Over the winter break, MotoGP’s rule-making body, the Grand Prix Commission, met to adjust a few rules for the 2022 season and beyond.
Among a host of confirmations and minor adjustments, there were one or two small but significant changes, tightening up important parts of the rules for MotoGP.
First the minor matters. The changes in age limits were confirmed, ahead of the shift to having a minimum age of 18 across all three grand prix classes in 2023, and the qualification limit was tightened from 107% to 105%.
Given how much more competitive all three classes are, and how tight the fields are, this will have very little effect, though it will put higher demands on substitute riders.
To give an idea of just how much 105% is, the average lap time for the vast majority of circuits is between 1’30 and 1’50, so the average lap is around 1’40, or 100 seconds.
So the qualification limit has been cut from 7 seconds behind the fastest rider to 5 seconds behind the fastest rider.
It has been a very long time since anyone fell foul of the 107% rule, and had the rule been 105% for qualifying, the last victim it would have claimed would have been replacement rider Christophe Ponsson, who substituted for the injured Tito Rabat at Misano back in 2018.
There are new rules on brakes, which point to the increasing importance of braking in grand prix motorcycle racing. In MotoGP, the largest available disc size has been increased from 340mm to 355mm.
That means there will now be three permitted sizes of front brake discs: 320, 340, and 355mm.
The larger maximum disc size is clearly a response to the braking issues bikes have shown at circuits like the Red Bull Ring at Spielberg. The memory of Maverick Viñales’ horrendous crash at Turn 1 in Austria in 2020 is still fresh in many minds.
Brembo’s new calipers went some way to addressing that, but as riders demand more of braking, more energy needs to be dissipated, and the only solution is to use larger discs and more carbon.
This underlines just how important braking has become in motorcycle racing. In the pursuit of performance, braking and corner entry are the points where real gains are being made.
The 800cc years taught factories a lot about acceleration, and how to control it with electronics, and the introduction of aerodynamics and ride height devices have taken the place of electronics in assisting acceleration.
The focus of most MotoGP manufacturers is now on corner entry, and improved chassis dynamics is putting more stress on Michelin’s front tire, and allowing the riders to brake harder.
Braking comes from friction, and the energy generated by that friction needs to be absorbed and dissipated, if brake fluids and braking materials are to remain within their operating temperature ranges.
It’s not just MotoGP either: the rules have now also been changed to allow cooling ducts to be added to the Moto2 machines. There, too, corner entry is a battle ground, and brake calipers and discs need cooling.
In addition to the brakes, there is a general tightening of the rules, as the GPC attempt to close loopholes. From 2022, factories will have to included 3D CAD drawings or samples of their aero packages to the Technical Director.
Previously, detailed drawings or samples were sufficient. 3D CAD drawings contain far more information beyond just the dimensions of the aerodynamic wings and protuberances.
That should allow Dorna’s technical staff to assess whether or not materials will deflect under wind pressure, for example, an issue that was at one time prevalent in F1.
Ride-height devices are another innovation where the scrutineers needed to catch up. The GPC also approved a new process for evaluating whether a ride-height device is legal or not.
As more and more manufacturers have ride-height devices that operate automatically on corner exit, there have been questions raised over what exactly is legal and what is not.
The new procedure is aimed at cracking down on attempts to circumvent the ban on devices that do not operate using only the changing attitude of the bike as a trigger.
There is also an intriguing entry in the Moto3 regulations. From 2022, the wiring loom, fuel pump assembly, and pressure regulator have been designated as a performance part.
This means they must be homologated by the Technical Director, and made available to all teams once approved. Though we cannot know for certain, this may be connected to the remarkable speed of the Leopard Hondas.
There were many question marks over where their superior speed came from, over both the KTMs and the other Honda Moto3 machines. This change could point to where Leopard had found an advantage.
Perhaps the most significant part of the rule changes announced by the GPC concerns the changes to the way in which injury is assessed. Once again engendered by Marc Marquez, perhaps, the assessment of riders returning from injury will be far stricter.
Though the details were not included in the press release, it explicitly named head injuries, concussion, abdominal and chest injuries, and fractures and breaks of a more complex character than just simple breaks.
Directly related to this, the GPC has decided that the helmets of riders who are taken to the medical center following a crash will also be more thoroughly examined, while any rider assessed with concussion or another head injury will have their helmets sent to the FIM laboratory at the University of Zaragoza for further study.
Both of these changes are aimed both at understanding how injuries affect riders, and how protective equipment affects the injuries received.
There have been several recent instances of riders coming back from injury more quickly than some thought was sensible, with questions over a rider’s ability to control a MotoGP machine. The fitness tests seem to be arbitrary and too easy to pass.
By making the medical assessments harsher and more thorough, this takes some of the decision away from the riders and the teams, and puts more emphasis on the medical side.
This should make it harder for riders to just grit their teeth through a quick fitness test and handle a brief flash of pain, which is an unrealistic way of assessing how an injured rider will hold up over a 45 minute race.
No more alternative facts
Finally, the GPC introduced a new type of official, called a Judge of Facts.
The idea is to hand the assessment of certain infringements such as jump starts and exceeding track limits to these Judges of Facts, and make their judgment final and put it beyond appeal.
The job of the Judge of Fact is to assess the evidence from the high-speed cameras and track limit sensors to judge whether an infraction has occurred, and impose a penalty where needed.
Teams and riders will not be able to appeal their judgments. That may not put an end to the complaining, but it will put the result of any decision beyond question.