Where's the 2016 MotoGP Heading?

The Grand Prix Commission met in Qatar and discussed the new set of rules which will become effective from 2016, a year which seems more and more like a landmark in the history of the sport.
Wiring behind the cowl of a Yamaha MotoGP bike 1 photo
Teams, manufacturers, Dorna and FIM representatives agreed on the changes which aim to make MotoGP a much more interesting sport starting 2016. The main idea behind these regulation changes is to add more "elasticity" to the premier class and introduce ways to balance performance and allow more teams to fight for higher positions.

Seven engines per season, 22 liters of fuel

The number of engines per rider per season from 2016 will be seven, but this is only a compromise. Honda, Suzuki and Yamaha wanted to have six engines per season, as opposed to Ducati and Aprilia, who argued that nine would be better. With the houses of Tokyo and Iwata currently doing well with five engines, their position is easy to understand. Engines will be frozen for Factory teams, as before.

Each bike will be able to carry as much as 22 liters of fuel from 2016 on. Currently, Factory teams are allowed 20 liters, while the Open bikes can load four extra liters of fuel. Ducati lost the 24-liter concession after its riders were on the podium in Qatar, and now rides with 22 liter for the rest of the season.

The minimum weight for the bikes was set at 157 kg (346.6 lb), with one more kilo possibly dropped in the future.

Concessions come and go, even for manufacturer teams

The differences between the Factory and Open class machines will be reduced, as it was already known for some time. This means that under the new regulations, even manufacturer teams or factory entries will be able to benefit from certain concessions, so far reserved to Open teams.

If a factory team doesn't have a dry win between 2013 and 2015, it will be entitled to use 12 engines and enjoy the rest of the concessions Ducati, Aprilia and Suzuki have now. This includes unlimited testing with contracted riders, the softer tire, engine development, and so on.

A concession point system will be introduced

To make keeping track of things easier, a concession points system will be introduced. A victory equals three points, second place - 2 points and third place - 1 point.

When a team reaches 3 concession points in dry races, the maximum fuel quantity is reduced to 22 liters. Reaching the 6-point limit (wet and dry races) from 2016 means that a manufacturer will immediately lose the right to test with the contracted riders and will also lose all concessions from the next season.

However, if a manufacturer gains no concession points during a season, they will benefit from all the concessions the next season.

On software changes

As you probably know, software will be frozen after the Dutch GP Assen, with all the bikes running the unified software from 2016. Honda and Yamaha are not at all happy with the state of development for the unified software and repeatedly said that it needs to become more complex.

Honda, Yamaha, and Ducati, which are the three manufacturers who agreed to help develop the 2016 spec software will have veto power. If Magneti Marelli wants to make changes, all three manufacturers will have to agree with them.

On the other hand, if all three manufacturers come up with a common decision in favor of making a change, then it must be implemented right away. GPC, however, said that in this case the costs for implementing it lie with the three.

The changes might seem a bit confusing now, but they make some sense

All in all, these changes, and whatever the Grand Prix Commission will come up with until the 2016 season kicks off, may seem a bit confusing. Still, they make sense, at least in the perspective envisaged by Dorna.

The main goal is to smoothen out the differences between the (current) factory and open teams, with the performance balance system being one of the methods for making races more competitive.

So far, the resources factory teams can allocate to their racing programs are much higher than what a privately-owned team can use, and this is easy to see on the track. The private teams should become more competitive from 2016, especially as it looks like they will have to run with better engines.

Some say that this leveling force is artificial and will introduce a false sense of competitiveness while others claim that seeing only Honda and Yamaha at the top of every race makes everything too boring.

So far, granting Ducati the freedom to develop their bike has brought quite a neat surprise in the opening round of 2015. Possibly, the new changes could also help Suzuki and Aprilia, who frankly, look like they're back to MotoGP as factory entries only because such concessions might give them a fighting chance. Not that this sounds wrong, but seeing at least 5-6 strong teams battling it out on the track would definitely make MotoGP more interesting!

Right now it's rather hard to make proper estimations as to what the premier class action will look like starting 2016, with Michelin taking over as official tire supplier and all the bikes running spec ECU and software. The post-race test in Valencia might provide an interesting preview, but until then it looks like we're in for some truly hot racing this weekend at the Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas.

Will Ducati be just as blazing fast and aggressive on the COTA tarmac, a circuit which seems to favor high corner speed over straight line nerve? Is Marquez star waning as some have been (rather excessively) quick to say? Are we entering a new Era of the Doctor? Some of the answers and more await for us on Sunday in Austin.
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