MotoGP’s Silver Lining to the Delayed Start of the Season

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The cancellation of the Qatar MotoGP race and the Thai round of MotoGP in Buriram throws MotoGP’s regular schedule into a bit of disarray. The deadlines under which the MotoGP manufacturers were working have suddenly been opened up again.

Factories without concessions – Honda, Suzuki, Yamaha, and Ducati – were due to homologate their engines this week, ahead of the first race, and all six manufacturers were due to submit their aerodynamics packages for homologation, although aerodynamics packages can vary per rider.

Similarly, teams were due to submit their gearbox ratios ahead of the first race, with a maximum of 24 different gearbox ratios and 4 different final drive ratios allowed during the season.

So now that Qatar and Thailand have been canceled or postponed, what happens next?

The FIM rule book is clear in that regard. Both engines and aerodynamics packages have to be homologated before the first event. This happens at Technical Control, or scrutineering, which happens on the Thursday before every event.

The rules for engines are covered in section of the FIM MotoGP rule book:

An approved MotoGP engine is one which has all parts included within the seals (Art. identical in every respect to the parts included within the seals of a sample engine delivered to the MotoGP Technical Director no later than close of Technical Control of the first event (…)

The rules for aerodynamics are set out in section

The Aero Body is approved and samples or detailed drawings (to the satisfaction of the Technical Director) must be delivered to the Technical Director prior to the close of technical control at the first event of the season.

And the rules on gearbox ratios can be found in section

Teams will be required to declare all the gearbox ratios chosen for each gearbox speed before the first race of the season, and only these declared ratios may be used during the entire season. Any ratios not declared before the first race of the season may not be used during that season.

First Event

The key wording here is “the first event of the season”. Despite Moto2 and Moto3 taking place in Qatar, the first event for the MotoGP class will, at the moment, be Austin. MotoGP Technical Director Danny Aldridge confirmed this to us in an email.

“All technical control requirements for MotoGP including, engine design, aero body approval, gearbox, etc, will now need to be declared in Austin,” Aldridge wrote. That will continue to be the case unless Austin is also canceled or postponed.

The cancellation of Qatar also causes some confusion for Michelin. The French tire manufacturer has already submitted the list of all tire compounds and constructions to be used at each round of the 2020 season, a rule which had been demanded by the factories and the teams.

Whether that list will change is unclear at the moment, although the only real reason to change the list would be to cope with rescheduled rounds.

More Time for Development?

With the first race of the season now postponed until April 5th at the earliest, the factories now have more time to work on their engines and aerodynamics. In theory, they could change engines or aero packages ahead of the first race.

The problem, of course, is that there are no more tests allowed for contracted riders (that is, riders with a permanent start in MotoGP for 2020) before the start of the season.

The next test is due to be held after the Jerez round of MotoGP. Before that, the factories can only rely on their test riders.

The risk of relying on test riders to decide something as fundamentally important as an engine means that engine updates for anything other than reliability improvements are extremely unlikely to happen.

Aerodynamics, on the other hand, is something which the factories could put in the hands of their test riders.

HRC’s Aerodynamics Hole

This could turn out to be something of a blessing for Honda. With four more weeks, HRC could try to find an improvement to its failed aero package, which was rejected by Marc Márquez at Qatar.

It would give them more time to try to find a modified version of the 2019 package, which had none of the downsides of the rejected 2020 package.

That, too, would be a risk, of course. If HRC test rider Stefan Bradl approves an aero package that turns out not to be an improvement, then Honda would be stuck with it, or have to revert to last year’s aero, and forfeit their right to one updated aero package during the season.

At the very least, Honda, and the other factories, has more time to confirm its findings from the Sepang and Qatar test ahead of the start of the 2020 MotoGP season. For the moment, that is at Austin. But with the COVID-19 outbreak developing so quickly, everything is very much up in the air.