With the MotoGP paddock once again assembled for the start of the season at Qatar, the four organizations who make up the Grand Prix Commission, MotoGP's rulemaking body, took the opportunity to meet and discuss and adopt a number of rule changes. The rules cover a number of areas, including testing for all three classes, the 2014 technical rules for MotoGP, and further steps to control the real cost of engines in Moto3.
The most significant part of the press release is perhaps also the least obvious. The GPC confirmed the 2014 technical regulations previously agreed upon, after Dorna received assurances - and detailed proposals - that the manufacturers were prepared to supply private teams with affordable machinery. The news that Yamaha has agreed to lease engines to teams was the final piece in the puzzle which ensured that the rule package for 2014 would be adopted. Honda had previously agreed to build a customer version of their RC213V machine, five of which they will supply to private teams, and with Yamaha supplying four engines for lease - or more likely, a package including a Yamaha engine in a Yamaha-inspired chassis built by FTR - the grid will have at least twelve prototypes, nine MSMA-supplied privateer machines, and three other bikes, two of which could be factory Suzukis. Ducati has not been asked to supply privateer teams, unsurprising given the fact that the Italian factory is the smallest manufacturer by a very, very long way, and designing and building a separate engine or bike for customer teams is simply beyond their resources.
The Philip Morris-sponsored Wrooom event is not just the event at which Ducati launches its MotoGP season, it has become the de facto kick off to the MotoGP season as a whole. With an important section of the international media present, Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta inevitably seizes the opportunity to talk to the press about his view of the season ahead, and where necessary, of the future beyond that.
This year was little different. Ezpeleta spoke to the media ahead of the presentation by Ducati Corse boss Bernhard Gobmeier, and answered questions from a number of media outlets separately, answering questions on the future of both MotoGP and World Superbikes. From his statements, a picture of Dorna's vision for the two series starts to emerge: the future of world championship motorcycle racing is to be price-limited, with more support for the current teams, and factories holding a stake in both series, in exchange for keeping a lid on costs. The calendars of both series would come under scrutiny, with MotoGP heading to South America in 2014, and both series only racing at circuits willing to pay a sanctioning fee which would cover the cost of the logistics to get there.
Since the global financial crisis struck back in 2008, MotoGP's primary focus has been on cutting costs. These efforts have met with varying success - sometimes reducing costs over the long term, after a short term increase, sometimes having no discernible impact whatsoever - and as a result, the grids in all three classes are filling up again. Further changes are afoot - chiefly, the promise by Honda and Yamaha to supply cheaper machinery to private teams, either in the form of production racers, such as Honda's RC213V clone, or Yamaha's offer to lease engines to chassis builders - but there is a limit to how much can be achieved by cutting costs. What is really needed is for the series to raise its revenues, something which the series has signally failed to do.
In truth, the series has never really recovered from the loss of tobacco sponsorship, something for which it should have been prepared, given that it had had many years' warning of the ruling finally being applied. The underlying problem was that the raising of sponsorship had been outsourced and the marketing of the series had been outsourced to a large degree to the tobacco companies, and once they left - with the honorable, if confusing, exception of Philip Morris - those skills disappeared with them. There was nobody left to try to increase the amount of money coming into the sport.
After an almost interminable period of discussions and debate, agreement has at last been reached over the technical regulations to be applied in MotoGP for the 2014 onwards. The agreement has been a compromise, with both sides of the argument being given something to satisfy them.
The new rules see the introduction of a compulsory spec ECU and datalogger, and the ECU now acts as a divide between the two classes of teams in the paddock. MSMA members will be allowed to use their own software for the spec ECU, but the punishment for doing so will be a reduction in the fuel limit from 21 to 20 liters for a race. Teams electing to use the spec software supplied by Dorna will be allowed 24 liters. The MSMA members will also be limited to 5 engines a season, while the rest will be allowed 12 engines. The reduction in fuel and engines was made at the request of the factories, to give themselves an engineering challenge to conquer.
An engine development freeze was also announced, preventing engine development during each season, and in addition, the bore and stroke of the MotoGP machines will be fixed for three seasons, from 2013 to 2015.
This may very well turn out to be the biggest week in MotoGP since the decision to replace the two stroke 500s with large capacity four stroke machines. This week, Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta is set to have meetings with each of the MSMA members at Motegi, to hammer out once and for all the technical basis for the 2014 season. If they succeed, the ground will be laid for a set of technical regulations which can remain stable for the long term, the goal being at least five years. If they fail, then one or more manufacturers could leave the series, reducing the number of factory bikes on the grid and potentially removing two of MotoGP's top riders from the grid. There is much at stake.
