In a press conference held today during the IRTA tests at Jerez, Vito Ippolito, the president of the FIM, and Carmelo Ezpeleta, CEO of Dorna, announced a series of measures aimed at cutting costs in MotoGP. More details to follow, but here are the rule changes:
MotoGP is right in the middle of team launch season, and most of these are fairly meaningless events - Yamaha's launch was "virtual" which turned out to mean they posted some stuff up on the website, while Repsol Honda's launch was virtual for Dani Pedrosa, as the injured Spaniard had to attend by satellite link. And if the factory team launches are fatuous, then satellite team launches, tragically, would seem to be almost entirely irrelevant.
Except for the launch of Fausto Gresini's San Carlo Gresini Honda team, that is. For while the rider interviews consisted of the usual platitudes - Toni Elias feeling like he is coming home, Alex de Angelis believing he is stronger than last year - the team had a special guest present at the launch. Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta was also present, and the enquiring minds over at Italian site GPOne.com seized the opportunity to grill the Spanish MotoGP boss.
Their time was well spent, as Ezpeleta once again laid out his view of where MotoGP will be heading in the years to come. For Ezpeleta, the chief issue facing MotoGP was to cut costs. "We have introduced measures to cut costs. The only problem facing MotoGP is one of costs," Ezpeleta said. The Dorna CEO told GPOne that the Grand Prix Commission will be meeting after the IRTA tests at Jerez to discuss more dramatic cost-cutting measures.
MotoGP continues its expansion eastwards. After adding Hungary to the calendar this year, Dorna announced that it has struck a deal with the Bulgarian Motorcycling Federation to stage a round of the series from 2012 onwards. The deal would see Bulgaria host the round for five years at first, and was struck in conjunction with a TV deal for the terrestrial broadcaster BNT to air the 2009 season of MotoGP. No details of which, if any, track the series would run at were released, but the series would visit with all three classes, MotoGP, 125s and the new Moto2 class.
While any expansion of interest in MotoGP must be welcomed, the experience with the Hungarian round must surely act as a salutary lesson. Uncertainty continues to cloud the Hungarian round of MotoGP, with disputes continuing between the Hungarian authorities and the Spanish construction company over both who is to blame for delays in the construction of the brand new Balatonring circuit, and the current status of the project.
The difference, though, is that Hungary was awarded the race at very short notice. The Balatonring round was announced only a year before the race was due to start, a hard enough task in even the most ruthlessly efficient countries. But despite having three years to prepare, the job could be even more difficult in Bulgaria. The former Eastern Bloc country is currently being threatened with a subsidy stop from the European Union, after continually failing to tackle the corruption that is rife throughout all levels of Bulgarian politics. Unlike Hungary, which is relatively well run for a former Soviet satellite state, there is little sense that things are likely to improve in the short term, and so however desirable more races in Eastern Europe may be, question marks remain over the feasibility of the project.
As we reported earlier today, the Grand Prix Commission has announced a slew of new rules for MotoGP, supposedly aimed at cutting costs in MotoGP. The measures contain a mixture of news for MotoGP fans, some good, some bad, and some seemingly incomprehensible. Let's go through the measures one by one, and examine the possible impact.
First up is the revised weekend schedule, which sees the Friday morning practice dropped, and the other practice sessions severely shortened. A race weekend will now look as follows:
|13:05-13:45||125cc Free Practice 1|
|14:05-14:50||MotoGP Free Practice 1|
|15:05-15:50||250cc Free Practice 1|
|09:05-09:45||125cc Free Practice 2|
|10:05-10:50||MotoGP Free Practice 2|
|11:05-11:50||250cc Free Practice 2|
|13:05-13:45||125cc Qualifying Practice|
|14:05-14:50||MotoGP Qualifying Practice|
|15:05-15:50||250cc Qualifying Practice|
|08:40-09:00||125cc Warm Up|
|09:10-09:30||250cc Warm Up|
|09:40-10:00||MotoGP Warm Up|
A lack of oversight has been blamed by many for the outbreak of the financial crisis, and in response, there has been a deafening clamor for a vast tightening of the rules. As a major victim of the credit crunch, MotoGP has joined in, with an almost unceasing stream of proposals for new rules all aimed at cutting costs and saving the sport.
Along with the more straightforward cost-cutting measures reported yesterday, Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta has also put forward a series of proposals aimed at assisting the satellite teams to attract both sponsors and talent. According to GPOne.com, he presented these proposals to the managers of the satellite teams (all except for the Nieto brothers, who run Sete Gibernau's team) in Bologna on Tuesday.
The most significant change proposed is the institution of a separate championship for the satellite teams. The championship would have an official status, with its own podium ceremony at every race and a separate team championship as well. The winner of the title would be able to call himself World Champion. The aim is to give the satellite teams more exposure, as under the current rules, their chances at a podium - let alone a championship - are very slim indeed. By setting up a separate championship and a separate podium ceremony, Ezpeleta hopes to make satellite teams more attractive for potential sponsors.
