MotoGP's Big Problem: Not Enough Cheats Making The Rules
When the Grand Prix Commission met at Brno to officially confirm the replacement of the 125cc class - an 81mm 250cc four-stroke single, provisionally being named Moto3 - it was clear that keeping costs down was right at the top of their agenda. Instead of a spec engine as used in Moto2, the proposal included measures to prevent a horsepower war driving spending on the engines out of control, by requiring that any manufacturer wanting to produce engines for the class must sell the engines for a maximum of 10,000 euros and be prepared to supply at least 15 riders with bikes.
The good news in that announcement is that the Grand Prix Commission is thinking seriously about how to prevent the class once again being dominated by a single manufacturer charging monopoly prices to selected teams for the best bikes. That, at least, is progress, as so many of the recent rule changes have been so clearly open to manipulation, and a first step has been taken to prevent that. The bad news is that as they stand, the suggested solutions are so woefully inadequate for their intended aim that they more likely to encourage manipulation rather than reduce it.
The requirement to supply at least 15 riders sounds very plausible, but just a few seconds' thought shows it to be impossible to police. With 125 grids usually between 28 and 36, similar numbers of riders might be expected for Moto3. If there are 3 manufacturers or more involved in the new class, then the willingness to supply 15 riders becomes a simple mathematical impossibility, and the GP Commission is once again left to judge manufacturers on their intent, rather than their actions. There is good reason to believe that there will be many more than three manufacturers wishing to supply engines to the Moto3 grid: I have personally been approached by two separate manufacturers currently working on a Moto3 engine, and I know of at least one other project currently underway. And these are new projects being set up by manufacturers not involved in MotoGP at the moment: As the current crop of Japanese manufacturers all already have experience building 250cc single-cylinder four-stroke motocross engines, there is every reason to believe that at least one, and probably two or three, will also start building a Moto3 engine.
With the requirement now cut to merely the "willingness" to supply 15 riders, the reality being that some manufacturers will only be able to supply a handful of riders at the very most, the regulation becomes completely unenforceable. The only way of ensuring that a manufacturer will supply 15 riders is by forcing the teams to buy the engines, but without turning Moto3 into another spec engine class like Moto2, this is simply impossible.
Then there's the price. The proposals state the following with respect to cost: "Each engine should last for 3 races minimum and cost not more than 10,000 euros (final cost will be announced)." For a start, 10,000 euros is almost certainly far too little for a high-performance engine capable of matching the performance of a 125c two-stroke. Manufacturers examining the project have said that just the cost of a cylinder head, crankshaft assembly and connecting rod would put the price in the region of 8,000 euros, and that's without crankcases, piston, oil and water pumps, cassette gearbox or any of the other bits and pieces that go towards making a four-stroke engine. A more realistic price, manufacturers say, would be closer to 30,000 euros rather than 10,000.
But whatever the price agreed in the rules, there is still a loophole big enough to drive a coach and horses through. Peter Clifford, former team manager of WCM and currently running the Red Bull Rookies Cup, suggested to me that his first step would be to sell the engines in separate kits. One basic engine costing around 10,000 euros, kicking out a respectable but hardly earth-shattering 50hp, to comply with the rules as set out in the proposal. Then, Clifford suggested, he would would sell a performance kit separately, consisting of toughened crank, lighter rod, slipper piston, heavily reworked head with lighter valves etc etc. This kit would be sold for whatever the market would bear, nearer 100,000 than 10,000 euros, and would boost the power involved to something far more likely to beat the 125cc times. The engines would comply with the letter of the rules, but the spirit would be wide open to abuse once again.
Of course, some kind of claiming rule might be put in place, as has been suggested for the new 1000cc regulations due to come into force in 2012. But given the complete lack of progress on producing a set of rules for claiming engines for the CRT teams, the chances of such a rule being agreed upon before the start of the 2012 season for Moto3 seem very remote indeed.
And this, indeed, is the crux of the matter: In the (admittedly short) years I have know Peter Clifford, he has struck me as an entirely honorable man. Yet within a few hours of the rules being announced, that honorable man had already worked out a couple of ways of getting around the rules as they have currently been presented. Indeed, MotoGP's Technical Director Mike Webb explains that at the start of every season, the team managers drop by his office one by one and apologize for what they are about to inflict upon him, deliberately seeking out the boundaries of the rules as they stand. As we have discussed in depth here before, the more rules that are drawn up, the more loopholes there are to slip through. Rules merely produce cheating at an exponential rate.
For when drawing up the rules, the four bodies concerned - Dorna, the commercial rights holder; the FIM, as the international federation and sanctioning body; IRTA, representing the teams; and the MSMA, as the body representing the manufacturers - assume that the entrants to the class will all act in good faith. The history of racing (or of any professional sport) suggests the polar opposite, with teams, manufacturers, riders all being willing to cheat for as long as they feel they can get away with it. As soon as a rule is announced, the teams are already studying it to see where its weak points are, and how they can exploit that ambiguity to their advantage. While the Grand Prix Commission continues its (admirably) high-minded task of drawing up rules it believes are fair, the actual participants in the sport are already busy trying to cheat.
This, indeed, is the crux of the problem: The rules are drawn up by a group of men - and they are all men - who assume good faith on the part of the participants. The participants, on the other hand, immediately take those rules, and start picking them apart looking for a way of gaining an (unfair or not) advantage over their opponents. MotoGP's rules are drawn up by engineers, managers and politicians, and that leaves the door wide open to the connivers, the finaglers and the card sharps.
If the Grand Prix Commission is committed to cutting costs, the first thing it needs to do is to learn to think like the teams. It needs to hire forensic accountants, tax lawyers, insurance legal briefs, computer hackers and others who are used to picking apart sets of rules and finding the exceptions. It needs to take advice from people whose main aim in life is taking sets of rules apart and finding a way through without being noticed and without getting caught. It needs its own Black Hat panel, a group of poachers-turned-gamekeepers who can help keep the cheating in check. In short, it needs more cheats, to prevent the cheating from getting completely out of hand.
Alternately, the GP Commission needs to stop meeting every couple of races to introduce yet more rules. Once upon a time, rules changed once a decade or so, rather than several times a year, and the rulebook was infinitely slimmer than in its current incarnation. Going back to an open class consisting of a very small number of limitations, instead of a closed class consisting of a very large number of limitations, is simply impossible in the current political climate inside MotoGP. But if the Grand Prix Commission wants to keep introducing more rules, then they desperately need some help in drawing them up. Right now the Road Racing Technical Regulations keep on colliding with the law of unintended consequences. And the unintended consequences keep on winning.