The ECU Endgame: Will MotoGP Survive The Motegi MSMA Meetings?

This may very well turn out to be the biggest week in MotoGP since the decision to replace the two stroke 500s with large capacity four stroke machines. This week, Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta is set to have meetings with each of the MSMA members at Motegi, to hammer out once and for all the technical basis for the 2014 season. If they succeed, the ground will be laid for a set of technical regulations which can remain stable for the long term, the goal being at least five years. If they fail, then one or more manufacturers could leave the series, reducing the number of factory bikes on the grid and potentially removing two of MotoGP's top riders from the grid. There is much at stake.

So much, in fact, that neither side looks prepared to back down. On the one side is Dorna, who see the costs of the championship spiraling out of control thanks to the increasing sophistication of the electronics, and the racing growing ever more clinical as fewer and fewer riders are capable of mastering the machines these electronics control. On the other side are the factories, for whom MotoGP, with its fuel-limited format, provides an ideal laboratory for developing electronic control systems which filter through into their consumer products and serves as a training ground for their best engineers. Dorna demands a spec ECU to control costs; the factories, amalgamated in the MSMA, demand the ability to develop software strategies through the use of unrestricted electronics. The two perspectives are irreconcilable, at the most fundamental level.

An Unstoppable Force

The tone of the debate has not helped. While Carmelo Ezpeleta has spoken of seeking a solution through dialogue and of conversations taking place in an amicable atmosphere, his tone when speaking in private is implacable. When Suzuki told Ezpeleta they would like to return to MotoGP in 2014, but would not if he imposed a spec ECU, he is reported to have told them "In that case, don't come." His logic is simple: when Suzuki asked for an exemption to the rookie rule so that they could sign Alvaro Bautista, on the grounds that they did not have a satellite team, Ezpeleta allowed it. When Suzuki asked for more engines in the first year of the allocation rules, they had their allocation upped from six to nine, in no small part thanks to the lobbying of Ezpeleta. As reward for his efforts, Suzuki cut back their MotoGP bike from two bikes to just one the next season, before pulling out altogether at the end of 2011.

When Honda tell Ezpeleta that a rev limit and spec ECU is unacceptable in MotoGP, he asks them why they are such strong proponents of the idea of a rev limit and spec ECU in Moto3, yet reject proposals for an identical system in MotoGP. The deal Dorna made with the factories at the beginning of the MotoGP era was that the MSMA would be allowed to make the rules if they promised to fill the grids. His faith in that deal has proven to be at best naive, as the factories have gradually either left the series or raised lease prices to unaffordable levels. Dorna subsidizes the factories twice: once directly, paying the factories a substantial sum - "more than a title sponsorship!" he told me at Assen this year - for their participation in MotoGP, and then a second time indirectly through subsidies to the satellite teams, which they need to be able to afford to lease the bikes from the factories.

Vicious Circle

Looked at from that perspective, Dorna's subsidies have actively helped to drive up the cost of MotoGP. The R&D efforts of the factories have been supported financially by the Spanish organizer of MotoGP; that R&D has improved the bikes, but made them more expensive; as a result, the satellite teams have had to ask for more subsidy from Dorna to allow them to continue competing; with more of their costs covered, the factories can pour more money into developing the bikes further, driving the costs up even further. The total amount a factory like Honda receives from Dorna is probably less than a third of their total MotoGP budget, but it is still enough to provide a strong incentive to continue to pursue R&D.

Seen from the viewpoint of the factories, they are not sure that they can afford to go racing if electronics are restricted. A manufacturer goes racing for two reasons: as part of their global marketing efforts to promote their brand as glamorous, high performance and technologically advanced; and to develop technologies which will help increase sales to consumer markets in the future. Every year, the racing department faces a tense meeting with the board of the company to explain why they need such a massive chunk of cash - Dorna subsidy or no Dorna subsidy - to jet off around the world and play at racetracks at corporate expense. The promise of increased sales and brand exposure in key markets such as Southeast Asia helps quell part of such interrogation, but the argument of a platform for their research and development proves to be a compelling one in persuading company executive boards to keep going racing.

The Pursuit Of Knowledge

The expertise gained from racing is also in areas key to consumer markets. MotoGP's fuel-limited formula means that much of the focus for electronics developers goes into working on strategies to save fuel in as many areas as possible, while preserving the best possible throttle response, especially at part throttle. The aim is to make the throttle response feel as natural as possible, provide acceleration which is as smooth as possible while still being as strong as the traction will allow, and reduce fuel consumption to the absolute minimum. All three of these areas transfer readily to production bikes and provide compelling sales arguments to consumers. That, in turn, helps persuade sceptical company executives that there is more return on their investment than just air miles on the corporate airline loyalty account.

Carmelo Ezpeleta is fully aware of these arguments. He has heard them many times over the years, but has grown impervious to them. After seeing the factories drive the championship down a financially unsustainable dead end, he has decided to call their bluff. What do the factories really gain from MotoGP? Do they really need the R&D to justify their racing programs, or does the exposure and branding provide sufficient return on investment to ensure their continuing commitment to the series?

An Immovable Object

HRC Vice President Shuhei Nakamoto - the de facto head of the MSMA, even though Takanao Tsubouchi is nominally in charge, as the other Japanese factories have always gone along with Honda's wishes - has been equally implacable. If they are not free to develop software strategies in their electronics systems, then racing in MotoGP has no added value, and they will withdraw. Imposing a spec ECU merely raises costs, Nakamoto says, requiring a massive investment to understand the new ECU and hack their way around the standard software. Honda does not believe in racing in a series which imposes such restrictions.

