for pilots who wish to take advantage of the opportunity to race in both series.
Carmelo: "We do not have all of the details negotiated, but we are clearly very interested in showcasing our riders' abilities in Formula One cars."
Bernie: "And we, also, have several pilots we know to be capable of deftly handling racing bikes."
These announcements were thinly veiled code for attempting to capitalize on the marketing potential of both series' aging superstars, Valentino Rossi and Michael Schumacher.
The most daunting detail of all resides in the promise of "Open" or combined race events in which both cars and bikes will race at the same time, "...not unlike the Le Mans prototype racing we already have," stated Mr. Ecclestone. "With the coming changes to the engine rules, and reductions in downforce, the speed gap will not be quite as severe as you probably think."
When queried about the origin of this arrangement, Mr. Ezpeleta said, "It started with the question, 'How can we (MotoGP) get back to Istanbul?' The entire World loves watching us at this facility, and the riders absolutely love it, but local economics did not allow for the support of separate dates for F1 and MotoGP. Since F1 is still there, I began to proposition Bernie about ... a combined weekend. From there we contacted Musco and leadership at the circuit. After that began to take shape, we realized more such opportunities were possible."
Mr. Ecclestone added, "We've known for a long time that Hungary would make a better race for the motorbikes than the F1 cars... And everyone remembers that Indy was a Formula One course before it was MotoGP. When Carmelo approached us about Istanbul, I was already thinking something similar for Indy. And soon we will have the new track in Austin."
After the two leaders of their series were finished answering questions, there was a brief pause, followed by the entrance of Norbert Haug. This drew an audible gasp from the regular MotoGP media in attendance. He approached the podium and simply said, "I can imagine some of you have been wondering about the new ‘technical partnership' arrangement between AMG and Ducati, yes…?"
And there it was, lingering like smoke after a lightening strike, with no further explanation needed, the Mother of all "What would happen if" scenarios, the wildest imaginations of nearly every motorsports fan, marketing firm, and race promoter, if not a bit too late: Michael Schumacher and Valentino Rossi, team mates. As it began to sink in, a photo image of each pilot appeared on a screen behind each of Haug's shoulders, and he simply smiled and walked away.
In an attempt to not to be completely outdone, Dietrich Mateschitz approached the podium to announce his plans to ally his Red Bull Racing programs with HRC and form "HRC Red Bull" under the direction of Christian Horner and the promise of Adrian Newey's aerodynamic genius coming to the world of motorcycles. Reflexively, Ecclestone instructed Ezpeleta to inform Newey that his first design would be rejected under the rules, even though it had yet to be presented.
Conspicuously absent were representatives from Ferrari and Yamaha. With the nearly heretical departure of Ducati to partner with a German automaker, Yamaha's deep roots in Italy make for the next most logical arrangement, provided they can agree on ratios of red and blue in the livery. There is also reason to doubt that anyone in Maranello knows what the term "cross-plane crank" means or what it would sound like.
As other top-level team marriages began to fill the imaginations of those at the press conference, the presumptions about the proposed 2012 MotoGP rules package were, effectively, put on ice. Will the 1,000cc formula function as an interim until the merger is complete? Was this the intended purpose for the Claiming Rule Teams from the beginning? Surely, no team would want to participate without a proper "partner"?
In a somewhat surprisingly prompt response, InFront Motor Sports issued a release detailing their plans to bring an antitrust lawsuit to the governing bodies in the European Union, claiming that this would be an illegal monopoly. The Flammini brothers have no choice, as there would seem to be no way to keep their refugee talent pool properly motivated in World Superbike. With the addition of CRT's partnering with Formula One teams, the MotoGP grid would likely swell as much as 50%, provoking a mass exodus of the top talent from WSBK.
Both leaders emphasized this is a time for cautious, and patient, optimism. This would seem to be a shrewd move to reduce expenses and increase visibility for both series. Each circus has had to delicately attempt to forecast local demand for their sport by avoiding proximity and viewing conflicts. It has become increasingly difficult for each series to draw substantial attendance when appearing in the same country or venue, even when spaced a half-year apart. This essentially eliminates the competition for loyalties among the fan bases, and encourages each hosting nation to concentrate resources toward establishing a "festival" atmosphere for the 5 days the new circus would be in country. We shall all hope, at least.