MotoGP Grid Down To 15: Pramac To Run Just One Bike For 2011

The dwindling of the MotoGP grid has accelerated to a full-scale hemorrhage. Earlier in the week, it emerged that Hiroshi Aoyama's Interwetten Honda team is on the verge of pulling out for 2011, and yesterday, news leaked from Suzuki suggests that the factory Suzuki team will cut its involvement to just a single bike for next season. With two bikes gone from the already sparse MotoGP grid, only the addition of Karel Abraham and the Cardion AB team have saved MotoGP's modesty, bringing the probable line up for next year to 16.

Today, things got even worse for MotoGP, however, with news emerging from the Pramac Ducati camp that the team is to halve their rider lineup next year, down from the two-man effort of Mika Kallio and Aleix Espargaro to just a single rider, either Loris Capirossi or Aleix Espargaro. Capirossi - whose seat left vacant at Suzuki will not be filled, it seems - and his manager Carlo Pernat are insistent that they have a contract with Pramac for next season, and there is no doubt that team manager - and CEO of the Pramac concern - Paolo Campinoti is very keen to have Capirossi in the satellite Ducati squad. Aleix Espargaro, however, still has a contract with Pramac to ride for next year, though the Spanish rookie seems content to accept that he will be out of MotoGP next season, and is already talking to both Aspar and Pons in Moto2 for 2011.

With Pramac down to one bike, the MotoGP field could be cut to just 15 bikes for next season, an all-time low. Such a disastrously small field will doubtless bring calls for the CRT rules to be introduced a year ahead of schedule, allowing private teams to enter 1000cc production-based engines in prototype chassis for the 2011 season. But such calls face two significant obstacles: The first is the MSMA, who represent the factories and as such, make the technical regulations for the series. Although having agreed to the new rules for 2012 (albeit grudgingly) MSMA are seriously worried about the three extra liters of fuel the CRT teams are to have. The factories believe that with their own 1000cc machines, they should be able to hold off the CRT teams, though the extra fuel still concerns them; if the factories are to face 1000cc machines with 24 liters of fuel with their current generation of 800cc bikes and 21 liters of fuel, the risk of being beaten is likely to be too large for the MSMA to agree with.

Perhaps a bigger problem is that even if the MSMA agree to allow the CRT teams in a year early, that probably still won't increase the numbers on the grid for 2011. The lead time for developing a race-ready bike is much longer than the 7 months before the 2011 season gets underway, and it's unlikely that anyone will have a bike ready in time. Suter has already shown off their CRT bike, based on a BMW S1000RR engine and a chassis derived from the current Suter MMX Moto2 bike. But that machine is still very much in the early stages of development, and is unlikely to be competitive by April. Kalex is also said to be building a CRT bike, but that bike is much further from completion than the Suter, while FTR are also looking into building a MotoGP bike, their main concern being making it a viable commercial enterprise.

Dorna's last-gasp scenario could be to fund the running of one or two teams themselves. The Spanish company who hold the commercial rights to MotoGP already subsidize the satellite teams to a large extent, as well as investing a lot of time in persuading sponsors to fund teams as well as the series. With a profit of 5 million euros for 2009, Dorna could fund at least one team out of their own pockets for 2011, which should be enough to tide the series over until 2012, when more entries are expected to fill the grid again. Given Dorna's reputation for keeping their corporate wallet tightly sealed, that would be a very desperate gambit indeed.

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I think Carmelo might just be making a quick phone call to Mr. Abraham senior... or would Dorna bucks pursuede Suzuki to field a second machine?

Trouble is although we all want to see more bikes on the grid, 1 TV does not show the lower placed riders much at all during the races so there is poor return for the sponsors, and 2 we want to see the most deserving riders on these bikes - MotoGP is after all supposed to be creme de la creme, the pinnacle of bike racing, not an ultra expensive club racing series where money talks louder than talent or results.

I'd like to see Dorna bring in some funding or rule changes to allow new teams to run the previous years motorcycles, but with more Fuel. This would at least bridge the gap for 2011......

They already explored this avenue last year and the year before. The manufacturers destroy the old bikes. The manufacturers do not allow the teams to run old bikes b/c they don't want to manufacture catalogs of spares for the satellite teams depending upon which version they happen to be running. Even Honda finally decided that they would give satellite teams the exact same machine, but with different electronics. The situation is complicated by the engine rule b/c last year's bikes and engines do not meet the reliability requirements.

I remember this being discussed by Dorna for this years championship and it getting knocked on the head. Luckily though, THIS years bikes and engine castings etc have not yet been destroyed, thus re-opening the discussion for a quick fix for the 2011 season. Not much development will happen for the 800's for next year with the impending change to 1000CC for 2012.

Hopefully it might be considered as I'm not sure 15 bikes on the grid constitues a sanctioned championship.

In 2012, the major change to the engines will be approximately 10mm of stroke. The manufacturers may go ahead and get the 81mm 800cc lump ready for next year and then stroke the engine at the Valencia test in 2011. Obviously, it's not quite so straight forward, but they might want to have the engine block and the cylinderhead finalized for 2011 and then make minor changes to move the bike to 1000cc.

I don't know. I'm not an engine builder, but it isn't inconceivable to think that the engines may change substantially in 2011 in preparation for 2012; especially if they plan on staying with the 800cc like Honda and Yamaha have claimed they want to do.

Aspar always seems to have plenty of willing sponsors. Could they possibly take over the second pramac bike to become a two bike team?
Granted it's likely to be a spanish rider (Espargaro?), but surely that is better than the loss of another bike off the grid.

This has been postulated before when the grid looked to drop below 18 with Kawasaki withdrawing, but surely 15 bikes would be less than FIM would accept unless they accept a force majeure argument?

Looks as if Dorna has moved too slowly, MSMA or no, to address the gird size problem. Not even Rossi on a Ducati could save things if FIM declares it a non-championship, methinks.

If this does happen they really need to change the points system. It's already ridiculous that in MotoGP 15/17 riders get in the points but in Moto2 it's 15/40. They should reduce it to the top 10 getting points at most, maybe even only top 8.

Interesting thought... what is the minimum number of bikes required to make the series a valid world championship? Is there a rule for this?

There is nothing in the rulebook, and if there is a stipulation, it will be in the contracts between the FIM and Dorna. That contract will have a Force Majeure clause, which will excuse Dorna in certain situations, a global economic downturn being one. But the FIM will also not want the series to stop, so they will allow Dorna to keep running MotoGP, and will keep working with Dorna to make the racing cheaper, mainly by taking it out of the hands of the factories.