How The Claiming Rule Teams Will Make A Mockery Of The Engine Restrictions
There are many who hope and believe that admitting production engines in prototype chassis into the MotoGP will be the saving of the series. Finally, there could be a way for privateer outfits to build and race machinery on a more or less equitable footing with the factory teams.
To ensure that a balance is kept between the manufacturers and the privateer teams, the inclusion of so-called Claiming Rule Teams has been announced from 2012. Under the new rules, engine capacity rises to 1000cc, but but bore size is limited to 81mm, and the number of cylinders restricted to a maximum of four for both factory and CRT teams.
The big difference, though, is in the amount of fuel and the number of engines the factory and CRT teams will be allowed. While factory teams will still be restricted to 21 liters of fuel for each race and six engines per season, as is the case with the current regulations, CRT teams will be allowed 24 liters of fuel per race, and twelve engines to last the season.
The thinking behind both of these rules is sensible, and aimed at keeping costs low. By allowing the CRT teams three extra liters of fuel, the teams will not have to spend so much time and money on eking out the maximum performance from the allotted gasoline. And by giving the CRT teams twice as many engines, the privateer efforts will neither need to spend huge amounts on R&D in order to get the mileage from the engines, nor feel required to throw a new engine at every race weekend, to maximize performance.
But it is precisely this engine limitation which opens up the door for exploitation by clever - or devious, if you prefer - CRT teams. So far, only the engine and fuel limits have been announced for the CRT teams, as well as the definition of what a CRT team is (in short, a CRT team is whoever the GP Commission decides is a CRT team, to prevent factories such as BMW and Aprilia entering under false pretenses). The only other principle behind the CRT teams is that one CRT team will be allowed to buy the engine from another CRT team for a fixed - and relatively low - price.
The idea is to prevent CRT teams pouring millions into engine development if the competition is to be allowed to purchase it at an expected price of between 50,000 and 75,000 euros. However, because only the idea of a claiming rule (under which the CRT team could purchase another CRT team's engine) has been announced, there is room for exploitation. Allow me to paint a few scenarios for you that make clear the problems with the CRT rules.
The CRT teams are allowed twelve engines for a season, but clearly, those rules are meant to cover engine durability only, and not other situations. The problem - or opportunity, if you will - for CRT teams is that engines can be lost in two ways: by being withdrawn from the allocation after the engine has given its best, or suffered some form of mechanical problem; but engines can also be lost to another CRT team, who can claim it under the rules.
Clearly, engines claimed by other CRT teams should not be counted against the allocation. Otherwise, all a CRT team would have to do is to claim a rival team's engine at each race to gain an advantage. If team A is being beaten by team B, then team A could simply claim team B's engine after every race. After the 12th race, team B would have to use a 13th engine, and would have to start the next race from pit lane 10 seconds behind the rest of the field, as specified in the current MotoGP regulations.
Team B is effectively ruled out of competition for the last 6 races of the year, and though the price may have been high for team A (claiming 17 engines would cost in the region of a million euros), that may be cheaper than putting in the work to develop the engine themselves.
The alternative, then, is for claimed engines not to count against engine allocations, but this immediately opens up the door to a form of gaming the system which resembles the classic game theory case of Prisoner's Dilemma. For if claimed engines do not count against engine allocations, then a claimed engine is basically a free, fresh engine for the team whose engine has been claimed. Consider the following scenario for two claiming rule teams:
After the first race of the 2012 season, CRT team A goes along to race direction to claim the engine of CRT team B. They pay their claiming fee, which is then passed on to CRT team B. CRT team B is allowed to take a brand new engine from the second race of the season, and still has all of their 12 engine allocation under the rules.
Simultaneously, team B goes along to race direction, and claims the engine from team A. They pay the claiming fee - which they have just received from team A, after team A claimed team B's engine - and receive the engine from team A. Team A also gets a free engine, the claimed engine not being taken from the engine allocation, in accordance with the rules.
What has basically happened here is that two team managers have colluded to avoid the engine restrictions, and it hasn't cost them a penny. The money that Team A used to pay Team B for their engine was returned when Team B claimed Team A's engine. What's more, both teams still have a full complement of engines, as the claimed engines - despite their state, whether they are still producing power or pouring smoke and on the verge of demise - have now been shelved, and both teams may now take a brand new engine without losing it from their engine allocation.
Clearly the rules are being broken in spirit, and yet both teams are acting within the letter of the law. Any attempt to prevent such a behavior will have to show intent, a perilous business at the best of times, and subject to lengthy and expensive legal wrangling at the worst. The CRT teams can make a mockery of the engine limits, at little or no cost to themselves. Such bending of the rules might even be the difference between scrapping over the position of best non-factory team, and beating the manufacturers at their own game.
Of course, this is all just speculation on what might happen under a given set of rules. But it shows quite clearly how dangerous it can be to draw up a set of regulations without fully thinking through all of the consequences. As magnificent a body as the GP Commission is, and as wise as it has so often been in the past, it has also been known to miss out some of the deeper consequences of the rules it introduces. This looks like being just such a case.