The COVID-19 pandemic has complicated motorcycle racing in many different ways, some quite unexpected. To address some of those complications, the Grand Prix Commission, MotoGP’s rulemaking body, agreed a number of exceptions to the rules for the 2020 season, concerning wildcards, concerning concession points, and concerning engine development.
Engine development had already been frozen in response to the coronavirus crisis. In part as a cost-cutting measure, and in part because the European manufacturers had had their factories closed, all six MSMA members agreed to halt engine development and use the engines they were due to homologate for the 2020 season for the start of the 2021 season.
That was a good move for most factories, but it put Aprilia, which had just designed and built a brand new 90°V engine, in a difficult situation.
After such a major redesign, Aprilia was left with a lot of unknowns with the RS-GP engine, not least reliability. At the Sepang and Qatar tests, there were signs that the still young engine was still suffering a number of teething problems.
Consequently, the MSMA and the GPC agreed to allow the factories with concessions – factories that have not scored sufficient podiums in the past two seasons – continue developing their engines until June 29th of this year. That will allow KTM and Aprilia to continue to work on their engines for another two months.
This is particularly important for Aprilia, which wanted to run reliability tests on the dyno, to address the issues that arose during the MotoGP tests in February and March this year.
The system of concessions is an added headache during the pandemic. The system, which allows less successful factories to change and develop their engines during the season, and to do unlimited testing, is based on results achieved in the past two seasons.
If a factory with concessions scores six concession points (accrued by scoring podiums), then they lose those concessions, and lose the right to testing and engine development.
However, the rules also say that if a manufacturer scores no concession points (i.e. is not on the podium) for an entire season, then they are given the right to concessions. In a normal, 19- or 20-race season, that is a good measure of where a manufacturer stands.
But in 2020, with a shortened season and currently an unknown number of races on the calendar, it could be possible for an otherwise successful factory to be granted concessions with a couple of poor performances.
If, for example, there is another spike in COVID-19 cases after the two races to be held at Jerez, and racing becomes impossible once again, then those results could determine who gets concessions.
If no Ducati were to end up on the podium in either race, then Ducati would get concessions, despite the fact that Andrea Dovizioso has finished second in the championship for the past three seasons.
Even more absurdly, if Yamaha were to take a clean sweep of the podium in both Jerez races, then the other five factories would all be granted concessions, while Yamaha would be stuck with limited testing and an engine freeze in 2021.
To address this potential anomaly, no manufacturers will be granted concessions at the end of the 2020 season. It will be possible to accumulate concession points that will carry over for the next two seasons by scoring podiums in 2020, but if a factory does not get on the podium in 2020, they will not be given concessions.
The final announcement made concerned wildcards. News of this had been circulating for a few days, but with any racing this year almost certain to be done completely behind closed doors, with no fans, media, guests, or VIPs present, then allowing in extra engineers and mechanics, along with riders as wildcards, was deemed to pose an unnecessary risk and an unnecessary complication. It could also complicate negotiations with local and national health authorities over the safety of holding events.
The dropping of wildcards means that Jorge Lorenzo will not race for Yamaha at Barcelona, as he had originally planned. It also means that test riders such as Sylvain Guintoli, Stefan Bradl, Michele Pirro, and Mika Kallio will not race as wildcards for their respective factories.
Whether Bradley Smith races in 2020 remains to be seen, as the Englishman is still due to step up to take the place of Andrea Iannone, should the Italian still be suspended when racing resumes. If Iannone’s appeal to the CAS is successful, and he is allowed to race in 2020, then Smith will not be allowed to race for Aprilia as a wildcard.
Source: MotoGP; Photo: KTM