So will the factories knuckle under and accept the spec ECU? Or will Carmelo Ezpeleta back down and allow the factories to continue to develop their own software at least, compromising on standard hardware but unrestricted software?

Dorna and the factories have got themselves into a Mexican standoff, a situation where nobody dare back down and can only end in bloodshed. So much has been said on all sides that it is impossible to see one or the other side giving in. The first party to flinch will have lost, not just this argument but every argument into the foreseeable future. If Ezpeleta gives in, he will remain a hostage to Honda for as long as they remain in MotoGP, while if the factories accept this, then the acknowledge that they no longer have any control over the series. They become like any other team in MotoGP, with the ability only to advise, not to steer.

Showdown, And I Don't Mean BSB Style

From all that I have learned, Carmelo Ezpeleta looks to be the party most set on sticking to his guns. Conceding to factory demands that they be allowed to develop their own electronics will not guarantee they will remain in the sport in the long term. Indeed, if the economies of Europe and the US continue to stagnate, Honda, Yamaha and Ducati could decide to withdraw from MotoGP anyway. Honda came within a single board meeting of pulling out of racing altogether at the end of the end of 2008, and only their long tradition of racing in the spirit of their founder, Soichiro Honda, kept them in the sport. It is not an impossible scenario for Dorna to retain free electronics for the 2014 season, only to see Honda and Yamaha pull out before the season starts anyway, citing economic difficulties. Just as Suzuki did at the end of 2011, and just as Kawasaki did two years before.

If Ezpeleta digs his heels in, Nakamoto will find it very difficult not to pull out. Such strong statements have been made to the media that his credibility would be sorely tested. Nakamoto has proven to be a canny and extremely successful leader since he took over Honda's MotoGP program at the end of 2008 - indeed, some claim he was instrumental in saving it. Yet he finds himself in a position where his hand may be forced. The most likely scenario is not just that Ezpeleta will impose a spec ECU, but also that the software will be completely closed, with teams and factories only able to develop fuel maps, rather than traction control strategies. The miserly 21 liter fuel limit will almost certainly go as well, increased to 24 liters in line with the CRT machines, and a necessary prerequisite to imposing a standard electronics package.

The last time Honda pulled out of Grand Prix racing, in 1968 (over technical restrictions imposed to cope with an arms race that ironically brought us some of the most spectacular machines in history) the series suffered a massive blow. And given Honda's dominant position in the Grand Prix paddock, a similar disaster might be expected. Honda don't just put four MotoGP bikes on the grid, they also supply the engines for Moto2 through Geo Technology, as well as a large part of the Moto3 grid with their NSF250R motor. They also have two of the biggest names in racing on their books, current title challenge Dani Pedrosa, and upcoming talent Marc Marquez, whom they could ban from racing, though having to pay them very handsomely for the privilege.

Life After Honda?

Yet the impact of a Honda withdrawal may not be as large as feared. If Honda goes, there is a good chance that Yamaha might follow, but Ducati will stay. If Yamaha leaves, MotoGP will be completely gutted, as only a single manufacturer would look rather too threadbare. However, Yamaha have always said that they will only go racing if they have someone to race, and if Ducati stay - and Suzuki enter - then there is every reason to believe that Yamaha will remain in the series as well. And while holding Dani Pedrosa to his contract should be relatively easy - Pedrosa has repeatedly said he did not expect to be racing for many more years - keeping Marquez off the racetrack could prove impossible. The young Spaniard has too much ambition to sit out a year or two, and too much talent for another factory to pass up the opportunity to pay off the penalty clause in Marquez' contract and pick him up.

Honda leaving Moto2 would appear to be a mortal threat to the class, but Ezpeleta has made it clear he does not fear such a move. If Honda decide to pull out, Ezpeleta has said, he will simply go to the nearest Honda dealer, order forty CBR 600 engines, and hand them out to the Moto2 teams. Honda have already lost some of their grip over the Moto2 class, as Geo Technology - closely linked to HRC - have lost the contract to prepare the Moto2 engines to the technology park at the Motorland Aragon circuit. Motorland Aragon is charging a very great deal less to prepare the engines than Geo Tech did, and is much more willing to listen to and work with Dorna.

A Highly Profitable Petard

That leaves Moto3. If Honda were to pull out of that class, it would gut the field. The problem is that the way the new class has been set up, it is very difficult for Honda to pull out altogether. The bikes have been sold, and while Geo Technology has been given the contract by Honda to develop the engines, there is no reason why that role could not be taken on by another supplier, completely independently from Honda. The bikes, after all, have been sold, not leased, and already the numbers sold are in the hundreds, to be raced in series around the world.

What's more, the Moto3 class has proven to be rather lucrative for Honda. Unlike MotoGP, production runs are large enough for it to be a profitable venture. Honda is making money from its NSF250R racebike, and so instead of causing the class to collapse, pulling out of Moto3 would actually hurt Honda more than it would damage Dorna.

Honda's last avenue of escape was closed off last week. Private equity firm Bridgepoint, which owns both Dorna and Infront, parent company of the World Superbike series, last week put Dorna in charge of both MotoGP and WSBK. Honda's threat to withdraw from MotoGP was always backed by an implicit threat to switch to WSBK, where they would be free to develop electronics as they saw fit.

