Opinion

The Numbers Game - Why Rain At Qatar Is More Likely Than You Think

Clouds in the sky at the Losail track before the Qatar MotoGP race

After the rain-soaked debacle of the postponed MotoGP race at Qatar, any MotoGP fan worth his or her salt will be able to recite one statistic by heart: It only rains in Qatar for eight days a year, on average. And so staging a night race under the floodlights there, in the certain knowledge that the race must be canceled if it starts to rain, seems like a pretty safe bet. After all, 8 rain days out of a total of 365 means that there is only a 2.2% chance of the event having to be called off, right?

It seems like an obvious conclusion, but as with so many other conclusions drawn from statistics, it is completely incorrect. Human beings are notoriously bad at math, and this is just a typical instance. Just why this conclusion is incorrect is obvious when viewed logically, so let us look at it in more detail.

The key term to understand here is "average". It may well rain for 8 days a year on average, but that does not mean that those 8 days are spread evenly throughout the year - after all, the average temperature of the Earth is 14º Centigrade, or 57º Fahrenheit, but tell that to someone in Nuuk or Furnace Creek Ranch and they'll laugh in your face.

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The Rookie Rule, A Paper Tiger

 

At a press conference held today at Jerez, FIM president Vito Ippolito and Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta announced a range of rules aimed at two goals: Cutting costs and making the sport more attractive as a spectacle. We have been over the oxymoron of changing rules to cut costs ad nauseam here, so we will not continue to flagellate that particular moribund equine any more than is necessary - and frankly, that horse probably does need a little more flogging, just to make sure it is truly dead. Instead, we shall concentrate on another change, one aimed at helping the private teams in the series.

That rule is of course the ban on new entrants into the series joining factory teams. Under the new rule, any rider eligible for Rookie of the Year - that is, any rider who has not previously been entered as a full-time rider at the start of a MotoGP season - will not be allowed to join a factory team in their first year of MotoGP, and will instead have to serve an apprenticeship at a private or satellite team, before stepping up to the very top step of the very top series. The rule, drawn up at the behest of IRTA, is aimed at helping out the private and satellite teams by giving them a shot at signing the big, marketable names which will help them attract sponsorship.

On paper, this is an excellent idea. In theory, big name entries into MotoGP such as Marco Simoncelli, Alvaro Bautista and Ben Spies would help the private teams find the sponsorship they need so that they can afford to stay in MotoGP. It stops the factory teams from poaching the top talent, and means that the private teams will get the publicity they so badly need, and quite frankly, broadly deserve.

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Kawasaki: Why Flog A Dead Horse, When You Could Revive A Live One?

The latest news/rumor on the Kawasaki front - or perhaps that should be the final nail in Kawasaki's coffin - is that Dorna is attempting to acquire the Kawasaki bikes so that Marco Melandri can race in MotoGP in the 2009 season, as reported by various press sources. Carmelo Ezpeleta is said to be willing to pay for the bikes to run out of his - or rather Dorna's - own pocket, in order to pad out the grid and give it some semblance of credibility.

If this is true - and that's a big if, as one of the sources is Alberto Vergani, Marco Melandri's manager, and Italian riders' managers are about as reliable as Muhammed Saeed al-Sahaf, though they tend to err slightly more often on the side of optimism - then it is both completely puzzling and remarkably short-sighted. If the Kawasaki - or "Dornasaki" as some wags are labeling it - does turn up on the grid, it will be a bike that is likely to start at the back and travel rapidly backwards. As the year progresses, the competition will receive a steady stream of upgrades, improving at each race. And each of these upgrades will leave the Comatose Kawasaki yet another step behind, heaping calumny upon humiliation over the head of the poor rider foolish enough to volunteer to ride the ailing beast.

Any attempt to resurrect Kawasaki will be doomed to failure, with no money for development. The attempt offers nothing to either the team or the rider(s) involved, and is more likely to damage Dorna than anything else, despite allowing the Spanish company to save face. This is surely a rescue better left untried.

