Debunking Honda’s Specious Argument Over The Spec ECU

10/17/2012 @ 12:58 pm, by David Emmett23 COMMENTS

Debunking Hondas Specious Argument Over The Spec ECU Nakamoto Jerez HRC MotoGP Scott Jones

The battle which has been raging rather politely between Honda and Dorna over the introduction of spec electronics continues to simmer on. The issue was once again discussed at Motegi, with still no resolution in sight. HRC boss Shuhei Nakamoto reiterated Honda’s opposition to the introduction of a spec ECU in an interview with the Japanese journalist Yoko Togashi, which was published on GPOne.com.

The reasons for introducing a spec ECU – or more accurately, a spec electronics package, including ECU, sensors, wiring harness and data logger – are twofold: the first issue is to cut the costs of electronics in the sport, an area where spending is rampant and where gains can always be found by throwing more money and more engineers at a problem. The second issue is to improve the spectacle; racing in the modern era has become dull, with the electronics and the Bridgestone tires contributing to produce races where it is unusual for there to be more than one pass for the win.

While Nakamoto did not comment on improving the show via electronics – it could be argued that radically changing the tires would have a greater impact on the spectacle than merely introducing a restricted spec electronics system – he did repeat the claim he has made in the past that merely adopting a spec ECU would not help to cut costs, claiming that if anything, it would actually increase costs.

The analogy he used to describe the change was as follows: “Using different ECU is like switching to Macintosh while you are using Microsoft adapted computers for many years. You have to change everything.” At first glance, that seems to be a reasonable argument: switching ECUs would indeed mean that all of the software Honda has developed for their own ECU would have to be transformed into a form which they could use on the new ECU, the unit to be supplied by Magneti Marelli. Nakamoto bases his claim on his experience in Formula One, where Honda spent a lot of money adapting their electronics package when that series implemented a spec ECU.

In reality, though, the appearance of reasonableness is deceptive. Both the analogy and the parallels with Honda’s experience in F1 are specious, as the comparison being made is with a situation that will not exist in MotoGP. In F1, there was considerable room for the teams to use their own software, meaning that there were still plenty of gains to be made.

What is proposed in MotoGP is much, much more restrictive, a system almost identical to that which exists in Moto3 (a class which Honda is very happy with), where the factories and teams will have no ability to modify the software, but will only be able to work on engine mapping.

The analogy is not like going from a Macintosh to a Windows computer, where you are forced to rewrite your software to run on the new system. The analogy is like going from a special computer program you wrote yourself just for the Macintosh computer to using a program someone else has written for you on a Windows computer. For the software specialists among you, an even better analogy might be that it is like switching from a web browser you wrote yourself for X on Linux, using a custom toolkit developed specifically for the task, to using Internet Explorer on Windows. Or Safari on the iPhone.

MotoGP’s director of technology Corrado Cecchinelli explained the basic principle behind a spec ECU to me at Mugello. “If the single ECU is accepted, it will be the same hardware and same software for everybody. The same software means that in our idea, it will be like in Moto3 now, people will have a sort of calibration or tuning tool and they will be able to make the track tuning of all the parameters but they will not be able to write their own software.” The parallels with Formula One were not valid, Cecchinelli said. “Here the system will be very closed.”

What the factories will be able to do with the electronics is produce maps, modified and optimized for each particular track. That, as Nakamoto rightly points out, will cost manpower and money to do. The additional costs will be small, however, and they will only be necessary in the short term. With the ability of the teams to write their own algorithms eliminated, the gains available from employing a vast army of programmers are no longer be available.

The logic of a spec ECU is that the marginal return on each extra dollar, euro or yen spent on electronics falls rapidly beyond a low initial point. In other words, you may gain two tenths by spending, say, $100,000, but the next $100,000 will only gain you a couple of hundredths, and the next $100,000 after that a few thousandths. Right now, that relationship is much, much closer to being linear.

Reducing marginal returns through a spec electronics system means that there is a limit to how much a factory can spend. Engines will be put on dynos to figure out torque maps and throttle response curves, data will be poured over and refined, looking to perfect the balance between throttle response and power output.