Game Changer

It would have proved highly rewarding for Honda. The new V4 sportsbike which Honda will introduce in 2014 has all the makings of a bike which will dominate World Superbikes. The bike had initially been leaked as a production racer version of the RC213V, a cheaper version to be sold to private teams in MotoGP as an alternative to CRT machinery. Whether Honda actually ever had any intention of building a pure production racer is unknown, but it is becoming increasingly clear that a roadgoing version for homologation purposes had been planned all along. That bike will form the backbone of Honda's increased involvement in World Superbikes, and will be a title contender from the very moment it hits the track.

However, with Dorna running World Superbikes, it is inconceivable that electronics development will continue without some form of restriction. The most likely scenario is that a spec ECU will be imposed on that series too, most probably at the same time (and possibly also the same unit) as the unit to be used in MotoGP. Any factory withdrawing from MotoGP over the imposition of spec electronics will have little credibility if they then switch their attentions to World Superbikes where the same restrictions apply. What's more, Dorna could simply refuse the entry of a factory which had deserted MotoGP, even though such an entry might be made under the guise of a supposedly independent team with a long history in World Superbikes.

End Game

How all this will play out remains to be seen. News will start to emerge after the first meetings this week, but we will only really know the outcome once the minutes of the Grand Prix Commission, due to be held at lunchtime on Saturday, are published. If those minutes contain new regulations for 2014 including a spec ECU and a rev limit, then Carmelo Ezpeleta will have stood his ground and won. If they contain nothing of real significance, then Ezpeleta will have backed down under pressure from Honda.

Carmelo Ezpeleta and Shuhei Nakamoto will be calling each other's bluff this week at Motegi. Right now, it is hard to see who holds the stronger set of cards, both men having very strong hands. By Saturday, though, they will have to lay their cards on the table, and we will get to see who blinked and who didn't.

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"Honda does not believe in racing in a series which imposes such restrictions." Yet Honda race in other series with spec ECUs. Where are they gonna go to WSBK? Wait Dorna is running that too now. Honda is really backed into a corner IMO. They shouldn't bluff right now when its so easy to call.

These sites are always filled with distinctly biased posts that either either ignore or don't understand the economics of racing. The manufacturers had no problem leaving AMA when it changed hands. Ducati dropped WSBK involvement. And there are hundreds of other examples of vehicle manufacturers leaving a series, including F1, because or economics, rules, or just plain egos.

If Honda left, what kind of series would you have? Not much of one, that is for sure. I hope the DORNA ego gets this right, or MotoGP may REALLY stink up the joint.

This point has been made to me again and again, especially by team managers and IRTA staff: the factories do not need to race. Their primary purpose is to build and sell motorcycles. They may choose to engage in racing to support that purpose of designing and selling, for example to develop new technology or to promote their brand. But they survive perfectly well without going racing, as Kawasaki, Suzuki, Moto Guzzi, Vespa, Triumph and a host of other companies demonstrate.

The teams, on the other hand, exist only to race. If they don't go racing, they'll have to go and get 'proper' jobs, which will involve them staying in one place and working nine to five, something which would drive most people involved in racing completely insane.

The difference between the two is simple. If a factory decides it is not going racing any more, it sends all its engineers back home to work in offices and gets on with selling bikes. If a team decides not to race any more, then it ceases to exist, the individual members all drift off to try to find other jobs.

In other words, the teams are committed to racing, and are in it for the long term. The factories are just visiting. They may stay for a long time, but they are not there by necessity. They can up sticks and leave at any moment that suits them.

If you are going to build a racing series, it is better to build it around the teams than around the factories, precisely because the factories CAN choose to leave at any time. Give the teams the tools and they will stick around; give the factories the tools and they might stick around, or they might get bored and go off to do something else. It is a massive risk building your series around factory participation, as Ezpeleta has found out since the beginning of the four-stroke era.

David, What exactly is the verbiage in Marquez' contract allowing HRC to ban him from racing should it pack up and go home?

If a rider is contracted to a team/factory for 'x' years and that team/factory leaves the series then, contractually, they can carry on paying him yet he won't be racing (I'm pretty sure that's what happened wih Kimi Raikkonnen when he left Ferrari/F1).

There will be clauses allowing the rider or another team to 'buy out' the contract so he can race elsewhere/for another team, but these amounts are usually so high as to make it impractical to do, even if the talent is the best there is around.

So there is the possibility of Honda having Marquez contracted to HRC and HRC 'resting' him and the team until the contract ends, whilst paying him to be a test rider/sit at home pllying on his X-Box.

And who will need Dani and Marc?

Dani and Marc have 2 year contract.

Yamaha signed Lorenzo and Rossi. Ducati have enough riders in his current state of development.

And all ot them have 2 year contracts.

So who would be able to take Marc in the next 2 years in factory team?

There is not enough bikes on the grid. Maybe Suzuki. But as we can see, it will probably stay out of MotoGP.

I am big fan of Dani Pedrosa and Marc... but the grid in MotoGP is full. We all know this.

If Honda pull out, it seems safe to assume that the four bikes per factory rule will be dropped. Dorna could easily offer more money to Ducati or Yamaha to field extra bikes, and pay the riders themselves. It would cost not much more than they are currently paying to Honda. Yamaha was already keen to secure the services of Marquez, and would surely jump at the chance.

The real question is whether someone, be it Yamaha or Dorna, would be willing to buy Marquez out of his contract with Honda, and what that would cost.

