There has been a trend over the past decade for rider contract negotiations to get earlier and earlier. Where once, talks about new contracts would start sometime in June, and agreements finalized and signed during August, now, initial discussions start at the Valencia Grand Prix the year before a contract is due to end, and deals are signed in the first few races, or as in the past two contract cycles, before the season has even begun. The underlying causes for this trend are numerous, but at its heart, it comes down to the glut of talent that is in MotoGP these days, both in terms of riders and in terms of bikes. The best riders have more choice of competitive machinery, and there are more talented riders for the factories to choose from.
Sometimes decisions are a long time in the making. Tech3’s decision to leave Yamaha and sign with KTM may have been made in the space of a few months, but the genesis of that choice, the process that made it all possible is ten years in the making. If MotoGP hadn’t switched from 990cc to 800cc at the start of the 2007 season, if the ban on tobacco sponsorship in sports hadn’t been enforced from 2005, if the financial system hadn’t collapsed under the weight of tranches of “ninja” loans, Tech3 would be a Yamaha satellite team for the foreseeable future. Whether they wanted to be or not. How did MotoGP get to a place where Tech3 could switch to KTM? To make complete sense of the story, we have to go back to the end of the last century.
MotoGP testing is to be further restricted from next season. At the meeting in Motegi of the Grand Prix Commission, MotoGP’s rule-making body, the teams, factories, FIM, and Dorna agreed to limit the amount of testing which can be done next year and in 2019.
The 2018 testing season will look largely familiar, with a two-day test at Valencia on Tuesday and Wednesday after the race, then three three-day tests at Sepang, Thailand, and Qatar ahead of the start of the MotoGP season, and one-day tests after three of the European rounds (Jerez, Barcelona, Brno).
In 2019, the number of preseason tests will be reduced, with testing taking place only at Sepang and Qatar before the start of the season.
The Grand Prix Commission has introduced a range of measures at their meeting in Brno. Among the most important are the switch from selling Moto3 engines to leasing them, and changing the flag-to-flag procedure, in an attempt to improve safety in pit lane.
Starting from next year, the flag-to-flag procedure has been revised. The number of mechanics assisting has been reduced, with only four allowed to assist in the bike swap. Those mechanics must now wear approved helmets, which will also make them easier to identify.
One factor which could be having an effect on tires is the aerodynamics war which has seen wings sprouting from every forward surface of the fairing.
The outbreak of strake cancer has seen the winglets massively increase in size and surface area, making the latest version on the Ducati Desmosedici GP resemble Baron von Richthofen’s Fokker Dr.I triplane.
Ducati was the first to understand and seize on the potential of the aerodynamic winglets, debuting them at Qatar last season. There were met with some skepticism for most of last year, until Yamaha suddenly rolled out their own version of them at Aragon.
In 2016, the winglet craze has infected the entire paddock, with the bikes of all five manufacturers now sporting some form of aerodynamic device.
Why did Ducati start fitting winglets? Because they work. One engineer who has seen the data told me that the effect was visible in it. The bike wheelies less when it has wings fitted compared to not having winglets.
That reduction in wheelie means that wheelie doesn’t have to be managed using the electronics to reduce power and torque. That, in turn, means the bike can accelerate harder out of the corner, reaching higher top speeds at the end of the straight.
The other manufacturers have all come to the same conclusion, hence the outbreak of winglets.
The test on Monday at Jerez was probably the most important test of the year so far. A chance to test the day after a race, in similar conditions, and with ideas born of the data from the first four races of 2016 to try out.
There really was a lot to test: not just parts and setup, but also three new front tires from Michelin, as well as further work on the “safety” rear tire introduced after Argentina.
First out of the pits was Bradley Smith, determined to turn his tough start to the season around. Last on to the track was Valentino Rossi, rolling out of pit lane some time after 2pm.
Celebrations of his astounding victory at Sunday’s race must have been intense: the Italian was very hoarse when he spoke to us at the end of the day.
A major focus for all of the riders was on tires. Michelin had brought three new front tires to test, and the riders also had the remainder of their allocation from the weekend to use.