But that is exactly the job which the engineers in Moto2 are doing, and there is not a single Moto2 team spending the kind of cash which MotoGP’s factories are, despite the fact that relatively, they have more to gain. After all, the Moto2 bikes are horsepower-capped, making throttle response even more crucial. MotoGP engine design will still be free, meaning that gains can be made in the design of the top end and exhausts.

Nakamoto’s real argument is over the role of racing as a platform for research and development. There is a very real and very valid basis for making that argument, however it is not one that has any meaning to Dorna or any of the powers that be in racing. Dorna’s job is to create a product they can sell to fans and TV audiences, as a way to spend a pleasant Sunday afternoon. The job of the factories is to weigh up whether they can use that opportunity and leverage it to help develop technology that may end up in their road bikes.

At the moment, that relationship is reversed. The factories have made the rules for the past ten years, introducing so many of the rules which the fans hate: the fuel limits, the introduction of the 800s, the engine allocation limits. MotoGP at the moment is a rolling laboratory, in which the factories can pitch their engineering talent and latest technologies against one another, leaving Dorna to find a way to market the resulting product.

That has turned out to be an almost impossible task, given the dullness of the racing it has produced. MotoGP has gone from a spectacular event thrilling for a mass audience to a niche product fascinating only to geeks. There are many positive aspects of being a niche product, as this author can attest, but it never generates significant revenue. If MotoGP is to survive, it has to reach a mass market. In its current form, it is failing to do so.

Photo: © 2012 Scott Jones / Scott Jones Photography – All Rights Reserved

This article was originally published on MotoMatters, and is republished here on Asphalt & Rubber with permission by the author.

Comment:

  1. whiskthecat says:

    Let’s go ahead and implement spec engine and frame while we are at it. I was under the impression it was a prototype racing series. What’s the point if you are going to start taking developmental aspects out of the equation. Having upper thresholds on certain specifications is one thing, but forcing everyone to use the same equipment is different.

  2. Brandon says:

    I would rather see a competitive race than watch a bunch of lab rats run on rat wheels. This series is going nowhere unless they have parity among the bikes. I am in favor of the spec ECU if it works. I wouldn’t care if all of the bikes where the same like in moto2, as long as they were bunched up like moto2. If the end justifies the means there is no need to hold on to personal ideals.

  3. German says:

    how is that Honda uses MotoGp as a development test if their CBR do not even have ride-by-wire? How BMW did to get their S1000RR’s electronics be so good without racing and develop?
    I wake up 7am in the morning to see moto2 and then get bored with MotoGp races, or to get just acouple of laps as happened in Brno, Jesuschrist, we need to see good races, we want to see bikes sliding around and smoking tires fighting for the entire race.
    F1 is way too much controlled, but if after 10 laps Alonso or Vettel leads by a 10s margin you still have to see if he has the right pitstop strategy, if their rubber will last or if a guy starting from the 5th row can catch him in the last third of the race. Motogp, in the other hand, if after 6/7 laps Jorge or Dani opens a 4s gap, you know the race is over

  4. David says:

    I never knew there were so many NASCAR fans here in the motorcycle racing world. I also never realized the Moto2 bikes were the same…..lol…my bad I guess.

    Now that I know that, I could care less about Moto2. To much like NASCAR. They should get sponsors like Tide and Tampax (sp?..lol) on the bikes to bring in the women spectators. Maybe even NASCAR could start a motorcycle racing series if DORNA screws this all up.

    Maybe there could be a way to have a huge last lap pileup across the finish line. And only race ovals.

    Then everyone here would be very happy…..except me I guess.

  5. jack says:

    Excellent article. I never did like the Moto2 format, David is right it seemed to me immediately that it was like NASCAR or a kids spec series. Love Moto3 and think that should also be the format for Moto2. However I cannot support Honda’s stand on the spec ECU issue as none of their race technology has gotten to their production machinery and none of the R&D that is on their production bikes has found it’s way onto their race bikes.