He's played his cards well and has the factories by the balls

As much as it would hurt motogp if honda and yamaha pulled out, i think it would hurt the manufacturers more.
personally I see the motegi meeting ending in a 'compromise', where Dorna gets basically evey rule they wanted and the factories get some small concessions to allow them to save face and remain in the series without looking stupid. Hopefully the politics eases up a bit then because i just wanna see some racing

Absolutely amazing article David. What I took from it was the manufactures had to cope with the fuel restrictions thus putting so much emphisis on electronics. Now we are getting 100mpg scooters, and Carmello now wants to restrict electronics.

Things will get worse before they get better, especially if HRC leaves.

I don't understand why Carmello doesn't change the fuel rules to lower the importance of fuel economy in MotoGP thus reducing the sheer amount of computer power needed to run at the front.

Why not allow the bikes unlimited fuel with the bike being weighed at the END of the race (say minimum 135kg). This would allow the current factories to continue using their fuel saving devices and start the races with less fuel, but still allow less tech enabled teams to compete by having to add 4 to 5 kilo's of extra fuel at the start of the race. And as we've seen between the rider weight of Podrossa and Lorenzo, 4 or 5 kilo's is not going to make a huge amount of difference (especially as the difference in fuel weight carried would reduce as the race goes on)

That's a really clever idea. Raise the fuel limit to level the field... I think it would definitely help. I'm not so sure it would be a game changer, but combined with a couple of other changes it would be pretty key.

Frankly I agree with Ezpeleta, simply because of one reason, spec ECU worked in F1. It has produced closer racing with more winners, and you can see it. You can see cars spinning out, having bad starts, it's more in the rider's hands.

Thinking about the scale of money put into an F1 car vs. MotoGP bike, and spec ECU was instrumental in changing the racing, I can only say it's worth a shot. The evidence is there, it's been tried.

I also respect Carmelo for not being the MSMA's lapdog, not too crazy about CRT, but it's probably really more of just a shot in the dark... in the manufacturer's direction.

As long as he doesn't screw up WSBK...

"Spec" ECU has been in F1 for years. The show was not there until these couple of years. The "show" appeared with the combination of DRS and Pirelli tyres, which degrade like crazy.
F1 teams still program a lot of the ECU. It is not a closed box (like proposed to MotoGP). See the problems with Red Bull F1 team software at Hockenheim 2012. Not closed and it didn't work to improve the show. It didn't really work in F1, just ask Alonso in Abu Dhabi 2010. The problem with high degradation tyres is that teams are getting so good at managing tyres, that races are becoming more predictable and for this reason Pirelli is going to change tyres for 2013 just to spice up the show. The tyres are actually quite bad in technology terms. Martin Brundle said something along the lines of "They're 8 seconds of pace, they are nursing the tyres" (SkyTV coverage of Suzuka), see also the comments of Schumacher "Pirelli tyres are like 'driving on raw eggs" after Bahrain 2012.

The spec ECU is just the first step as it was with F1. While your correct when heaping praise on the current Pirelli tyres in F1 they would be much easier to keep "alive" with traction control and other driver aids that could only be banned and policed effectively by use of the spec ECU.

It's a necessary evil.

Okay... spec ECU, which removed traction and launch control, didn't improve the show?

Okay we'll take that on faith, as hard as it is for me to believe. Forget the show then, Mat Oxley claims many F1 report spec ECU cut their electronics expenditures by half.

"I would introduce a control ECU to MotoGP because F1 teams tell me that F1’s control ECU has slashed their expenditure on electronics by half. To those who believe in the necessity of unrestricted electronics R&D, I would point them in the direction of BMW’s new S1000RR HP4 road bike. The HP4’s state-of-the-art ECU – with traction control, wheelie control and semi-active suspension – was developed from a BMW 7 Series road car."

I predict one of the following scenarios to happen....

1) Honda continues with their bluff announcing that they will participate in 2013 but quit before 2014 season in protest of the spec ECU. This will be done in the hope that it will buy them 1 more year time to get the rule revoked.

2) Carmelo yet again buckles under Honda's pressure and accepts to keep the spec ECU only for the CRT's and rev limits for all bikes in return to "promise" from factories to reduce lease prices and increase number of lease bikes on the grid!

"and increase number of lease bikes on the grid!"

Factories are limited to 4 bikes on the grid by Dorna's rule. I believe it's to promote CRT.

Honda should keep to their announcement of a production racer... I know they will probably make more money with the plan mentioned in the article to convert to a full production for WSBK and mass market. I was daydreaming today of owning a RC213V derived V4 in a light standard street-fighter package like a lighter version of a Street Triple R... Street Quad V4 R... mmmm

Forget it, I change my mind, I want them to switch to WSBK

I don't see the loss of Honda as that big a deal... I grew up in the 70s and 80s and the grid was entirely made up of a couple Suzukis (RG500) and mostly Yamaha TZs. Honda wasn't around for years and no one cared about only two makes of bike in the whole series; the racing was great!

Fantastic article.

No one cared in the 1970s/80s if there were only two makes on the grid because GP racing was not the high-dollar, high-stakes game that it is today. I remember Kenny Roberts complaining about winning a GP and getting $800 as the victor. It would be interesting to check the margins of victory in those races, as well ...

Here's my ultimate question with Carmelo-matics: How much money is, say, Suzuki really going to save by going GP racing with a spec ECU rather than their own? In terms of a percentage of the total cost of fielding a MotoGP team?

From what I've seen on this site, it costs Honda and Yamaha north of $50 million a year to go racing. Will it really be that much easier to sell MotoGP to Suzuki's (or BMW's) directors if the price is reduced to $45 million? Or even $40 million? Suzuki barely has a presence in WSBK, which costs (again, from what I've seen published) significantly less than MotoGP.

