On How Dorna’s Huge Mistake Wreaks Havoc through the MotoGP Championship

I can’t remember the last time when things in MotoGP were as crazy as they are now, with only a day until the first official racing outing is made in Qatar. After initially planning some changes that should increase the competitiveness in the premiere class and make things even clearer and easier to follow – namely, changing the CRT entries into the Open class, Dorna Sports, the rightsholders of the MotoGp, saw things on a downwards spiral of complete folly.
Things did not turn the results Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta expected, but instead created regulation chaos. And because the evil has already been done, Dorna is now trying to calm this completely wacky maelstrom… with another storm. For readers who don’t have the big picture on what happened so far, here’s a little bit of “Previously, in MotoGP”…

Deciding to ditch the CRT class, Dorna created the Open one, with simple regulations separating Factories from the Open entries: per season, the Factory team races with 5 sealed engines, 20 liters of fuel, has limited testing outings, and gets to write its own software for the mandatory Magneti Marelli ECU.

On the other hand, the Open team has 12 engines for the season, can develop them in any way within the limits of the racing regulation, loads up 24 liters of fuel, gets to use a softer tire than what Factory uses in a race, and can freely test bikes. The cost? Open bikes run the Marelli software.

The bottom line for this new MotoGP framework – capping the costs, allowing more teams on the grid, increasing competitiveness and all. So far so good, give or take some voices claiming that the spec ECU will trigger a lot of trouble… and they seem to have been right.

Dorna then thought that a Factory team could become an Open one and enjoy all the goodies the Open paddock was to receive, and this can be counted as the first mistake. That is, because a Factory team remains an effing Factory team, with the same bike and pretty much the same technology underneath the pretty sponsor stickers!

They’re not developing a “truly OC” bike. Their engine has passed the endurance test already: they can do a full season on 5 engines, so the extra 7 only give them an unfair advantage, allowing them to simply screw the excessive wear and load in a new one when the previous dies.

Fact is, fuel and electronics do affect the performance in a race, but once more, we’re talking about a factory bike with unbridled development opportunities. So, clearly allowing a Factory team in the Open class was the first weird step.

Now comes the even bigger hiatus: Dorna simply didn’t seem to care who writes the spec software for the Open bikes. The 2013 code Marelli used in the (former) CRT machines was a rather primitive version, not allowing the precise fine-tuning factory software comes with. So a newer version was needed, but Honda and Yamaha simply refused to take part in the development process, as they couldn’t care less about the matter. They were fielding only factory bikes, so the Open class software was a non-issue for them.

Instead of spending money and resources to help Marelli for free, they preferred to see to developing their own machines and make them more reliable so that 5 engines would last through the entire season AND deliver results, and all with only 20 liters of fuel. Can anyone blame them? Guess not.

As Marelli’s software limitations became painfully obvious, Dorna finally got the idea: the Open class teams would strangle them in their sleep, so to speak, and asked Marelli and the field for solutions. Since the Open teams were barely getting used to the software and were of little help, the newly-Open team Ducati offered to help and decided to share their code with Marelli.

Ezpeleta clapped his hands in joy and checked the task list for “new ECU software” and expected things to run smoothly. Dorna’s huge mistake was not compelling ALL the teams that fielded bikes in 2014 to work together on the new software. The result is plain, elementary logic: the new software was indeed light-years better than the 2013 version, but it looked like it was developed for the Ducati engines.

Now, who in the Open class had knowledge on how such a complex software works? You guessed right: the name of the team starts with a “D” and ends in “ucati.” Some say that Ducati has made this move in ill-faith and accuse the new Ducati Corse boss Gigi Dall’Igna of being a trickster and manipulating everyone and everything. I’d rather say he only played the best moves in the given conditions.

He knew Ducati bikes did not stand a chance with the crappy 2013-spec Marelli software, and sharing the factory knowledge was a natural move. Ducati knew that there was absolutely nothing to lose. Personally I don’t consider Ducati or Dall’Igna as the darkened menace of the MotoGP series. They just weighed down their best chances and followed Dorna’s game. The fact the Dorna got lost on the way and screwed everything is a completely different story and we’ll have to wait until further into the 2014 championship to learn how things go.

Realizing that things were getting out of hand, Dorna came up with the initial Factory 2 hybrid class idea. Basically, a Factory team could enter as an Open option, but in case they started winning, technical sanctions would apply, namely being left with 9 engines and 22.5 liters of fuel. As I told you before, such sanctions could not affect Ducati too much, and in their case, such penalties sounded almost funny.
Ducati knew 5 engines were okay– 4 extra ones was already a glorious. As for the fuel, I am not sure the difference would have made a handicap, really. Leaving aside the funny fact that a winning team was to be penalized AND rewarded at the same time, Dorna seemed kind of happy with the Factory 2 idea.

However, both HRC and Yamaha on the factory side and the rest of the Open teams didn’t find it amusing and forced Dorna to come up with the new, final regulations for 2014 and 2015. I wrote about them yesterday and you can read all about them following this autoevolution link.

The baseline is pretty much the same – trying to level out the field, adding some penalties for the winning teams: less fuel, no Softer tire option and if the Factory continues to win, the sanctions are extended to the 2015 season. Funny way to put things in order, isn’t it?

Even more, the Grand Prix Commision adds that 2016 will bring only one software version for all the entries. Knowing where it screwed up big time, Dorna adds that “all current and prospective participants in the MotoGP class will collaborate to assist with the design and development of the Championship ECU software. During the development of the software a closed user web site will be set up to enable participants to monitor software development and to input their suggested modifications.”

Basically, how things should have been done from the start, or at least when the decision that a Factory can choose to go Open. A “bit” late I’d say. And still, the problems are far from being over, as Dorna might run in even more trouble.

The 2014 grid also has Honda’s RCV1000R production racer HRC developed and sold to several teams. So far, the bike failed to impress, adding to Honda’s dismay. At the same time, Dorna allowed Open class entries for team NGM Forward Racing with bikes using Yamaha’s leased M1 engine. Aboard the new Forward Yamaha bike, the 2013 CRT champion Aleix Espargaro is incredibly fast and will surely step on the podium this year, if not even start winning races.

He has already smoked Yamaha’s satellite bikes and more and doesn’t look like he’s settling for this only. Young, ambitious, and with the right bike, the elder Espargaro will surely add the extra adrenaline the 2014 season needs: a fast Open rider messing up with the plans factories have in the upper positions.

This is, of course, exceptionally good to watch and adds a most welcome breath of fresh air to the series… unless Dorna decides that he could also use some new penalties, too. Some buddies asked how 2014 will be in MotoGP and all I could come up with was a quasi-disappointing but honest : “I don’t know, mate, I really don’t. Let’s see things rolling first…”
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