Once upon a time, the manufacturers reigned supreme in MotoGP. The MSMA – the Motorcycle Sports Manufacturers' Association – determined the shape of the premier class. In the early years after Dorna secured the rights to promote Grand Prix motorcycle racing, the MSMA negotiated a monopoly over the technical regulations in MotoGP.
The rules in MotoGP are made in committee, the Grand Prix Commission, containing representatives of the four parties with an interest in the sport: Dorna as promoter, the FIM as sanctioning body, IRTA representing the teams, and the MSMA on behalf of the manufacturers. While the sporting and other rules are voted on by majority, the MSMA controlled the technical rules.
In the early years of the MotoGP era Rule changes proposed unanimously by the MSMA were adopted automatically, and the MSMA retained a veto over rules put forward by the other members of the GPC. It was the MSMA who asked for the switch from two strokes to four strokes, and the MSMA who insisted on reducing the capacity from 990cc to 800cc in 2007, when concerns were raised over the speeds of the bigger bikes.
If there is one thing that we learned from the Sepang test, it is that the field is even closer this year. In Malaysia, 18 riders finished within a second of one another. That pattern has continued at Qatar, Pol Espargaro in fourteenth just 0.987 second behind the fastest man, Alex Rins. As comparison, the KTM rider was the last rider within a second of the fastest man after the first day of this test in 2019, but then, there were just eight riders ahead of him, rather than thirteen. And there was a gap of nearly four tenths of a second between the riders in second and third last year. Not so in 2020.
But if the single lap times were close, the race pace was a lot less so. Maverick Viñales towered over the rest in terms of consistent pace, with only the Suzukis of Alex Rins and Joan Mir getting anywhere near the pace of the Monster Energy Yamaha rider. Viñales laid down a real benchmark, with ten of his 47 laps in the 1'54s, which is under the race lap record. That included a run of ten laps, seven of which were 1'54s, five of which were consecutive. That is a rather terrifying race pace for the Spaniard to lay down, just two weeks ahead of the first race.
Honda RC213V 2020 prototype (Marc Marquez)
David Emmett: You can tell this bike belongs to Marc Márquez by looking at the rear brake disc. The ventilated disc is a sign that it gets heavy use, and needs a lot of cooling.
This was one of the prototypes used by Márquez at Valencia, but the chassis is a tell that this was just being used to test the new engine. The frame still has the engine mount spar above the clutch (the section the fairing is attached to, by the bolt just behind the R of Repsol). At Valencia and Jerez, Márquez tested a chassis without that bolt, giving the frame a little more flex.
In part two of our exclusive interview with Tetsuhiro Kuwata, HRC general manager of Race Operations Management Division, and Shinya Wakabayashi, general manager of Technology Development Division, address the aerodynamic innovations introduced by Ducati at the Qatar MotoGP race in 2019, and the possible effects that can have. They also talked about the challenges of balancing the performance of Marc Márquez with trying to help Jorge Lorenzo to succeed. The HRC bosses also discussed the input Lorenzo had on the development process, and how it was affected by his decision to retire. That leads on to a discussion of what to expect for 2020, for Alex Márquez, alongside brother Marc in the Repsol Honda squad, and for Cal Crutchlow and Takaaki Nakagami in the LCR Honda team.
Q: At the season opener in Qatar, Ducati introduced a swingarm attachment, the so-called “spoon” or swingarm spoiler, and it caused controversy among the manufacturers. Anyway, the fact is that they are very smart in finding loopholes in the regulations. Does HRC read the rule book meticulously like them in order to find something which hasn't been specifically prohibited?
Kuwata: Maybe you can take an approach to check if your good idea infringes on the regulations. And you can also take another approach from the opposite direction, but it makes no sense if you don’t have any objective with that loophole. If you have ten ideas and read the rule book carefully to check how many of them are legal, it will be a persuasive approach. I am guessing maybe Ducati is taking this type of approach. Probably, loopholes don’t come first, but I don’t know.
Q: Does the attachment have an aerodynamic effect?
Kuwata: I guess so, that’s why everyone uses it.
2020 sees the start of a new decade (convention has it that decades are zero-based, going from 0-9, so please, numerical pedants, just play along here), and if there is one thing we have learned from the period between 2010 and 2019, it is that a lot can change. Not just politically and socially, but in racing too. So now seems a good time to take a look back at the start of the previous decade, and ponder what lessons might be learned for the decade to come.
It is hard to remember just how tough a place MotoGP was in 2010. The world was still reeling from the impact of the Global Financial Crisis caused when the banking system collapsed at the end of 2008. That led to a shrinking grid, with Kawasaki pulling out at the end of 2008 (though the Japanese factory was forced to continue for one more season under the Hayate banner, with one rider, Marco Melandri), and emergency measures aimed at cutting costs.
Rear wheel cover on the GP19 and carbon swingarm.
David Emmett: The full set of rear aerodynamics on the Ducati Desmosedici GP19, from the swingarm spoiler to the rear wheel covers. The rear wheel cover mounting points are clearly visible: at the rear of the chain tensioner, and at the front below the aluminum bracket with holes. The rear swingarm spoiler caused huge controversy at the start of the year, and now all manufacturers bar KTM have one.
Ducati used a loophole in the regulations to use the swingarm spoiler and wheel covers, but this loophole will be closed for 2020. For next season, all parts which are not part of the structural part of the motorcycle will be classified as part of the aero body, and so their designs will have to be homologated, with one update allowed during the season. So Ducati can start the season with one spoiler, and alter it once during the year.
Lighter front mudguard on the KTM RC16.
Peter Bom: Although it is a little bit difficult to see in this photo, the mudguard ends immediately after the double L of Bull. This leaves more of the front tire exposed, helping it to run a little cooler and prevent overheating. Some KTM riders have complained of this previously.
The nose section of the Ducati fairing
Peter Bom: This is a great view of the inside of the nose section of the fairing. This is the air intake, which channels the air from the point of highest pressure at the nose, then channels it around the steering head and into the airbox, and from there into the engine.
Ducati swingarm and wheel cover bracket
Peter Bom: This is the rear end of the Ducati swingarm, with the bracket for the aerodynamic wheel cover attached to the chain tensioner. Above the bracket and at the end of the swingarm, we can see an accelerometer. The data from this accelerometer is probably being used to tune the mass damper in the GP19's 'salad box' to match the circuit and the tires being used.
The frame on one of Valentino Rossi's Yamaha M1s
Peter Bom/David Emmett: At both Assen and the Sachsenring, Valentino Rossi had two different frames on each of his Yamaha M1 bikes. One with a weld on the frame, one without (below). According to Maio Meregalli, the two frames are identical except for the weld (which is present, but has been ground down). This changes the flex a fraction, and gives a very slightly different feedback. At Assen, Rossi only used the frame with the visible weld.
Note also the rubber band being used as a brake lever return spring. Rossi is now the only rider using a rubber band instead of a steel spring, something which used to be common but is now rare. The spring/rubber band is there to give the riders enough resistance, a 'good' rear brake feels quite heavy. The spring is available in a variety of spring rates or stiffnesses (see the color at Honda), and the preload can be adjusted as well. No such nonsense with this old-school rubber band on a multi-million dollar racing motorcycle.