In other words, the savings from going to a spec ECU might be huge to a satellite team, but they're not using front-line stuff anyway, so there's little savings there. And for the major factory efforts, the shift might end up costing them money.

Again, fantastic article.

It is really difficult to say but I do expect some sort of compromise to happen, with Dorna coming out with a much stronger position than before. My guess is that factories will be allowed to develop their own software but a spec hardware will be imposed. For once, I would be quite happy with that as I do see a constrained R&D as an essential component of MotoGP.

The hardware for the electronics is the cheap part. The real cost is in the software, in pouring over the data looking for trends and patterns, in refining algorithms, in inventing new ways to control power outputs and manage the bike, minimizing fuel use in one place while maximizing power elsewhere. That part is capable of absorbing an effectively infinite amount of money, while still providing improvements, though the returns grow increasingly small.

The package will be imposed as a whole, or not at all. Spec hardware will not make any difference, only spec software will curtail costs and manage performance.

Thank you for the details, I see what you mean. Do you think stopping completely the R&D on ECU is a good or maybe the only way forward? I am honestly not so sure and from the outside it is very difficult to understand where MotoGP should go. R&D is a defining element of the nature of MotoGP but it is also fundamental to make affordable for a number of factories to compete for the title while producing an engaging show for the public. Your post is very balanced and informative but I do not understand where you stay in this 'Mexican standoff'.

Absolutely - the cost is in using the squishy gray matter of the software programmers. But how much is that cost compared to the expense of flying two semi-tractor trailers full of equipment around the world for 18 or so rounds? Or building bikes of unobtanium? Or rider salaries? Or crew salaries? Etc ...

That's my question. I dunno, maybe SW programming is half the cost of a MotoGP program. But if, as Oxley suggests, engineers from the car divisions and other divisions also are working on the MotoGP/bike electronics, the cost is now spread across the entire company.

I suspect, reading Carmelo's Cycle News interview, that he's more interested in a better spectacle than strictly cost controls.

Electronics costs are a red herring in this entire situation. The reason for the spec ECU is because Dorna has realized that non-manufacturers cannot build a top level racing motorcycle anywhere near as good as a manufacturer can. As you say, the hardware cost is minimal. What is the personnel cost? Small compared to the overall budget.

Since double the engines and 24l of fuel has not helped make any headway in closing the gap to the prototypes he needs to go to the next level and directly handicap the fast bikes. Giving more fuel is not really an option as where would the CRTs put it? A 26 or 28l tank is HUGE and would likely adversely affect the overall balance of the bike. Even more engines to allow a higher state of tune (WSB-like) would increase costs in two ways: a more powerful engine is more expensive to build and you would need to build more of them. So much for a low cost solution.

I wonder how far ahead Dorna has looked at the situation. I believe that whatever spec equipment is regulated a factory will be able to build a faster bike than Suter, FTR or whoever. The Dorna goal is to have closer racing. The only way for this to happen via regulation is to eliminate all factory participation. Aprilia use their own ECU in the ART and beat the pants off the non ART CRTs. Will those ART teams use the 'free' ECU next year? I doubt it. Then in 2014 the ART bikes (the only ones even with a hope of being close to the prototypes) will take a performance hit. The factories (if they decide it is worth the effort) will devote their resources to optimizing the control ECU to a level the private teams cannot afford to and will retain a significant performance gap because a prototype engine will always outperform a modified production engine. What we will end up with is a series with a. factories making a halfhearted effort yet still beating the pants off the CRT efforts (just like now) or b. a future with no factory participation and only privateer efforts. Either path is a path to irrevelancy and demise.


re: "Electronics costs are a red herring in this entire situation. The reason for the spec ECU is because Dorna has realized that non-manufacturers cannot build a top level racing motorcycle anywhere near as good as a manufacturer can."

see, somebody other than myself get's it...!!! kenny roberts never once "wrung his hands" or "gnashed his teeth" over electronics. (heellloo) i'm talking about the MODERN ERA kenny roberts who just pulled out of 4-stroke prototypes just recently. the fact that so many seem to be oblivious to this is a real good indicator of who's been around...? and who's recently joined the party. c'mon, a paradigm shift in the cost of racing grandprix isn't going to occur INSIDE OF 5 YEARS...? anyone who thinks this i fear has been watching too many iphone commercials. there's so much more to making a grandprix motorcycle go faster than downloading an "app" and plugging in a smartphone.

re: "because a prototype engine will always outperform a modified production engine."

and there it is... there's no crying in baseball and there are no pneumatic valves/billet cases in production. observe, these are fundamental HARDWARE issues... not software.

re: "What we will end up with is a series with a. factories making a halfhearted effort yet still beating the pants off the CRT efforts (just like now) or b. a future with no factory participation and only privateer efforts. Either path is a path to irrevelancy and demise."

evolution... like the dinosaur... (agent smith voice) that's damn right. the only things these machinations do is simply postpone the inevitable. motogp is the equivalent of a "saber tooth" thrashing around in a tar pit.

The Japanese factories use R&D to justify the huge costs of their racing programs. If the R&D benefits are removed then they will simply have to control the costs of their racing programs such that they satisfy the boardrooms desire for value.

If MotoGP were purely about the machinery, then you'd have the riders ride each bike, and the winner'd be the bike that was consistently fasted, independent of the rider. It's not like that cause MotoGP is *also* about competition between riders. :) If you try to maximise the value to the boards of the MSMA, then you'll devalue the racing and MotoGP - which is what's happened during the era of MSMA technical-rule control!