There was nothing new at the rear, but given how little experience they had with the construction introduced after Scott Redding’s rear tire delaminated in Argentina, there was much still to be learned.
Bradley Smith had described it as “a prototype”. The tire had done a handful of test laps, and then two races. It had created problems for everyone at Jerez on Sunday, and so much work was focused on finding more rear grip.
The War on Wings continues. At Qatar, the Grand Prix Commission agreed to ban winglets in the Moto2 and Moto3.
The aerodynamic devices are banned immediately in Moto2, while they will be banned in Moto3 from 2017 onward, as Mahindra have already fitted small winglets to their Moto3 machine to be used at some races this season.
However, the ban on winglets for 2017 should stop development of them immediately.
The ban has no effect on MotoGP, however. There are powerful moves to try to ban the winglets in MotoGP, but they face resistance from the manufacturers.
This is because one of the conditions under which the factories accepted the switch to the common software was that the technical regulations would remain stable for the coming five years, the usual time period for technical regulations to last.
However, the appearance of winglets and strakes on the MotoGP bikes has triggered fears of a spending war on aerodynamics between the factories.
The MotoGP grid is looking in surprisingly good health in 2015. The series has come a long way in the five years since 2010, when there were just 17 full-time entries on the grid, and Suzuki was teetering on the brink of withdrawal. Dorna’s CRT gambit has paid off: the much-maligned production-based bikes may not have been competitive, but they did spur the manufacturers into action to actually supply more competitive machinery to the private teams. The CRT bikes became Open class bikes, and Dorna’s pet project of standardized electronics has been adopted into the MotoGP rules. From 2016, there will be one class again, with everyone on the same electronics, the same fuel allowance, and the same tires. A bigger change is coming for 2017.
Ducati could have their concessions removed a year early. The manufacturers’ association, MSMA, are proposing to introduce the concession point system, which was due to start in 2016, to apply from this year.
That would mean that Ducati would be forced to race in 2016 against Honda and Yamaha under the same regulations, including frozen engines, seven engines a year instead of nine, and testing limited to official tests.
The success of the Ducati Desmosedici GP15 has shown up a gap in the regulations. The system of concessions allowed to manufacturers without a recent win has universally been hailed as a success, allowing Ducati to catch up with Yamaha and Honda, and Suzuki to already close the gap.
However, as the rules are due to change in 2016, the system of concessions will also change. Under the system which applies this year, a factory which has not had a dry win in the last three years gets extra fuel, a soft year, 12 engines instead of 5, freedom from the engine freeze, and freedom to test with factory riders.
From 2016, all of the teams will have 22 liters of fuel and will be using the same tires, and so there will be fewer concessions. Factories will get 9 engines instead of 7, not be subject to an engine freeze, and be allowed to test with factory riders.
The system for calculating when a factory loses concessions will also change. A new system of concession points will be introduced for 2016, awarding 3 points to a win, 2 points for a second and 1 point for a third.
The Grand Prix Commission have filled in the last question marks over the 2016 MotoGP regulations. While the decision on the amount of fuel the bikes would be allowed to run had already been decided last year, the rules on a minimum weight, the number of engines to be used, and how and whether the concessions allowed to manufacturers without a win would be extended into 2016 and beyond. All of these questions were settled at Qatar. The GPC meeting, where Dorma, the FIM, the manufacturers and the teams meet to agree a set of rules, confirmed that all bikes in MotoGP next year will use 22 liters of fuel.
Once upon a time, Grand Prix racing rules were fairly simple: bikes had to have two wheels, weigh 130kg, have a maximum capacity of 500cc and a maximum of four cylinders. The switch to four strokes in 2002 added a lot of complexity to the rules, and things have been getting slowly worse since then.
MotoGP now has two different categories with three different rule sets covering a single class, depending on entry type and results in recent years.
With Suzuki and Aprilia entering the series in 2015, and another rule change on the horizon for 2016, it’s time to take a quick look at the rules for this season, and see what has changed since last year.