Much has been made of the fact that the Ducati Desmosedici GP11.1 (as it has so geekily been dubbed) that Valentino Rossi is to race at Assen this weekend features a large number of parts - some would say, almost an entire motorcycle - that have been developed for next year's machine, the GP12. Rossi has tested the GP12 now on 3 separate occasions, but the parts and concepts he tested at both Jerez and Mugello are now being rolled out for the 2011 bike. This, some fans and media are claiming, is in clear breach of the rules; after all, contracted riders are only allowed to test this year's machines during the official tests at Estoril and Brno.
Yet MotoGP Technical Director Mike Webb today told MotoMatters.com that his team have been monitoring the tests closely, and that everything at the Ducati tests has so far been completely legal and within the bounds of the rules. Obviously, the GP12 Rossi and teammate Nicky Hayden have been testing is not a 2011 bike (the capacity was checked to ensure this) but if the bike is basically the same except for the engine, why this test legal?
The answer is simple. Section 184.108.40.206 of the FIM Grand Prix Regulations covers testing restrictions, and subsection A is phrased as follows:
Practice by contracted riders with machines eligible for the MotoGP class is forbidden:
and a summary follows of all of the cases in which testing is forbidden, plus all of the exceptions to that ban.
The key phrase here is "machines eligible for the MotoGP class." What is prohibited is the testing of machines, not parts, and a rolling chassis is not a "machine". Ducati - or Honda, or Yamaha, or Suzuki - are perfectly entitled to take their 800cc MotoGP machines, enlarge the engine capacity to 801cc (taking it above the permitted capacity for a 2011 MotoGP machine), and test whatever parts they like with Valentino Rossi, Casey Stoner, Jorge Lorenzo or Alvaro Bautista.
That may seem like a gross violation of at least the spirit of the testing regulations, but actually, it is merely the logical consequence of drawing up rules. If the rulemakers wanted to ban the testing of all 2012 parts which could be used on a 2011 machine, then testing would become impossible. The number of parts shared between any of the manufacturers' 2011 and 2012 bikes is huge: for a start there are the front forks and rear suspension units, as those are dictated mainly by Ohlins. Then there's the brakes, wheels and tires, from Brembo, Nissin, Marchesini, Bridgestone, which will almost certainly be identical between the 2011 and 2012 machines. Of course, the clip ons, brake and clutch levers, throttle grips, and triple clamps will also be shared. And most likely the throttle bodies, radiators, throttle cables, brake reservoirs, rearsets and axle nuts. And what of the radiator caps, brake lines, swingarm nuts, engine mounting bolts or spark plugs? Does the fuel count as a part of a 2011 machine? How about the air in the tires?
That may be a reductio ad absurdum argument, but it holds true nonetheless. If the Grand Prix Commission (who make the MotoGP testing rules) wanted to ban the testing of 2011 parts on 2012 machines, they would have to produce an exhaustive list of both existing and potential parts for every single MotoGP machine, and then decide which could be tested and which could not. That would be both time-consuming and incredibly ineffective, as parts were suddenly redesignated, renamed and repurposed to fall outside the testing ban rules. Given that this situation will (hopefully) only occur this year, as we switch from the 800cc machines to the 1000cc machines for 2012, it would be madness to even consider embarking on such a project for just the one year. Next year, we will be back to normal, and the rules will hopefully stay stable for a very long time.
Ducati may have gained an advantage in the short term by testing the GP11 parts on their GP12 machine. But it is equally possible that by designing 2012 parts with 2011 in mind, they could end up leading themselves astray, and with testing time for the 2012 machine proper sacrificed to lessons for this year. Accusations of cheating are not only completely unjustified, they fail to see the bigger picture. Any testing for 2011 done on the 2012 machine is merely robbing Peter to pay Paul.