I think it's sad Dorna want to eliminate some of the engineering-competition. The problem is disparity in economic resources, and they surely are ways to control that, while still allowing competition in the machinery. But hey...

IMO the issue is that Dorna didn't renew the MSMA contract for Technical specifications after 2011. Now Dorna is in a strong position to force major changes. Therefore I think Ezpeleta went for huge changes to have a serious grid to negotiate on. He can now play the game even harder after Bridgepoint handed him WSBK on a gold platter. I think Spec ECU will be forced but with a possibility for the factories to have some software freedom. Hardware though will be strictly imposed (number of sensors,...). The rev limit is already there because with the actual max bore of 81mm for a maximum of 1000cc, the laws of physics make that 16500rpm is the limit. I think Ezpeleta will leave the factories their 1000rpm. CRT will profit from the Spec ECU because it's developed by Magneti Marelli who already does electronics for Yamaha & Ducati. As David stated, Honda stands alone and already have been slapped on the wrist after their "little white lie" when increasing the weight limit came to the table. Maybe even a lease of engines will come to the table, so CRT bikes can get more competitive and factories can make more money........ Now, this is only me thinking, letting my fantasy go. I'm waiting anxiously for more news!

Many thanks for this fascinating article David.

Interesting to note the comments from contributors comparing the experiences in F1 and MotoGP.

I imagine that the boards of major motor companies have to take a deep breath these days when signing off on expensive racing activities. Improving the product using race technology to advance road car or bike performance, safety or economic aspects is often cited as the reason the factories carry on. However, in recent years Honda, Toyota and BMW have all pulled out of F1 and nobody is saying their road cars are suffering as a result so the idea that Honda need to be in MotoGP breaks down at this point.

It would also seem from recent articles in the bike press that Yamaha are having serious financial problems so how long will they be around in MotoGP?

I'm no great fan of Ezpeleta or Dorna, but it cannot be healthy in the long term for one manufacturer to hold such influence over the governing body. It would be like Man Utd or Barcelona having a say in the FIFA rulebook.

Without stretching the comparisons with F1 too greatly, at least they have adjusted their show to give the fans close racing, overtaking and full grids. As long as there is a clear difference between superbikes and GP bikes then whatever it takes to put a lid on costs to encourage existing a new teams must be good thing.

As a footnote, earlier this year some motor racing websites were reporting rumours that the Mercedes board, due to objections from the unions about the cost, were considering their future in F1. Now they have Hamilton on board they seem committed. However, if they don't get the world championship within a couple of years, I can't see them continuing in F1.

"Honda shows interest in F1 return..." says, correct me if I'm wrong but F1 engines are using and will be using in the future a spec ECU.

They have two of the best motor riders at the moment and for next year as well, so don't know what they are wining about, bring it on and get some proper racing on Sunday.

We'be seen the number of engines limited. Spec tires. Tire allotments. Testing limits. What if any is actually saving money or making the racing better?

Every solution to a complex problem will contain compromises which will upset some people.
This is business now, even if it started with blokes playing on bikes.
When you take over a Company you will be able to 'acquire' minds with it. But some will always live in the past, or have a different vision. Those people usually leave immediately (mostly Board level) or later.
If Honda decide they cannot accept the new way of working, they must go. We will miss them. Their business model is bankrupt from what I read here. Only fools throw good money after bad in circumstances where most of their 'customers' (the teams) are telling them that they cannot afford the product.
Carmelo may be a lot of things and I may not want him as a friend, were I to ever meet him, but recent events tell me he isn't a fool. Ecclestone isn't the most loved person either but he is respected for what he has done for F1, even if it too wasn't perfect at the first attempt.
Push on, fast. The only insane thing would be to keep doing the same things and expecting better outcomes. BSB has shown that' fortune favours the brave'.

What i dont understand is why Dorna let Honda get a foothold in Moto 2 & Moto 3. These problems have been coming to a head for a few years now so why let Honda strengthen its position?

Surely it would of made more sense to try and get someone like suzuki or kawasaki involved rather then give it to existing moto gp teams?

As the post above says Motogp needs to push on fast as another couple of seasons like the last few coupled with VR retiring and its the end. I fully understand this is supposed to be prototype racing but its a pointless excerise when its the same two teams dominate and the racing is as dull and streached out as it is.

Of course the simplest solution is to let everybody have access to this years bikes so in 2013 the CRT's will be racing 2012 factory yamaha's & honda's but i guess the factories wont allow that either. That would make the show far more entertaining!!

If Honda and Yamaha pull out, it in essence devalues the series, big time.

Moto GP is supposed to be the pinacle of the sport. If the top factories are not there racing, it doesn't really make it the pinnacle anymore (IMO).

If it becomes just the Ducati show, we will be taking a step backwards, not forwards.

Magneti Merrelli stock electronics (H/W & S/W) for everyone.
CRT's to run 2 (maybe 3) engines per meeting!
24 litres of fuel.
No leasing!
The private chassis manufacturer/teams should be allowed to prosper!
If necessary, let the factories leave!
If Dorna can pay many private teams what they're only paying to Honda & Yamaha to race, I think we'll never have had it so good!

Oh, & while they're collating the new rules, get Bridgestone to construct their tyres to function within a wider temperature window (that's what they used to do before spec tyre rule was introduced!)

Job done :-)
Go on Carmelo, you know you want to, press on!

Great article BTW!