  6. David is right. I stopped watching NASCAR when restrictor plate racing became pointless and teams started taking their profits to the pay for their swimming pools instead of trying to improve the racing. Has MotoGP looked at NASCAR’s ratings lately. WSBK is about making everything roughly equal and letting the riders make the difference.
    As the article stated, there are many ways to make the series competitive without resorting to a spec ECU. Ask Cal about the fuel restrictions. BTW CRT is pathetic. Tell me what CRT adds to the show.
    I have been a loyal subscriber to MotoGP for many years, but the press conference Carmelo gave was the last straw. HE SNEERED AT THE JOURNALISTS AND DARED ANYONE TO QUESTION HIS AUTHORITY. ASK THE WRONG QUESTION AND LOSE YOU PRESS PASS. Pride goeth before a fall. The fans own MotoGp not DORNA.
    The draw to MotoGp has always been that only a few riders and teams could master the beast. There have always been streaks where a rider or two and two manufactures were dominate for a period. That is the history of MotoGP. Aliens.
    I hope Honda pulls out, then maybe, Ducati can win a race.

  7. Rider says:

    There are plenty of stock classes and 1 make series to watch if you are a 2 wheel NASCAR fan. On the other hand, I can’t necessarily hate Dorna for thinking with their pocketbook. Whether or not this is the beginning of the end anyway.
    There has to be a better way..

  8. Bill says:

    Spec ECU like this is a terrible idea. I don’t want to watch NASCAR for motorcycles. Spec ECU like F1 would make sense because I don’t have to base an entire motorcycle design around the limitations of a box that someone else makes that all I can do is change the fuel map with certain parameters.

  9. Dave says:

    I hate computers…but I like motorcycle racing.

  10. frogy6 says:

    Needs less rules not more, more rules they introduced more boring it got, Nooone trys New stuff

  11. bring back the carbs and no electronics… =D

  12. Angelo Reyes says:

    I’m a big motogp fan, but this will make the sport even more boring……

    And now the introduction of the new QP two 15 min sessions just puts me off,

    the only way you can have a same ECU is if you have all riders on the same engine Like MOTO2

    Aragon was the first time in 10 years I actually turned off the TV during the GP because i was BORED!!

    Never knew i would get to this

  13. D says:

    Why don’t we have half the races in the series with electronics (TC) and half the races without electronics? I think the results of that would be interesting and maybe make everyone happy(?)

  14. Gutterslob says:

    Ref:
    “For the software specialists among you, an even better analogy might be that it is like switching from a web browser you wrote yourself for X on Linux, using a custom toolkit developed specifically for the task, to using Internet Explorer on Windows. Or Safari on the iPhone.”

    I’m no cross-platform software engineer, but I do like the analogy.

    But is that how it’s really going to be, Moto 3 style?
    I haven’t read any documents of what Dorna’s supposedly proposing, if it is indeed as you say, then yes, it won’t be much of a hurdle with regards to costs and expertise, since it’s just a matter of them getting accustomed to a different “user interface”. They can probably cut costs by letting go a bunch of software engineers. In this case, than your analogy is pretty apt.

    But has that been set in stone? What if it’s somewhere in the middle instead?
    If teams are just provided the hardware and a software toolkit, then it becomes more of a developement platform (or SDK) rather than the simple matter of a different ‘user’ interface, so you analogy wouldn’t apply. It’s no longer a matter of using a different browser on a different platform, but developing a browser (or at least a “front-end”) for a different platform, so in the case of moving from X on Linux/BSD to a proprietary system, you’ll need to for out money for a Windows license + Visual Basic (for IE), or buy a new Mac to run X-code (for iOS).

  15. Dave says:

    why doesn’t motoGP just break things up into three races: Dani vs Jorge; then race the non-factory Hondas, Yamahas (+Spies) and all the Ducatis; then have a CRT race. ….wait, that’s alredy happening.

  16. Yeeha! Stephen says:

    Is it really about the $$$?
    Save some bucks by putting all three USGP’s in one Western swing. Why come to the USA three seperate times?!!!!
    Save some of those travel costs first.

  17. TexusTim says:

    I say Honda doesnt want to give up any advantage they have with there deep pockets..there is allways a team that has the bucks..but honda has gottent a bit over the top as if they are “the series”
    I say level the playing field with spec ecu and spec data req. keep all the other rules and lets see what happens….does anyone ever wonder if in moto 2 the honda team gets the engines that are “peak” on the dyno and the next closest competion gets the engines on the other end…no two are ever the same….you would have to think they would being how ssneaky honda is…dont forget pearl harbour…bawawawawawahahah !

  18. MikeD says:

    Ok. Let them have the ECU and 1000cc Cap. BUT… can we return to running 2Smokes(EFI this time around) & 4Strokes togheter, more than 4 cylinders, NO LIMIT fuel capacity, more than one tire brand and compound ?

