The Fellowship of the ECU

Even though the ECU software is one of the very important subjects for the future of the MotoGP, all eyes are now on the record-breaking Marquez, the potential comeback of Valentino Rossi and the better form Jorge Lorenzo has shown at Mugello. Still, behind the flashing lights of the premier class, things are far from quiet. Racing results are, of course, very important for each team, but the perspective of all bikes on the grid using the same ECU software from 2016 is one of the issues that causes insomnia for at least two teams. And yes, it’s about Honda and Ducati, even though Yamaha might be in the same bandwagon.
There are a lot of guys who are mad at Honda because they believe that the Japanese manufacturer is “steering” the MotoGP in whatever direction seems profitable for the winged bikes. While such claims are rather hard to receive undeniable backing, Ducati, in the person of none other than the Corse department boss Gigi Dall’Igna, has openly expressed its disagreement with Honda’s presumed line of action.

As a quick recap, mid-April saw Dorna Sports, the rights holder of the MotoGP and the MSMA (Motorcycle Sports Manufacturers' Association) reaching an agreement on the future of the series. The results of the meeting held at Austin, Texas indicated that no software development would be allowed beyond the Assen round in 2015. After this point, all teams currently running their own software for the Magneti Marelli ECU had to “freeze” code development and virtually have their riders race with whichever version they used for the Dutch GP.

The agreement also stipulates that inspectors will verify the date of the last software update, and such checks will enforce the development ban. After the Assen GP, ALL teams should contribute to creating a unified version of the software which will then be operating on the entire grid. For reasons which are not at all hard to guess, Ducati opposed the “freeze” vehemently, even though it eventually yielded, while Suzuki, which plans a MotoGP comeback in 2015 had no objections.

Still things are not as brotherly as they seem and they aren’t running smoothly, as you might have already guessed. Dall’Igna says that the Japanese factories are trying to steer software development to their own advantage and such a position is inacceptable. While Dorna seemingly hoped that the agreement in Austin would put an end to these disputes, it is clear that the “software brotherhood” is still far away.

The Ducati Corse official claims that the main advantage of the Honda software is that it is easier to manage, despite being almost as complex as Ducati’s. Borgo Panigale engineers are currently trying to simplify the factory software and make its functions simpler as well, but Dall’Igna believes that the problem is not the software, but the people. “In the end, you must change the way people work, and this needs time. It’s not technology that needs time, it’s the people. These limitations always come from the people,” the Ducati official adds.

Manuel Pecino from Solo Moto talked to Dall’Igna in Le Mans and the former Aprilia top hat also mentioned that Ducati’s reticence must not be taken for indecision. “The Japanese simply want that they build the guidelines for the new common software, and we disagree with this. We must definitely be a part of the group which builds the new ECU code, lest it is no longer a ‘common effort’, “ he told the Spanish magazine.
So the base line is that Ducati wanted to postpone the “freeze software development” moment as much as possible in order to be able to come up with the details which worked best for its bikes, and not be forced to take Honda’s guidelines as the starting point. Which seems fair, truth be told.

Problem is that none of the factories is at the moment willing to make any compromise when it comes to the future “unified” software. Ducati is very vocal, claiming that 7th or 8th position finishes are no longer enough in 2015, and that the new bike being developed will certainly perform better… and Honda is trying to prevent this from happening.

Ducati is indeed working on a new bike and Dall’Igna was rather secretive about it, even refusing to say whether it will maintain the 90-degree architecture. The new engine is, however, making the bikes noticeably faster, even though the machine still suffers from poor handling. Yet progress is being made, and Ducati is not willing to null it in the future by letting others write their own version of the unified software. While the engine seems to be alright, it’s obvious that the chassis needs major revisions and all adds to each team trying to get the upper hand in the future.

For now, Honda and Ducati are definitely NOT working together for the new software as Dorna hoped. In fact, there are rumors that Dorna is working on its own electronic package, trying to make ends meet. As I already mentioned in another editorial, Ducati was the only manufacturer which provided Magneti Marelli with software knowledge and helped building the Open class software, knowing that by abandoning the Factory attribute, it would benefit from both “favorable” electronics AND the Open regulations.

A smart move, which gave Ducati a solid and fair advantage in the perspective of the 2016 unified ECU software… and a non-negligible threat for Honda, despite the proven current superiority of Pedrosa’s and Marquez’ bikes. For Honda, using the Ducati-inspired Open class software as the guideline for the unified one is as unacceptable as Honda providing the early version of the cod is in the eyes of Borgo Panigale.

Basically, what Dorna intended, which is to become some sort of a “fellowship of the ECU,” turned out to be a skirmish with (sometimes) veiled cut-throat accents. It’s going to be hard to convince either side to make further compromises, and we might get to see Dorna forced to make all teams swallow its own software. Wonder whom will Dorna turn to for its branded software? Hopefully not to Marelli, as most of the new stuff Marelli knows comes from Ducati, and Honda will not be exactly happy with this…
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