So much, in fact, that neither side looks prepared to back down. On the one side is Dorna, who see the costs of the championship spiraling out of control thanks to the increasing sophistication of the electronics, and the racing growing ever more clinical as fewer and fewer riders are capable of mastering the machines these electronics control. On the other side are the factories, for whom MotoGP, with its fuel-limited format, provides an ideal laboratory for developing electronic control systems which filter through into their consumer products and serves as a training ground for their best engineers. Dorna demands a spec ECU to control costs; the factories, amalgamated in the MSMA, demand the ability to develop software strategies through the use of unrestricted electronics. The two perspectives are irreconcilable, at the most fundamental level.
MotoGP Rule Changes As Expected: Rookie Rule, Single-Bike Scrapped, But Restrictions On Factory Bikes Introduced
Much was expected of this Friday's meeting of the Grand Prix Commission, but in the end, the decisions taken were relatively minor. Dorna, IRTA, the FIM and the MSMA agreed on a number of proposals which had widely been expected, but made no real progress on the major rule changes expected for the 2014 or 2015 season.
The rule change with the biggest immediate impact was the dropping of the Rookie Rule, as we reported during the Silverstone round of MotoGP. The dropping of the Rookie Rule, which prevents new entries into the MotoGP class from going straight to a factory team, opens the way for Marc Marquez to join the factory Repsol Honda team next season. Contrary to popular opinion, however, the rule was not dropped at the request of HRC, but rather of the Honda satellite teams themselves, both Lucio Cecchinello and Fausto Gresini fearing the disruption that Marquez would bring for just a single year.
While the Rookie Rule was scrapped, a couple of other proposals which had been feared were also dropped. The MSMA proposal to go to a single bike - as is the case in Moto2, Moto3 and WSBK - was dropped after opposition from the teams. A proposal to ban the use of carbon brakes was also dropped, especially after pressure on Brembo and Nissin elicited promises to examine the price structure of their products.
The Honda press office issued the following press release, reporting on the awarding of Best Grand Prix of 2011 to Mugello:
Magnificent Mugello takes IRTA Best Grand Prix Honours
Never in the history of the prestigious IRTA ‘Best Grand Prix' has a track won five times. Never has a track won in three different decades. But never has there been a track like the Mugello Circuit, the magnificent Tuscan venue north of Florence, which has been honoured as the winner of the 2011 IRTA Best Grand Prix.
The key to Mugello's success is that it strives to be the best. The track has made continuous improvements every year since 1995 when it won the first of three consecutive awards, a feat no other track has accomplished. The fourth award came in the Millennium year of 2000, with this year's fifth prize early in the new decade. And it certainly won't be the last. Following the successful running of this year's race the track signed a contract with Dorna to continue to host a round of the world championship through 2016.
MotoGP's rule-making body, the Grand Prix Commission, adopted a number of changes to the MotoGP rules in a meeting on Wednesday. As expected, the testing restrictions were dropped, now to be limited by tire allocation. Other changes adopted include an increase in the minimum weight, the introduction of rear-facing red lights to be carried in wet conditions, a slight tweak to the 107% qualifying minimum time, and explicitly granting authority to impose penalties on event organizers. The GPC also considered the entry list for the 2012 MotoGP season, and accepted 9 CRT entries, along with 1 reserve CRT entry.
The introduction of the Claiming Rule Teams has caused a massive wave of confusion among MotoGP fans, and left then with a host of questions. Below, we attempt to answer most of the questions that race fans have about this new category of bikes, as well as addressing how it came to be created in the first place.
What on earth is a CRT?
CRT stands for Claiming Rule Team, and is a new category of entry in the MotoGP class. They will run alongside the normal factory and satellite MotoGP bikes (now officially classified as "factory prototypes" regardless of whether they are being run in a factory team or a satellite team), and be subject to slightly different rules.
What are the rule differences between the CRTs and the factory prototypes?
The CRT entries will be allowed more fuel and more engines: while factory prototypes will have 21 liters of fuel and be allowed to use 6 engines in 2012 (just as in 2011), the CRT entries will be given 24 liters of fuel to last a race, and have 12 engines for the 2012 season. Because of these advantages, existing manufacturers (Honda, Yamaha or Ducati) will be allowed to claim engines from CRT entries.
What does "claiming an engine" mean and how does it work?
The testing limits imposed as a cost-cutting measure in MotoGP have finally been lifted. At the meeting of the Grand Prix Commission in Valencia, MotoGP's rule-making body dropped the rules limiting testing to non-contracted riders outside of MotoGP's official tests, and allowed contracted riders (e.g. any rider currently racing in MotoGP) to ride the bikes at private tests. The GPC accepted the argument put forward by Ducati that testing is already limited by the number of tires available, and that restricting testing to test riders did little to cut costs, as the factory riders were being paid anyway.
