The COVID-19 pandemic has complicated motorcycle racing in many different ways, some quite unexpected. To address some of those complications, the Grand Prix Commission, MotoGP's rulemaking body, agreed a number of exceptions to the rules for the 2020 season, concerning wildcards, concerning concession points, and concerning engine development.
Engine development had already been frozen in response to the coronavirus crisis. In part as a cost-cutting measure, and in part because the European manufacturers had had their factories closed, all six MSMA members agreed to halt engine development and use the engines they were due to homologate for the 2020 season for the start of the 2021 season.
That was a good move for most factories, but it put Aprilia, who had just designed and built a brand new 90°V engine, in a difficult situation. After such a major redesign, Aprilia were left with a lot of unknowns with the RS-GP engine, not least reliability. At the Sepang and Qatar tests, there were signs that the still young engine was still suffering a number of teething problems.
Consequently, the MSMA and the GPC agreed to allow the factories with concessions - factories which have not scored sufficient podiums in the past two seasons - continue developing their engines until June 29th of this year. That will allow KTM and Aprilia to continue to work on their engines for another two months.
This is particularly important for Aprilia, who wanted to run reliability tests on the dyno, to address the issues which arose during the MotoGP tests in February and March this year.
The system of concessions is an added headache during the pandemic. The system, which allows less successful factories to change and develop their engines during the season, and to do unlimited testing, is based on results achieved in the past two seasons. If a factory with concessions scores six concession points (accrued by scoring podiums), then they lose those concessions, and lose the right to testing and engine development.
However, the rules also say that if a manufacturer scores no concession points (i.e. is not on the podium) for an entire season, then they are given the right to concessions. In a normal, 19- or 20-race season, that is a good measure of where a manufacturer stands. But in 2020, with a shortened season and currently an unknown number of races on the calendar, it could be possible for an otherwise successful factory to be granted concessions with a couple of poor performances.
If, for example, there is another spike in COVID-19 cases after the two races to be held at Jerez, and racing becomes possible once again, then those results could determine who gets concessions. If no Ducati were to end up on the podium in either race, then Ducati would get concessions, despite the fact that Andrea Dovizioso has finished second in the championship for the past three seasons. Even more absurdly, if Yamaha were to take a clean sweep of the podium in both Jerez races, then the other five factories would all be granted concessions, while Yamaha would be stuck with limited testing and an engine freeze in 2021.
To address this potential anomaly, no manufacturers will be granted concessions at the end of the 2020 season. It will be possible to accumulate concession points which will carry over for the next two seasons by scoring podiums in 2020, but if a factory does not get on the podium in 2020, they will not be given concessions.
The final announcement made concerned wildcards. News of this had been circulating for a few days, but with any racing this year almost certain to be done completely behind closed doors, with no fans, media, guests, or VIPs present, then allowing in extra engineers and mechanics, along with riders as wildcards, was deemed to pose an unnecessary risk and an unnecessary complication. It could also complicate negotiations with local and national health authorities over the safety of holding events.
The dropping of wildcards means that Jorge Lorenzo will not race for Yamaha at Barcelona, as he had originally planned. It also means that test riders such as Sylvain Guintoli, Stefan Bradl, Michele Pirro, and Mika Kallio will not race as wildcards for their respective factories.
Whether Bradley Smith races in 2020 remains to be seen, as the Englishman is still due to step up to take the place of Andrea Iannone, should the Italian still be suspended when racing resumes. If Iannone's appeal to the CAS is successful, and he is allowed to race in 2020, then Smith will not be allowed to race for Aprilia as a wildcard.
The FIM press release from the Grand Prix Commission appears below:
FIM Grand Prix World Championship
Decision of the Grand Prix Commission
The Grand Prix Commission, composed of Messrs. Carmelo Ezpeleta (Dorna, Chairman), Paul Duparc (FIM), Hervé Poncharal (IRTA) and Takanao Tsubouchi (MSMA), in electronic meetings held on 30 April and 7 May 2020, made the following decisions which are all consequent on the impact of the coronavirus epidemic:
CONCESSION POINTS – MotoGP CLASS MANUFACTURERS
One consequence of the reduced number of events in 2020 meant it was possible for a non-concession manufacturer to gain concessions for 2021 based on results in just a few races. To address this issue the Commission agreed the following change to the regulations:
During the 2020 season concessions can only be lost, but not gained.
Current regulations apply to the timing of the loss of concessions.
All concession points gained during the 2020 by concession manufacturers will continue to have a 2-year validity.
ENGINE HOMOLOGATION – MotoGP CLASS MANUFACTURERS WITH CONCESSIONS
The GPC has decided that homologation of 2020/21 engine specifications for MotoGP class manufactures who benefit from concessions can be postponed. This means that KTM and Aprilia are now required to supply sample engines to the Technical Director by the deadline of 29th. June 2020.
WILD CARD ENTRIES – ALL CLASSES
The likelihood of any events in 2020 needing to be held behind closed doors means that it is necessary to keep participant numbers to the absolute minimum. It is also important to allow optimum utilisation of pit box space by the contracted teams.
The Commission have therefore decided that wild card entries, in all classes, will be suspended for the 2020 season. This decision was also in line with cost reduction policies for MotoGP Class manufacturers. There is every intention to restore wild card entries in 2021 but this decision will be reviewed prior to the 2021 season.
A regularly updated version of the FIM Grand Prix Regulations which contains the detailed text of the regulation changes may be viewed shortly on: