After a week of debate and discussion, the Grand Prix Commission has finally reached an agreement on the Factory 2 class. It took many hours of phone calls, and full agreement was not reached until late on Monday afternoon, but the agreement contains some significant changes to the long-term future of the MotoGP championship. The Factory 2 proposal has been adopted in a slightly modified guise, with any manufacturer entering in the Open class liable to lose fuel and soft tires should they win races. But the bigger news is that the full MotoGP class will switch to use the spec software and ECU from the 2016 season, a year earlier than expected.
The proposals adopted by the GPC now lays out a plan for MotoGP moving forward to 2016. In 2014 and 2015, there will be only two categories - Open and Factory Option - with the set of rules agreed at the end of last year. The new proposal sees manufacturers without a dry weather win in three years to compete as Factory Option entries, but with all of the advantages of the Open class - more fuel, more tires, no engine freeze and unlimited testing. However, should they start to achieve success, they will start to lose first fuel, and then the soft tires. If Ducati - for it is mainly Ducati to which these rules apply, as they are currently the only manufacturer who are eligible at the moment - score 1 win, 2 second place finishes or 3 third places during dry races, then all bikes entered by Ducati will have their fuel cut from 24 to 22 liters for each race. Should Ducati win 3 races in the dry, they will also lose use of the softer rear tires which the Open category entries can use. If Ducati were to lose the extra fuel or tires during 2014, they would also have to race under the same conditions in 2015.
The concession is similar to that made for Suzuki after the engine durability rules were first introduced. Suzuki was struggling to last a season with just the 6 engines allowed at the time (now reduced to 5). As Suzuki had not won a dry race for several years, an exception was made for any manufacturer who had remained winless to use more engines. This is that principle, applied in reverse. Ducati is allowed to effectively run under Open category rules, to allow them to develop their engines, but once they catch up, they will be subject to an extra limitation, first of fuel, then of tires. The loss of fuel and tires will be applied and judged per manufacturer. In other words, if Andrea Dovizioso, Cal Crutchlow and Andrea Iannone achieve the 2 second places or 3 thirds between them, then they will all be subject to restrictions.
With Ducati now back as a Factory Option entry (but with the advantages of the Open category) they are once again free to use their own software, but with the extra fuel allowance of the Open category. This advantage will be offset if they are too successful, by the reduction to 22 liters of fuel. At Ducati's MotoGP launch in Munich last week, Gigi Dall'Igna had told the media that he believed 22.5 liters could prove to be a disadvantage at some tracks using the championship software. Even the latest, 2014 version would not allow them enough control to manage on that little fuel. Now, running their own software, they can manage less fuel. It also means that the Open entries will all be on the same, less complex 2013 software which they had been using throughout testing. The rule change also allows Suzuki to return as a Factory Option entry in 2015, and yet still enjoy the same benefits as the Open teams.
The much bigger announcement made in the FIM press release was that the introduction of spec software has been both approved and brought forward a year, to 2016. That spec software would be proposed was well known, as Dorna has made it clear that this was the path they wanted the championship to head down for the past four years. Carmelo Ezpeleta had tried to push the GPC to accept spec software at the time of the switch to 1000cc, at the start of the 2012 season. The factories rejected that idea, however, and Dorna introduced the CRT category instead, to help fill the grids which had dwindled to just 17 full time entries. The switch to a single ECU for the 2014 season helped persuade Ducati to make the switch to the new Open class, but the Japanese factories - and especially Honda - resisted any attempt to impose the spec championship software on all entries. HRC boss Shuhei Nakamoto had threatened multiple times that Honda would pull out of MotoGP if the spec software were to be adopted.
Whether HRC has changed its position or not remains to be seen, but as the GPC proposal was adopted unanimously, it means that at least two of the three manufacturers in MotoGP approved adopting the spec software a year earlier than projected, starting in 2016, rather than a year later, when the current contracts between Dorna and the MSMA factories all expire. What could have persuaded the MSMA to accept the spec software proposal was the way the software is to be handled. All of the factories competing in MotoGP will have an input on the development on software, and be able to monitor progress. This could allow factories to still pursue some R&D goals indirectly with electronics, rather than being excluded altogether.
This does raise the prospect of software becoming too complex, but Dorna will be gambling on two things. Firstly, that as all code is visible to all of the manufacturers, no factory will introduce its most complex and advanced ideas, for fear of other factories copying the concept in their own road bikes. And secondly, because Dorna still controls exactly what actually goes into the software, they will still be able to reject ideas which they believe could drive costs up too much for private teams.
The question is, whether this agreement is the end point for discussions on the championship software for MotoGP, or whether this is a point along the road. In extensive discussions with key stakeholders in the rulemaking process, MotoMatters.com has been told many times that the final goal for Dorna and IRTA is to have a rev limit in place, and software which is simple enough for privateer teams to be able to learn quickly and use properly. Getting all entries to use the championship software means that it will become possible to enforce a rev limit simply and quickly. Reducing the complexity of the software could be a process which takes several years to accomplish.
The real victory of the agreement is that from 2016, MotoGP will have a single set of rules again. There will be one category, with everyone running under the same rules: spec software, 24 liters of fuel, 12 engines. As of 2014, the extra bike in Parc Ferme will disappear, the best Open bike only appearing in Parc Ferme if it gets onto the front row during qualifying or the podium during the race. From 2016, that question won't even be asked, as there will only be a single, MotoGP class again.
The full text of the press release from the FIM appears below:
FIM Road Racing World Championship Grand Prix
Decision of the Grand Prix Commission
The Grand Prix Commission, composed of Messrs. Carmelo Ezpeleta (Dorna, Chairman), Ignacio Verneda (FIM Executive Director, Sport), Herve Poncharal (IRTA) and Takanao Tsubouchi (MSMA), in an electronic meeting held on 18 March 2014 in Qatar, unanimously approved the following matters concerning the MotoGP class.
The Championship ECU and software will be mandatory for all entries with effect from 2016.
All current and prospective participants in the MotoGP class will collaborate to assist with the design and development of the Championship ECU software.
During the development of the software a closed user web site will be set up to enable participants to monitor software development and to input their suggested modifications.
With immediate effect, a Manufacturer with entries under the factory option who has not achieved a win in dry conditions in the previous year, or new Manufacturer entering the Championship, is entitled to use 12 engines per rider per season (no design freezing), 24 litres of fuel and the same tyres allocation and testing opportunities as the Open category. This concession is valid until the start of the 2016 season.
The above concessions will be reduced under the following circumstances:
Should any rider, or combination of riders nominated by the same Manufacturer, participating under the conditions of described in clause 2 above, achieve a race win, two second places or three podium places in dry conditions during the 2014 season then for that Manufacturer the fuel tank capacity will be reduced to 22 litres. Furthermore, should the same Manufacturer achieve three race wins in the 2014 season the manufacturer would also lose the right to use the soft tyres available to Open category entries.
In each case the reduced concessions will apply to the remaining events of the 2014 season and the whole of the 2015 season.