(This is the first installment in a, as yet undetermined-length, series examining the available data for the 800cc era MotoGP seasons to date: 2007-2010. )
New Rules in 2010, The Storm's Pre-cursors:
As the 2009 MotoGP season came to a close, the prelude to the longer-life engine rules had been put into place. The teams came to Valencia with 2010-specification engines for the post-race test. Each team, essentially, began with the same premise to make their 6 allotted engines last the entire season: cut RPM. As a consequence of the introduction of the 21-liter fuel limit in 2007, all of the teams struggled with methods for maximizing power and control under braking while limiting consumption. A de facto rev-limit would serve, in a small way, to bring a little more fuel into usable powerbands. However, Ducati arrived with a parallel strategy; an uneven-firing "long bang" motor. Both of their riders strongly preferred the feel and power delivery of this engine, so it became the center of development plans for the 2010 season.
One significant effect of this decision was to somewhat obsolete much of Ducati's existing fuel mapping data for the ensuing season. Rumored to be extraordinarily specific to each venue, the previous years' data for their even-firing "screamer" engines would need to be re-worked during the first practice sessions of each race weekend in 2010. The weather largely cooperated the great majority of the year, with very little rain interfering in the rather severe demands placed on the fuel-mapping engineers and helping to mask any underlying problems they might have otherwise faced if the weather had stalled their efforts. Furthermore, any significant struggles in this area were well disguised by a series of front-end washouts, bringing the majority of public attention to the (presumed) idiosyncrasies in the carbon fiber frame, the new Öhlins forks, the Bridgestone tires, Casey Stoner's riding style, Casey Stoner's state of mind, and even the condition of his compromised left wrist.
The Storm Hits:
All of that came to a rather abrupt change during the season's penultimate weekend at Estoril. FP1 and QP were complete washouts. FP2 and FP3 were both wet sessions. This meant that Ducati arrived at the Sunday morning WUP session with an undeveloped baseline fuel map for their riders, and no dry practice sessions to fine-tune or specifically tailor the bikes to their riders in, what turned out to be, desirable weather conditions. The night before, during a regular press debrief, Casey Stoner revealed a seemingly innocuous detail about the riders' fuel map options during a race. After explaining he has three levels to work through, this question and answer proved remarkably foreshadowing:
Q: So if there's a dry race tomorrow, there is going to be a lot of people pressing buttons on the (track), and playing around with their maps.
CS: I wouldn't be surprised, yes. They'd stagger a set of maps, and see which one is gonna work, and hopefully all these electronics work with fuel consumption management, and all this sort of stuff, and bring us home. Because it is gonna be the hardest thing. They have to go out and actually map the engine to understand how much fuel it's going to use, and if they don't understand how much fuel they are using, it's very difficult for them to know where to set it.
After The Storm:
As the race began, both Casey Stoner and Nicky Hayden were competing at the front of the field. But, in the last corner of Lap 4, Stoner experienced his 5th low-side crash of the season. Nicky Hayden pressed forward, looking as though he would compete for a podium finish. However, during the middle third of the race, in the estimations of nearly every announcer, journalist, and audience member around the world, Hayden's pace appeared to have victimized his softer compound tires, and he lost touch with the leaders.
Beginning with Lap 10, Hayden immediately averaged about .2 second per lap slower for the next 12 laps. During this 12-lap middle "stint", he would consistently average .1 second slower in the 2nd and 4th sectors, compared to his pace in the opening nine laps (the gap is bigger, if the first two laps are ignored). This would not necessarily indicate much, but he had just completed a string of very tightly clustered fast laps before Lap 9, and what followed draws greater significance, in hindsight.
Apparently escaping the notice of everyone outside of his team's garage, on Lap 22 Hayden rather suddenly "recovered" about 1 second (about the pace he maintained during the first stint of the race). This detail was easy to overlook while he eventually worked his way forward and became reengaged in the battle for the final position on the rostrum. He had, in fact, improved an average of just under .5 second for the duration of the race; gaining an average of .1 in the first sector and .2 in the second and fourth sectors (he was remarkably consistent in the third sector throughout the entire race).
During a post-race interview, Nicky Hayden let it slip that the bike had entered its most severe fuel-saving mode for the middle third of the race. For anyone willing to spend 30 seconds researching the claim, it is plainly visible in glaringly obvious detail rarely seen in raceday lap charts. This would clearly obviate the popular presumption that he had used up his tires, or made a poor choice in his strategy of tire selection, for he could not have so easily recovered and maintained such an improvement for the duration of the race. If "research" sounds like too much work, we've done it for you…
Race Section Summaries in Total Seconds
|Laps 3-9||Laps 10-21||Laps 22-28|
In the graph, you can see the three distinct sections of Hayden's race. As you can see on the total elapsed time chart for the top 8 finishing riders, only Lorenzo is faster during the third "stint".
"So what?" you say. "Two tenths here, four tenths there… he just didn't have the pace…" One fairly remarkable trait about Nicky Hayden is his ability to run laps in very tight groups; with lap times often showing only small variances from one to the next. This ability is rarely noted because he has not done so at the front of a race since 2006. And it just isn't something someone outside of the team would typically notice during a race.
Returning to the chart, it is fairly clear that Hayden inexplicably loses about 5 seconds to all the riders around him. In the first stint, he is the third fastest rider, equaling his position in the race. In the second stint, he is worse than the eighth place rider, yet he somehow recovers to be the second fastest overall in the third stint. Because, at the end of the race, he loses out on the Podium by less than 1 second, it is fair to suggest that he was capable of maintaining a pace 2-3 seconds clear of the Dovizioso-Simoncelli battle, if not for the problems he experienced with the bike.
We chose to put Dovizioso's race on the same graph as Hayden's, thinking it would offer a more consistent "control" graph for comparison, since the riders ran similar races. What we found instead raised a few eyebrows. After nearly throwing the bike away on Lap 12, Dovizioso recovers to set all of his fastest laps in a string that is nearly the exact opposite of Hayden. Ordinarily, this might be considered "heroic"; eventually reaching the Podium after nearly falling out of the race altogether. However, because this is a discussion about fuel-map strategies, a series of questions develops.
What is plainly evident is the role free practice sessions play in fuel-map settings. Riders and teams speak of setting up their bikes, and most of us still assume they are talking about things like suspensions and tire pressures. But, in reality, these mechanical settings are slaves to the work of the programmers and data techs, because changes in power delivery and fuel usage have significant effect on handling dynamics and weight balance. If there isn't sufficient practice time (and, is there ever enough?), the programmers must rely heavily on speculative inference. In the case of Estoril 2010, we saw they can guess incorrectly.
What to make of this, then? Would Casey Stoner have suffered the same fate? It is impossible to know, but certainly seems likely, given the pace Hayden was capable of. The net result left Nicky Hayden with the dubious distinction of owning the two most visible fuel shortages in the 800cc era (to date).
What we will probably never know is whether there was any fuel left in the GP10's tank. Was the bike excessively conservative to the detriment of the team, the rider, and the race? Or did it execute what was necessary to salvage the best possible finish as the bike limped over the line (Hayden's third-worst 4th Sector time was the last one, in which he would have been trying hard to catch a mistake from Dovizioso and/or Simoncelli)? Or, was this some kind of user error by Nicky Hayden? Was Dovizioso similarly saddled with a programmer's strategy for the race in which, left to his own devices, he otherwise might have cleared off the field to a lonely 3rd Place finish? Or, might there have been a spectacular race-long battle between Hayden and Dovi for that last Podium position?
(Data and charts supplied by Mototheory.com, article co-authored by Jerry Osborne)