The combination of extremely limited in-season testing for the current MotoGP machines (introduced as part of the cost-cutting measures in response to the global financial crisis) and expanded testing for the 2012 machines, allowing 8 extra test days for the 1000cc machines, was always likely to leave the factories open to accusations of bending the rules. After all, with the differences between the 2011 and 2012 machines being limited by the rule changes put in place (limiting the 1000cc bikes to four cylinders and an 81mm bore), and testing taking place in private, the opportunities for testing the 2011 bikes unseen were all too obvious.
The announcement yesterday that Ducati are due to race a radically revised version of their 800cc Desmosedici GP11 - dubbed the GP11.1 - based on the lessons learned while testing the GP12 has not so much fueled the rumors of cheating as turned them into a five-alarm conflagration. How, journalists and fans (especially those of riders other than Valentino Rossi) from around the world have been asking, can we be sure that Valentino Rossi and Nicky Hayden have been testing the GP12, as allowed, and not the GP11, as prohibited under the rules? And how, other fans have been asking, can we be sure that Casey Stoner has been lapping at Jerez with the RC213V which Honda is planning to race in 2012, and not the RC212V which is currently being raced this year?
The answer comes directly from the horse's mouth. In an email exchange with MotoMatters.com, MotoGP Technical Director Mike Webb has revealed that his office (in charge of ensuring compliance with MotoGP's technical regulations) has been closely monitoring the tests of the 2012 machines. "Actually we had already foreseen the possibility of controversy surrounding 1000cc tests being used for 800s," Webb said, "so the inspector at Ducati's Mugello test was in fact my technical assistant responsible for MotoGP engine sealing and tracking."
Having the man whom Webb describes as "the man in the paddock with most intimate knowledge of what and where each MotoGP engine is" monitoring who was riding which bike and what capacity the bikes the contract riders (in this case, Rossi and Hayden) were riding was Dorna's guarantee that the rules were being respected. The Ducati test was complicated by the fact that while Rossi and Hayden were testing the GP12, Ducati's official test riders Franco Battaini and team boss Vittoriano Guareschi were testing the latest iteration of the GP11, the machine that Rossi is to race at Assen, so to ensure that they were being totally transparent about the test, Ducati invited Webb's assistant into their garage for the full duration of the test. "He stayed there from dawn to dusk every day," Webb told MotoMatters.com, "observing who rode which bike and when. He was given full access to inspect whatever he wanted, with full cooperation from Ducati. This also includes measuring the GP12 engine to confirm that it was not an 800 engine in disguise."
Webb also revealed that his team had been monitoring the Honda tests at Jerez as well. "We had an observer at HRC's 1000cc test as well," Webb said. "But as they were not testing the 800cc Honda at the same time, we relied on visual and aural differences there rather than measuring capacity directly. With no 800s there, there was less chance of confusion between the different bikes."
Perhaps the most interesting detail from Webb's response was that hint of clear "aural" differences between Honda's 1000cc and 800cc machines. The design of the 1000 is believed to be broadly similar to Honda's current 800cc machine, yet Webb's suggestion that it sounds different to the smaller bike raises some very interesting questions. We shall have to wait until the Monday after Mugello before they are answered, however, when the first public test of the 1000cc bikes takes place. Then, it will no longer be possible to hide the sound of the new bikes (the Honda, Ducati and Yamaha are all expected to be there) from the media and the fans.