The Kawasaski saga rumbles on, and it seems to be drawing closer to a conclusion. And sadly for MotoGP and Kawasaki fans, it's looking more and more like the conclusion will be both literal and figurative.
Today, Michael Bartholemy is in Japan for talks with Kawasaki bosses about the level of support they can provide should the Belgian decide to try and run the Kawasaki ZX-RR Ninja MotoGP machines inside a private team structure. Previously, Kawasaki told Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta that they only had enough parts to see out 25% of the season, and would not be able to handle engine development or maintenance. But Bartholemy has stated that he has found a French company which could handle at least some of that work, though no specific companies have been mentioned. If he can persuade Kawasaki to hand over the entire MotoGP operation to this French company, then there is a possibility that the team could be saved.
But it is also clear that this is the final hope for seeing Kawasakis - or whatever they might end up being called - on the grid. Originally, Jorge Martinez, boss of the Aspar team, was linked with taking over the Kawasaki bikes. This would have been a viable option, as Martinez has proven time and time again that he is capable of raising sponsorship to cover the costs. His price, however, is that he runs a Spanish rider, as his sponsorship is almost invariably aimed at the Spanish domestic market.
Uncertainty continues to cloud Kawasaki's future in MotoGP. Despite the official announcement on January 9th that Kawasaki would be withdrawing factory support from MotoGP, rumors continue to rumble on that there will be Kawasakis on the grid when the season starts, with some sort of private team structure running the bikes.
These rumors have been fueled by the private test currently underway at Eastern Creek in Australia. Test riders Olivier Jacque and Tamaki Serizawa are continuing work on the 2009 version of Kawasaki's ZX-RR Ninja MotoGP bike, lapping the track on Friday and Saturday. The official MotoGP.com website has video of the bike being tested, and is adamant that the bike will be run by a private team in the coming season.
News is starting to filter out of Akashi, Japan, by way of Italy, that Kawasaki will not after all be pulling out of MotoGP. After long negotiation with Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta, the Japanese manufacturer has rolled back its decision to withdraw from the premier class, probably after Ezpeleta spelled out the financial consequences of withdrawal.
The exact details are as yet unknown, but it looks like Jorge Martinez will be given the Kawasaki team to run, while Michael Bartholemy will remain team manager. At least, that's what GPOne.com says, the Italian news site Mediaset believes that Martinez will be given the team to run as he seems fit. Martinez had earlier told La Gazzetta dello Sport that he was only interested if he could have a three year contract to run the team.
While MotoGP fans around the world are on tenterhooks for news of Kawasaki, the first bits and pieces of news are dribbling out of the MSMA meeting currently being held in Japan. The Italian news sites are on top of the case - possibly thanks to the Italian representation on the MSMA - and the big news is that Kawasaki is currently reconsidering its withdrawal, news of which had leaked shortly after Christmas.
The pressure applied by Dorna appears to have worked, helped along perhaps by the fact that any withdrawal would have cost at least 20 million euros, including fines and money already spent on bikes and rider salaries, according to GPOne.com. Team boss Michael Bartholemy is apparently on his way to Japan to discuss the options with Kawasaki.
The meeting of the manufacturers involved in MotoGP discussed several proposals for cutting costs in MotoGP, including restricting testing even further, and extending engine life, which is put unofficially at around 300km. These would be the only changes possible for the 2009 season, as the teams already have too much invested in their 2009 bikes to make dramatic changes.
For 2010, more radical steps could be taken. First item on the agenda would be a ban on carbon brakes, a move which several team bosses, including Fausto Gresini and Lucio Cecchinello, have called for, as well as more drastic extensions of engine life, with engines to last multiple grand prix weeknds, and yet more restrictions on testing.
In the hectic period since news of Kawasaki's withdrawal from MotoGP leaked out, speculation on the future of Team Green's riders has been widespread. Initial reports suggested that Marco Melandri would return to Gresini Honda, though there has also been talk of Melandri seriously considering World Superbikes as a viable alternative, while John Hopkins is widely predicted to either switch to the Tech 3 Yamaha squad, or else go back to Suzuki.
But now, the Italian site RacerGP.com is reporting another possible option for Melandri: It seems that Lucio Cecchinello of the LCR Honda team has already been in touch with Melandri to try and persuade the Italian to ride for him next year. Cecchinello's problem - and it is a considerable one - is that he would not be able to obtain two more bikes from Honda to support the usual team structure, where each team member has two machines, nor would he be able to afford the costs of running four bikes even if he could get the equipment from Honda.
Instead, Cecchinello has come up with an ingenious cost-cutting scheme whereby both Randy de Puniet and Marco Melandri would have one bike each. This would remove the expense of leasing extra equipment from Honda, as well as reducing the number of mechanics needed for each rider. Costs would further be cut by only attending test in Europe, saving the expense of the flyaway tests in Sepang, Qatar and Australia.