I think Dorna are forcing the MSMA into an either-or decision. Either they keep prototype electronics and accept a revised 24L fuel limit, which makes fuel-saving strategies and advanced engine management optional (currently, a bike without such electronics can't even reach the finish on the lead lap). Or the MSMA can keep the 21L limit and accept the spec-ECU, which eliminates fuel-saving strategies altogether, and improves the quality of the competition at 21L. I think the rev-limit is non-negotiable based on safety grounds, the same justification used by the MSMA to push through the 21L 800cc formula.

The big two don't want either the 24L fuel limit or the spec-ECU, and decision theory says that avoidance-avoidance tends to make people drag their feet while they wait for a solution to present itself. Predictably, the MSMA are dragging their feet, hoping for a European recovery so Dorna/Bridgepoint can find a new axe to grind.

Personally, I don't want a spec-ECU, but if the fuel-limit remains at 21L, a spec-ECU and a relatively low rev limit are about the only way to save competition. If the manufacturers agree to 24L, which will probably require the bikes to be completely redesigned to 990-esque parameters, prototype electronics will not be a serious issue. 24L fuel tanks will also bring the rules together for CRT and factory prototypes.

I think the MSMA can avoid a spec ECU in MotoGP, but it requires them to embrace a pragmatic view of MotoGP's competitive environment.

As I understand it, Dorna are seriously considering raising the fuel limit to 24 liters for everyone once the spec ECU is introduced. It is much easier to limit electronic intervention with more fuel, and makes programming much easier for Magneti Marelli. I would be shocked if the fuel limit was not raised at the same time as the spec ECU was introduced.

If they introduce a spec-ECU, revising the fuel limit sounds like a reasonable secondary change. If the manufacturers accept 24L, I think they can avoid the spec ECU.

I don't have evidence to support my opinion, but it seems reasonable to me. The spec-ECU is simple, but the process of implementing a spec ECU is not, even if all of the teams are already running MM equipment. I suppose the costs and complications of policing the current electronics rules and future electronics rules could be more than the upfront cost of spec ECU development. Perhaps the spec-ECU is also a ploy to get more financial concessions from the manufacturers so Dorna/FIM can 'afford to police' the prototype electronics.

How much technology actually goes to road bikes from racing these days? On road you have totally different priorities and most of the bikes aren't sports bikes, any examples?

Honda have bullied the sport for years - the facts are:
- It costs to much to race for privately entered teams
- With factory bikes, we'd only have 6 - 8 on the grid, thats not a world championship. We need more bikes & closer racing

It needs dumbing down, at least while the economy is in the state that it's in.

The same riders will be at the pointy end, it will just be better for us - it sucks turning on the TV on a Sunday knowing who is going to win, at least there would be 5 - 6 riders in with a shot.

If Honda leave, I'm sure they would pick up a few more factories in years to come.

I can see Suzkui entering the fold, with Aprilia's knowledge of WSBK it would not be an expensive fenture.

I can see dorna's problem, the racing is that expensive it is impossible to gain new factories into the series. By taking away a vital part of this, it would surely attract new entries. All they have to build is a motor & a frame. The tires, electronics and suspension / stopping is generally all the same. A lot cheaper to develop that, and to build a bike around it.

They should allow pre-applications for manufactuers as well, say they want to complete Dorna subsidies a years worth of tires and the electronics for development so they can enter the year after they have had their testing.

We keep talking about adding factories, but how many factories are there that can really join? Honda, Yamaha, Kawi, Suzuki, Ducati, Aprilia, BMW, KTM, MV Agusta, Triumph. Those are what I believe to be the 10 largest factories with the knowledge and capabilities to produce race bred machines. It would be nice to see them all racing, but 3 of them, KTM, MV Agusta and Triumph do not compete as factories on their top level machines, RC8R, F4 and Daytona(if its even still available). And the other 7 are already competing in series throughout the world.

The bottom line is that while we would love to attract many factories, there is a finite number of factories that are willing to develop and assist in building a race winning machine.

Ι enjoyed the reading both yours David and the readers'. It took the better half of 2 hours to really dive in it all. (Today I'll abstain from further reading Iain M. Banks' new space opera --thanks to this article.)
Great arguments most of them, lush reading. There is not much original that a man can bring that late in such a discussion, apart from this… perhaps: along with engine management strategies, which didn't exist in the present form in 1978, when Honda left, teams and bosses use in today also mathematics to establish their behaviour, according to their purposes and the wished-for result.
It would be foolish for either Mr. Nakamoto or Mr. Ezpeleta to enter this fight without such a strategy. Or alternative plans to fall back to. Otherwise why enter the discussion altogether? And I don't think either of them is the reincarnation of John Wayne...
I mean, Mr. Nakamoto must have already decided to go away -and informed accordingly the Honda High Ranks- if he is not prepared for serious negotiation (dealing, bazaar…). Could this really be the way high ranking and visible managers, however charismatic, make decisions nowadays? Even an eccentric genius like S.Jobs followed some sort of strategy, however bizarre...
So, I would bet this time on a give-and-take consensus.

re: "The bikes, after all, have been sold, not leased, and already the numbers sold are in the hundreds, to be raced in series around the world."

they homologated SP1/SP2’s for 7 years. i'm guessing they’ll cancel christmas on “hundreds” in an eye blink...?

re: "What's more, the Moto3 class has proven to be rather lucrative for Honda. Unlike MotoGP, production runs are large enough for it to be a profitable venture. Honda is making money from its NSF250R racebike."

wait, honda accord money...? fwiw, the states are on track to sell over $14 million (with an M) cars/trucks by years end. even the big 3 domestics are moving inventory.