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Saving MotoGP Part 3 - Avoiding The Traps Of The Past

Over the past two days, we have examined the causes for MotoGP's current financial difficulties, and seen why most of the suggestions doing the rounds for fixing the situation are likely to do more harm than good. Today, in the final part of our examination of the state of MotoGP, we submit our own proposals which could form the basis for making the sport a great deal cheaper, and getting private teams back into the sport.

As explained in part one of this series, the biggest problem facing the sport is that horsepower, and with it, top speed, has become incredibly expensive. The best way to cut costs, then, is to make horsepower cheap again.

The easiest way of making horsepower cheap is the old-fashioned way, by raising engine capacity. There is no replacement for displacement, the old saying goes, and for years the quick way to more power has been to bore out the cylinders and add the cubic inches. But while an increase of engine capacity to, say, 1200cc would be a big improvement on the current situation, a braver step is necessary.

For under the current rules, the bikes are limited in two different ways: by engine capacity (800cc) and by fuel allowance (21 liters). Both of these factors can be regarded as having the same goal: to limit the energy output of the machinery. But if both factors perform the same function, why not simply drop one of those limits?

Removing the fuel limit might help make the racing more exciting, but it wouldn't help make the bikes any cheaper. Engine design would still chase the limits of what a given capacity is capable of, and with unlimited fuel to play with, that would make the engines even more high-revving and therefore fragile.

Bigger Is Better. Probably.

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Saving MotoGP Part 2 - How To Encourage The Cheats

Yesterday, we examined why MotoGP turned into the bottomless pit which swallows money, and looked at the mistakes which made this result inevitable. Today, we'll be examining the suggestions being put forward to fix the situation, and get spending in MotoGP back under control, and picking them apart looking for flaws in their logic.

The proposals being put forward come from all around the motorcycle racing world, from seasoned veterans and respected thinkers in major media outlets, to the purest of noobs in every racing corner of every motorcycle discussion board around the internet. The ideas vary from the brilliant to the absurd, with all shades in between. But there are a few common themes which keep reoccurring, and which need to be looked at more closely.

The most common proposal for reducing costs is to limit the role of electronics. There may be a lot of good reasons for wanting to do this - to give more control back to the rider, for a start - but the one thing this suggestion will not do is reduce costs.

For the reason that it won't cut costs, look no further than the lessons of reducing engine capacity to 800cc. Beyond the practical difficulties of limiting electronics, the teams would simply spend more time looking for ways to circumvent the spirit of the law, while balancing on a razor's edge on the right side of the letter of the law.

The Workaround

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Saving MotoGP Part 1 - Why Is MotoGP So Expensive?

Motorsports worldwide have taken a pounding over the past few weeks: first, there was the announcement that Honda were pulling out of Formula 1 with immediate effect; then came statements from Subaru and Suzuki announcing that both manufacturers were pulling out of the World Rally Championship; in the US, American Honda announced that they would not be fielding a factory team in the AMA Superbike championship; and finally, over the holiday period came the bombshell of Kawasaki's withdrawal from MotoGP.

So how did we get here, and more importantly, what can we do about it? Over the next three days, we'll be examining the state of MotoGP, and asking why it turned out to be so hideously expensive. We'll also be studying the likely effects of the most common suggestions being made around the world, and asking how effective these proposals will be. And finally, we'll be making some proposals of our own, which we feel neatly sidestep the pitfalls which have brought MotoGP to its current, parlous state.

Firstly the question of how MotoGP, and motorsports got into this state in the first place. The main, and most obvious culprit is the global financial crisis, which has hit the car and motorcycle sector particularly hard in the second half of 2008. With sales plummeting and the banks only willing to lend money to them at exorbitant interest, the manufacturers are being forced to examine their activities with an almost pathological attention to detail for areas where they can cut costs.