That argument was not shared by all the members of the MSMA, though. When asked by MotoMatters.com at Valencia about lifting the test ban, HRC Vice President Shuhei Nakamoto said that the measure would favor European manufacturers who have their bikes, crew and riders already close to the track. For the Japanese manufacturers, they would either have to fly their team personnel and riders to Japan, or their bikes, equipment and Japanese engineers to Europe if they wish to test at European tracks. Lifting the test ban would not cut costs for Honda, Nakamoto said.
In part 1 of this series, we discussed the new 1000cc rules for 2012, especially those for the so-called Claiming Rule Teams, the privateer teams which will be allowed to use engines from production bikes if they so wish. In part 2, we discussed Infront Motor Sports' objections to those new rules as organizers of the World Superbike series, and why their objections are likely to fail. In part 3, we turn our attention to the reasoning behind these new rules, the politics which surround them, and the circumstances which have served to put the changes into high gear.
Carmelo Ezpeleta, CEO of Dorna, is one of the most vilified men among many fans of MotoGP. He is blamed for the many changes that have altered the face of MotoGP, not least for killing off the 990s and bringing in the 800s, which have robbed the sport of so much of its spectacle. Ezpeleta gets the blame for each new rule change, charged with fiddling while Rome burns.
The saga of the CRT teams continues to drag on. The full list of accepted entries was due to be published at last weekend's Barcelona MotoGP round, but last-minute haggling over rule changes has held back the announcement. More meetings were held over the Silverstone weekend, with the factories (assembled in the MSMA) meeting with Dorna on Thursday, and Dorna and IRTA meeting on Friday to discuss the outcome, leading to publication of the entry list being held back until coming Wednesday, June 15th.
The long-awaited list of entries for the MotoGP class in 2012 has been delayed. The list of new entries to the class was expected to be released at the Catalunya MotoGP round, but the list has been delayed while the MSMA, Dorna and IRTA are discussing a clarification to the claiming rule.
The problem was raised by a number of the teams who have submitted an entry. Speaking to MotoMatters.com, IRTA General Secretary Mike Trimby explained that the problems revolve around the price and the status of the engines used by the claiming rule teams. The factories are allowed to claim engines used by the Claiming Rule Teams for a price of 20,000 euros, but the new teams applying for CRT status have raised two objections to this issue.
The first is that in many cases, the simple material costs in a CRT engine exceed the 20,000 euro price tag paid by the factories, irrespective of the R&D costs involved. Just buying or producing the parts to replace the engine would cost more than the team would have received from the factory doing the claiming.
The other problem is that some teams will not actually own the engines they are using. Some teams will be leasing engines from engine builders, and therefore will simply not have the legal right to sell the engine.
If the changes to the 2012 MotoGP regulations were aimed at filling out the grid, then they appear to have succeeded. Today, the FIM released the numbers of teams who had put in for a provisional entry for the 2012 season. The numbers were very promising: 16 teams entered, of which 14 were accepted, representing a total of 21 riders.
As in the Moto2 class, the number of entries actually accepted will be much smaller. The ideal grid size, as both Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta and IRTA staff have confirmed, is around 24 bikes. But with the total commitment of the current factories likely to remain somewhere between 14 and 16 bikes (6 Hondas, 4 Yamahas and probably 5 Ducatis), getting an additional 8 to 10 bikes on the grid from the current entry list should be perfectly feasible.
Though no names or details were issued of exactly who the entries are, MotoMatters.com has learned that most of the entires have come from top teams in the Moto2 class. This comes as no surprise, as indeed, this was the very purpose of the Moto2 class, to groom teams for entry into MotoGP. The final list of accepted teams will be made public at Le Mans.
Below is the text of the FIM press release:
MotoGP Class Applications for 2012 Season
With all of the media interest that Valentino Rossi's switch to Ducati has generated, the biggest change to the MotoGP series since the introduction of the four-strokes in 2002 is going largely unnoticed. The switch back to 1000cc machines is proceeding quietly apace, however, with the factories working towards rolling out their 2012 MotoGP bikes over the next few weeks - Ducati is due to test their 2012 bike at Jerez some time this week - prior to the first official outing for the machines at Mugello on July 4th, the day after the Italian Grand Prix.
But factories building new versions of their MotoGP bikes hardly counts as revolutionary. The real revolution comes with the introduction of the Claiming Rule Teams, who will be allowed extra fuel, extra engines and be allowed to base those engines around motors taken from production machinery. (For more details on both the rules and the politics, see the first two parts of our ongoing series on the 2012 rules here: part 1, the rules, and part 2, WSBK vs MotoGP).