    Moto2 COULD BE THE GREATEST RACE but at the CORE is nothing but a frigging “CBR600RR on crack cocaine NASCAR ” or “HONDA 500″ . Sadly seems to be making money and entertaining the crowds.

    BUT No thanks. I want MotoGP Races to remain like a RACE OF THE GODS ON THEIR FRIGGIN MADE OF UN-OBTANIUM CHARIOTS pulled by 250hp 16-18k rpms THOROUGHBREDS…not some weedy crappy street/production engine thinking it’s Superman.

  19. L2C says:

    Dave why don’t you simply argue in favor of MotoGP sans prototypes. Would be much easier than saying that Honda’s argument is specious, when it is more true that they are being misunderstood.

    Bottom line: Honda has no interest in forming a partnership with Magnetti Marelli. They also have no interest in developing electronics for their road bikes from data gleaned from Magnetti Marelli’s ECU. Why should they, when they are clearly competent enough to research and develop their own. And I think the success of Honda speaks more in favor of their approaches to motorcycle problem solving than against it. Granted, Honda is just like any other company when it comes to building bikes. They source out the areas that they are not particularly good in, especially with their high end machines. Suspension, brakes, etc.

    However, when it comes to racing Honda clearly are in the lead as far as electronics are concerned, and regardless of how poorly they have stated their case for being against a spec ECU, it cannot be overlooked that the company is literally on the leading edge of electronics development in MotoGP. To me, it’s clear that Honda doesn’t want to lose the investment that they have already put into developing those electronics. And since Honda is a Japanese company that is completely in tune with Japanese customs and culture, they probably don’t relish the thought, and therefore want to avoid, laying off perfectly competent software engineers. It’s a lose, lose, lose situation for Honda should a spec ECU be required. Requiring them to use a spec ECU is clearly, to them, asking too much.

    Sure, I’d like MotoGP to be more spectacle with more passing and all the other stuff, but lumping the blame onto a single company because of their size and influence is not going to solve any problems. Dorna and financially challenged teams need to either become more creative in finding financing, or Dorna needs to ban prototypes altogether.

    The future is electronics. If the F1 standard is open electronics, then it doesn’t make sense for F1 and MotoGP to be compared at all. And comparing the two has been the standard chorus from the spec-ECU cheerleading squad for quite some time. It simply doesn’t work to tout MotoGP as being on the bleeding edge of technology if the aim is to have it be anything but that.

  20. Phil Pfeiffer says:

    Any lack of interest in Moto GP has nothing to do with tires, fuel capacities or electronics.

    Thes people are are grasping at straws to cover the fact that they are un able to successfully market the product they have been hired to promote.

    Fire them ALL.

  21. L2C says:

    And yes, why not ban ECU altogether if it is altogether too expensive for MotoGP? Probably because Dorna wants to preserve MotoGP’s elite status in some fashion. No ECU and no prototyping pretty much means MotoGP would become glorified SBK.

  22. MikeD says:

    @L2C:

    U bring some valid points to consider.

  23. Old Baldy says:

    We have to remember that MotoGP has NEVER been unlimited, “bring your best to the party” racing. Ever. Or we would not limit the weight, or the number of cylinders, or ban turbochargers or superchargers, or the fuel capacity, or ban two-strokes, or limit the engines to 1000cc, or the cylinder bore to 81mm, or the number of engines allowed in a season, or ban rotaries, or the maximum fuel pressure, or gearboxes with more than 6 speeds, or twin-clutch gearboxes, or CVTs, or automatics, or the size of the brake rotors, or variable length exhaust systems, or titanium frames or forks or swingarm pivots or wheel axles, or pistons, blocks and heads made from any composite materials, or ensuring cranks and cams are ferrous metals only, or aluminum only brake calipers, or ANYTHING made from MMC or FRM materials, or hollow con rods, or electronic suspension or steering dampers, or GPS systems for engine control, or wheel sizes other than 16.5″, or the number of tires per event, or the amount of testing, or the fuel type, or the noise levels, etc, etc, etc.

    Do we REALLY think that adding a (very high spec) standard ECU to the bike will suddenly be catastrophic to “prototype” racing? Wow!