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The Gathering Storm Over Tires

There's an old saying, that goes "Be careful what you wish for, you may receive it." Ever since the introduction of the restrictions on tires - introduced rather foolishly at the same time as the 800cc rule, breaking the engineer's golden rule of only changing one variable at a time - complaining about how tires have come to dominate racing has taken on epic proportions. Fans complained that the racing had become boring, riders complained that they were left powerless to compete if they were given the wrong tires or the tire companies got it wrong, and sponsors muttered that they were unhappy pouring money into teams who would be invisible all weekend because of a simple hoop of not-so-sticky rubber.

After a false start last year, the baying crowd were finally given what they wanted three weeks ago at Motegi: Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta announced that in 2009, the MotoGP series would have only a single tire manufacturer, and that he was open to bids for the contract from tire companies.

What happened next completely altered the balance of power: Michelin, knowing that it stood no chance of actually getting the contract, as any result other than Bridgestone would have caused a bombshell of tactical nuclear warhead proportions to go off in the paddock, threw Dorna a curve ball, and decided not to submit a bid. With Bridgestone the only company to have submitted a proposal, the deal was theirs.

But this leaves Dorna with a problem. They too knew that realistically, Bridgestone was the only option, but had hoped to use the bid from Michelin as a stick to beat Bridgestone with to get more favorable conditions. With Michelin declining to play ball, Dorna is now stuck, forced to accept whatever deal Bridgestone offers them, their leverage removed by Michelin's very clever, and very spiteful move.

The Bells! The Bells!

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Five Different Champions, Five Different Machines

Over the past few weeks, it seems as if almost the entire world has been wallowing in doom and gloom. The world's financial system is being shaken to its core, jobs are disappearing all around the world, and Conquest, War, Famine and Death stalk the face of the planet.

Even in the cosy corner of the world occupied by reckless young men and improbably fast motorcycles, things have not been well. The motorcycling press, including this website, has been filled with stories of the end of motorcycle racing as we know it. MotoGP has gone to a single tire, the 250 class is set to disappear and World Superbikes is likely to start banning technology already available on the street bikes the class is based on. Even the two-wheeled world seems to have boarded the handbasket and set course for Hades.

So it behoves us to stand still for a moment to mark a significant fact. Of the five global road race championships which are contested at the behest of the FIM, all have been (or will be) won aboard a different brand of motorcycle. Valentino Rossi wrapped up the MotoGP title aboard his Yamaha M1, while Mike di Meglio clinched the 125cc title on a Derbi. In the World Superbike series, Troy Bayliss took his third World Superbike title on his third different Ducati, and in the World Supersport series, Andrew Pitt prolonged Ten Kate's dominance snatching the title on a Honda. The only title still left open, in the 250cc world championship, will go to either Marco Simoncelli on a Gilera, or if Simoncelli makes a serious mistake, Alvaro Bautista on an Aprilia.

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Please, no more "spec" talk!

For those fans of MotoGP who aren't properly afraid of Dorna's desire to imitate Formula One, rather than maintain a superior product, perhaps this news tidbit will shed some light on the road we have feared all along.

Now that Formula One already have spec-tires and spec-ECU's, and now that Dorna are seeking to establish both in MotoGP, this haunting promise/threat was issued from the Great Fiasco Machine himself, Max Mosely (speaking of a spec-engine formula, where "manufacturers" simply "re-badge" a spec powerplant, and presumably KERS is no longer life-threatening):

"I know there are those who say this is not the right move, but I'm talking about the real world. If Volkswagen, say, can buy a {road car} engine less expensively {than to build one}, they'll undoubtedly do it. After they put a VW badge on it, it's all the same. Unless we think very seriously about cutting costs, in the next 10 years, we'll be in trouble."

Considering that I proposed something akin to this a year ago for MotoGP - as a joke - I wonder why Mr. SS thinks people will pay to see a world-wide spec series any more than they didn't to see a U.S. one. 

Please, Mr. Ezpeleta, see this path for the foolishness that it is and quit now while you are still ahead!

 

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