In November, the Grand Prix Commission, MotoGP's rule-making body, announced that the series would be switching to using fuel obtained from non-fossil sources in two steps. From 2024, at least 40% of the fuel used in MotoGP, Moto2, and Moto3 will be of non-fossil origin, with a switch to completely fossil-free, sustainably-sourced fuels by 2027.
Why 2027? The MotoGP series runs in five-year cycles. Contracts with manufacturers and teams are set for five years, guaranteeing continuity and financial stability, especially important for independent teams. Dorna also promises stability in the technical rules over that same five-year period, allowing manufacturers to work on technologies over the medium term. 2022 is the start of a new five-year contract period, due to expire at the end of 2026, so 2027 is the next opportunity for major technological change.
At the Sepang MotoGP test in February, I got a chance to talk to MotoGP's Director of Technology, Corrado Cecchinelli. As a former engineer with Ducati, Cecchinelli is the person appointed by Dorna to understand and guide the technical rulebook in MotoGP. In principle, the MSMA, the association of manufacturers active in MotoGP, manage the technical rules, but Cecchinelli is charged with translating those concerns into a working set of rule, and with working with manufacturers to make grand prix motorcycle racing a place where they can fruitfully compete, develop new technologies, and train their engineers.
As such, Cecchinelli is the right person to talk to to get a sense of the direction MotoGP is headed in the medium term, and how the commitment to non-fossil fuels sits with the electric MotoE racing class. Would MotoGP choose to continue with internal combustion engines, though using fuel on a carbon-neutral basis, or will the series switch to electric engines in the long term?
Over the course of the interview, we discussed the aims and benefits of MotoGP's fossil-free fuel future, the place of electric motorcycles, balancing technological progress with a set of rules which are clearly functioning very well in terms of creating a level playing field, and how Cecchinelli saw the development of ride-height devices.
Q: I’m curious about the future of the championship, because we are in a moment of transition to basically fossil fuels are the past. We’re not at that point yet, but that’s where we’re going to. That means there’s a whole realm of possibilities open. The idea if you have a championship, as far as I’ve understood, is to let the manufacturers race the bikes or the engines that they want to build.
Corrado Cecchinelli: Yes. As for the future of the championship, it’s not me you should talk to because it’s more for Carmelo or Carlos [Ezpeleta] because they have a longer vision. But for this specific matter, yes. I have been involved and I’m working on it, of course from a technical perspective. I can tell you that the idea is that of course we as the championship are more focused on introducing and testing new habits and technologies, more than focused on just reducing the footprint of one event.
It’s clear that if you want to reduce the footprint of an event, the best thing is not to do it. But, if those events help to promote things that will have a big impact on the world, so on billions of vehicles, then it all makes sense. And the choice of going to partial and then totally non-fossil fuels, the idea behind that is there’s an alternative way than full electric, that we also have. So, the championship is hybrid in the sense that we have an electric series and an internal combustion series.
So, if the championship as a whole is to be electric, if we focus on the overall problem, we think it’s beneficial to prove there’s an alternative way which helps saving the engines and the technologies that we already have, which also helps the electric energy demand. After all, if everything was turned into electric then you go into the problem of not having electricity.
Q: The problem with electrical engines is storing electricity?
CC: They have problems. And so we want to promote and help by that, not in general but by introducing non-fossil fuel, we want to promote the idea and the technologies that make the present internal combustion engines work with fuels that are more sustainable. That’s the idea. So, we have an option other than electric bikes.
Q: It really feels like not just motorcycling, the whole field of mobility is in a state of flux, a state of change. No decisions have been made because we have these electric fuels or e-fuels or non-fossil fuels. We have electric vehicles. Does the fact that you have to work in these five-year cycles in terms of rules make it more difficult?
CC: It’s very difficult, but not just for us. It’s very difficult in general because you are working on a quickly-moving scenario. Technologies go ahead at an unbelievable speed, so you have to plan over a time period of a year, and in a period of months you have changes, but not only in technologies, also in legislation and politics and so on. So, it’s very difficult. But still, think that nobody can argue that saving the present engines with more sustainable fuels is not beneficial. That’s a given, anyway, whatever happens. So, it’s worth a try.
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