re: "It would have proved highly rewarding for Honda. The new V4 sportsbike which Honda will introduce in 2014 has all the makings of a bike which will dominate World Superbikes."

the unfortunately reality is this PALES in comparison to how odyssey minivans DOMINATE parking lots adjacent to elementary school soccer fields. somewhere, right now, at this very second, a couple is buying a new odyssey and gladly paying OVER retail. the vehicle's been around for more than a decade. in contrast, bikeworld beggars (slitting their own throats) will attempt DEVALUATION of the next gen RVF before the first one's even been uncrated...?!

re: "Honda leaving Moto2 would appear to be a mortal threat to the class, but Ezpeleta has made it clear he does not fear such a move. If Honda decide to pull out, Ezpeleta has said, he will simply go to the nearest Honda dealer, order forty CBR 600 engines, and hand them out to the Moto2 teams..."

...and suddenly the P/N for CBR600 engines and short blocks mysteriously go on GALACTIC BACK ORDER status when ordered in quantities greater than 1.

"hey johnny, didn't the parts look up say there were over 50 assemblys available in japan just yesterday...?" (comment overheard in honda parts departments round the globe)

With the Moto2 contract about to expire at the end of this season, Honda sent Carmelo Ezpeleta a bill. It was for crushing the Moto2 engines. Ezpeleta asked Honda why they sent him a bill. "We always crush our race engines," he was told. "You won't be crushing these, I own these engines, I have already paid for them," Ezpeleta replied.

At the end of 2012, the Honda engines will be taken out of the Geo Tech trucks and put into Dorna trucks, then shipped to the Motorland Aragon circuit. This problem has already been solved.

I'm 100% behind Ezpeleta on this one.

The factories have not contributed to fill grids or make the championship more competitive.
I think it is fair to say that winning and developing better technology is their priority, but if their ownership of the tech. regs. was in exchange for helping to keep the championships health they have fallen well short.

I think speed and racing is intrinsic to motorcycling, and this will go on with or without the direct presence of the large scale manufacturers.

We have here a complex problem wher to focus it properly you can't look at it in a direct, linear fashion. There are several axis in this situation:

Technology vs Riders war.

On one end of one line there are the factories and their little old motorcycles with all these geeks mapping out resolvers and hell effect sensors that can map out even if Pedrosa had a whooper for lunch rather than a salad and change some weird solenoid valve in some way to compensate,swearing there product is 80% of the rider/bike ratio combination.... on the other side of that line would be guys like Vale & Stoner with their fine movement control hands swearing for the 80/20 rider/bike ratios, who should win this tug-o-war?

Economic war

But that spectrum has to placed over another axis that represents the economic factors, do we encourage space-age robot bikes at any cost or do we do something to level the play field, even if it means dumbing down the prototypes?Unless Honda,Yamaha and Ducati are willing to produce,say 50 or 100 race engines to make them available for the teams, then spec everything is the right thing to do(If we want something that resembles a race), again the truth resides somewhere in the middle...

Then comes another axis:the show.

We all know Moto2 should be the standard of close racing, rather than the current GP races, where whoever of the two main bikes gets the holeshot, wins the race, if for some unbelievable reason somebody manages to make one pass(God forbid!) that awakes half of the people and if more than 2 passes are made for the lead, we all flood the internet the next day yelling that was the best race of the year so far. *rolleyes*...Race action is kind of slow compared to the "inferior" classes because the "aliens" have a race in a different class, then another race for "best of the rest" then a minute later comes the CRT's....theres too much of a difference between them that it kills the class, we need to increase the pace of the CRT's and somehow bring the aliens back to earth so that we can have a larger "second group" *rolleyes* that can put up some kind of a race

so we got our 3D view of a problem and there are as many opinions as people here, and we have to find optimal peaks for each parameter in order to stay on the green area, and I suspect that Carmelo is trying to do just that, and as any good administrator, he will have opposition no matter what route he takes. If I was in charge, I'd go in favor of simplicity in all cases. You can't have a complicated system working forever without a high price so for me, the simplest solution will always be the best solution, and by watching the success of Moto2:Give 'em all the same friggin ECU, unlimited fuel, raise the engine limit to 10 and perhaps we can have a true race.

Was a failure in Formula 1 - but three days before Honda canned that programme, he was parachuted into the MotoGP position. Has he been good for MotoGP? You be the judge. Despite the vilification of Ezpeleta, I think he simply HAS to take strong action because the Japanese race team bosses simply cannot be trusted. They have not held up their end of the bargain, as David has reminded us in his timely article. Ezpeleta is in the position of a movie producer. He has a show to put on. Does he need a few prima donna actors trying to hold up the show? Those who think a Honda withdrawal would be bad are delusional. It would probably be a good thing. Last time they pulled out of motorcycle GP racing, the premier class eventually blossomed. Back then, there was not much in the way of 500cc class engines that could be fitted into racing chassis to give MV competition, but privateers persevered and there were far more riders in the championship than today. Suzuki's RG500 sold in enough numbers to give the 500 class a real shot in the arm, and just as things got really interesting, Honda turned up again and has progressively poisoned the well. They either race to Dorna's rules, or take a hike. There are plenty of 1000cc engines available that can be used in race chassis. Clearly too many posters here have forgotten the era in Formula 1 when most of the teams were using the same engine (Ford Cosworth V8). Did anyone miss Honda, or any other manufacturer? No. Was the racing good? You bet. If Honda does not spit the dummy, I reckon they have done enough damage to warrant being booted out anyway.