Spec ECU Again?
The renewed suggestion from Carmelo Ezpeleta, that a spec-ECU needs to be forced onto the manufacturers, has crossed over from "concerning" to insulting, disturbing, and offensive. For some background on my opinion, I'd like to refer you to my thoughts at the beginning of the year.
The pervasive or ubiquitous use of the phrase "traction control", when speaking of a problem with the quality of MotoGP racing, is a red herring, at best. Second only to the even more nebulous "electronics", it is now used as a pejorative, intended to suggest that the riders are not in control of their machines and that this is somehow the fault of everyone but the governing body for the sport. Every team is confronted with the same issue: the electronics are more intrusive in the 800cc era so that the bikes can finish the races on artificially small fuel loads.
I'll put this another way, in order to be more blunt: attempting to call this "traction control" is fraudulent. Rev-limiters and throttle-limiters functioning as fuel misers have overlapping benefits with traction control mapping, but the objectives are different. As Jorge Lorenzo has shown us, a bike can still high side while "thinking" it is saving fuel and "controlling traction". Anyone suggesting that a spec-ECU is the solution to overly paternalistic electronics, or excessive cornering speed, is (L-Y-I-N-G) not telling the truth. A rough equivalent would be to feed a child only rice and water and then begin to lament that he or she is problematically thin. Believing that a subsequent change to "homogenized rice" will solve the problem would be considered sophistry by anyone observing from the outside. This is obfuscation, and an inquiry into motive is begged...
I don't know if governmental leaders around the world behave as they do in the United States - I've read just enough Machiavelli to believe that it's probable - but here we have many problems whose origins are in governmental regulations. The Congress, with the "help" of regulators and well-funded "special interests", author new legislation that often drastically alters the course and cost of living or doing business; changing the rules mid-game, if you will. What ensues is voluminous, expensive "study" into the "unintended consequences" of the legislation and regulations, attempting to identify the problems that are, somehow, not traced back to the changes brought about by the new laws. What eventually follows is more legislation to make the whole process even more complicated and expensive, and more controlled by the governing body or bodies. However, a repeal of the problematic catalyst never manages to make the light of day, because lawmakers do not relinquish control of something they plotted and labored over seizing in the first place. This is a psychological invasion campaign whose initial purpose was to obtain increased - or total - control, with incremental implementation.
Why do this in a prototype racing series? Frankly, I don't know, but all the fingerprints are there. Constant rules tampering makes the sport extraordinarily expensive for the manufacturers willing to compete, but the consequences become highly unpredictable. The onset of the 800cc era - again, in Mr. Ezpeleta's own opinion, on the heels of the sport's best rules package - brought about a decrease in fuel capacity and a drastic change in tire regulations at a time when the largest tire manufacturer was suffering a significant shakeup at home. Ever since, the CEO of the governing body has been steadily waging a psychological campaign against his own rules package, but he is not recommending a reversal in direction towards something that worked well. Instead, he pursues even more control of the elements of a sport that is supposed to be innovative, by definition. How this benefits anyone escapes me, but there is precedence in Formula 1, and it is not attractive.
Does he actually think we are to believe that a spec-ECU will eliminate traction control, make the sport more competitive, and lure more manufacturers to purchase an increasing percentage of their parts bin from a common supplier? Does he think he has access to superior engineers who will be able to make the racing better without changing the fuel limit? If he believes his own hype, how many bikes does he think will finish each race if they lose "traction control"?
Perhaps the current rules package isn't exactly "his", so maybe it is not fair to target only him. I beg that caveat, because I was not a part of the closed-room negotiations that brought us what we have today. Whether there is equal or more blame to be focused on the FIM, I would like to know. But he is the one speaking out now, and what he is saying is, again, the wrong direction.
Consider that only 2 years ago, during the optimum rules package, Kenny Roberts, Jr. was routinely in the lead pack, riding a one-off chassis and a customer engine on customer Michelin tires. Now the family is out of the sport because they can't buy an engine from anyone that can let them use their chassis the way it's intended. I would just have to assume that's indicative of why we don't see more manufacturers, or at least engine suppliers willing to step forward for someone who has a chassis. Certainly they've had time to do the math on whether they can make a product that will be competitive, and I think they're staying away because of the cost of trying to find good power delivery on such light fuel.
In the era of the 990's, amounts of time at full-throttle were remarkably low. This made more work for the rider's instincts and details more manageable for the engineers developing throttle maps. As a result, it was easier to "save" fuel, because the engines were rarely using maximum power. Increased torque at lower RPM was preferable on the two fronts of rideability and fuel consumption. This all reversed with the onset of the 800's; now there is much more time spent at full-throttle, and there is a smaller fuel tank. This means more of the time is being spent using more fuel, but less is available. So, what sounds and looks like "traction control" is being blamed when its real purpose is to get the bikes to the finish. If anyone is in doubt, I believe Nicky Hayden has some experience with this issue, and may have been quoted a time or two.
Finally, consider these quotes from Neil Spalding, published between the '06 and '07 seasons:
(Speaking of Ducati in 2005) "It was a gamble, as it was quite possible that Bridgestone wouldn't have very good tires at more than half the circuits... the strategy appears to have worked. Bridgestone have always been strong at Motegi... Sepang... Jerez... Mugello..." (P.26, MotoGP Technology)
"After four years of constant effort and development, Ducati had got the bike to the point where any major performance improvements were down to Bridgestone getting the tires right... Ducati's strategy of differentiation from its opponents meant that wins were typically unchallenged romps, with tires, bike, and rider in harmony. As the Bridgestones got competitive at more circuits, those occasions were seen more often..." (P.29, Ibid.. my emphasis added)
Does this sound familiar? The rules changes played into this exact situation, and exaggerated it, but the good CEO doesn't approve. He is responsible for trying to market a product that has become difficult to make appealing to the uninitiated or mildly interested. He seems to be suggesting the reason there are not more manufacturers and sponsors willing to fund satellite teams is the cost of the electronic nannies charged with trying to "maximize traction". Or, alternatively, he claims that there are too many tire suppliers and speeds are too high. He asks the world to believe that a standardized engine computer will make the sport both safer and more interesting, but could not possibly support his argument with Physics. He doesn't recommend a retreat toward a system that was working well regarding engine capacity, fuel capacity, mass, and tire allotments. He just wants more control.
I'm inclined to suggest to the manufacturers that they call his bluff...
Sometime late in the season, after The Champion is crowned, they should all just run the fuel maps their riders want. There would be minimal need for re-engineering the bikes, since the fuel maps already exist. If we suddenly see better racing and different guys at the front, then we would have all the answers we need. When they run out of gas, they fall out of the race, and then Dorna and the FIM will have a problem on their hands about who is to blame for the decreasing quality of "their show".