Spec ECU Again?

The renewed suggestion from Carmelo Ezpeleta, that a spec-ECU needs to be forced onto the manufacturers, has crossed over from "concerning" to insulting, disturbing, and offensive. For some background on my opinion, I'd like to refer you to my thoughts at the beginning of the year.

The pervasive or ubiquitous use of the phrase "traction control", when speaking of a problem with the quality of MotoGP racing, is a red herring, at best. Second only to the even more nebulous "electronics", it is now used as a pejorative, intended to suggest that the riders are not in control of their machines and that this is somehow the fault of everyone but the governing body for the sport. Every team is confronted with the same issue: the electronics are more intrusive in the 800cc era so that the bikes can finish the races on artificially small fuel loads.

I'll put this another way, in order to be more blunt: attempting to call this "traction control" is fraudulent. Rev-limiters and throttle-limiters functioning as fuel misers have overlapping benefits with traction control mapping, but the objectives are different. As Jorge Lorenzo has shown us, a bike can still high side while "thinking" it is saving fuel and "controlling traction". Anyone suggesting that a spec-ECU is the solution to overly paternalistic electronics, or excessive cornering speed, is (L-Y-I-N-G) not telling the truth. A rough equivalent would be to feed a child only rice and water and then begin to lament that he or she is problematically thin. Believing that a subsequent change to "homogenized rice" will solve the problem would be considered sophistry by anyone observing from the outside. This is obfuscation, and an inquiry into motive is begged...

I don't know if governmental leaders around the world behave as they do in the United States - I've read just enough Machiavelli to believe that it's probable - but here we have many problems whose origins are in governmental regulations. The Congress, with the "help" of regulators and well-funded "special interests", author new legislation that often drastically alters the course and cost of living or doing business; changing the rules mid-game, if you will. What ensues is voluminous, expensive "study" into the "unintended consequences" of the legislation and regulations, attempting to identify the problems that are, somehow, not traced back to the changes brought about by the new laws. What eventually follows is more legislation to make the whole process even more complicated and expensive, and more controlled by the governing body or bodies. However, a repeal of the problematic catalyst never manages to make the light of day, because lawmakers do not relinquish control of something they plotted and labored over seizing in the first place. This is a psychological invasion campaign whose initial purpose was to obtain increased - or total - control, with incremental implementation.

Why do this in a prototype racing series? Frankly, I don't know, but all the fingerprints are there. Constant rules tampering makes the sport extraordinarily expensive for the manufacturers willing to compete, but the consequences become highly unpredictable. The onset of the 800cc era - again, in Mr. Ezpeleta's own opinion, on the heels of the sport's best rules package - brought about a decrease in fuel capacity and a drastic change in tire regulations at a time when the largest tire manufacturer was suffering a significant shakeup at home. Ever since, the CEO of the governing body has been steadily waging a psychological campaign against his own rules package, but he is not recommending a reversal in direction towards something that worked well. Instead, he pursues even more control of the elements of a sport that is supposed to be innovative, by definition. How this benefits anyone escapes me, but there is precedence in Formula 1, and it is not attractive.

Does he actually think we are to believe that a spec-ECU will eliminate traction control, make the sport more competitive, and lure more manufacturers to purchase an increasing percentage of their parts bin from a common supplier? Does he think he has access to superior engineers who will be able to make the racing better without changing the fuel limit? If he believes his own hype, how many bikes does he think will finish each race if they lose "traction control"?

Perhaps the current rules package isn't exactly "his", so maybe it is not fair to target only him. I beg that caveat, because I was not a part of the closed-room negotiations that brought us what we have today. Whether there is equal or more blame to be focused on the FIM, I would like to know. But he is the one speaking out now, and what he is saying is, again, the wrong direction.

Consider that only 2 years ago, during the optimum rules package, Kenny Roberts, Jr. was routinely in the lead pack, riding a one-off chassis and a customer engine on customer Michelin tires. Now the family is out of the sport because they can't buy an engine from anyone that can let them use their chassis the way it's intended. I would just have to assume that's indicative of why we don't see more manufacturers, or at least engine suppliers willing to step forward for someone who has a chassis. Certainly they've had time to do the math on whether they can make a product that will be competitive, and I think they're staying away because of the cost of trying to find good power delivery on such light fuel.

In the era of the 990's, amounts of time at full-throttle were remarkably low. This made more work for the rider's instincts and details more manageable for the engineers developing throttle maps. As a result, it was easier to "save" fuel, because the engines were rarely using maximum power. Increased torque at lower RPM was preferable on the two fronts of rideability and fuel consumption. This all reversed with the onset of the 800's; now there is much more time spent at full-throttle, and there is a smaller fuel tank. This means more of the time is being spent using more fuel, but less is available. So, what sounds and looks like "traction control" is being blamed when its real purpose is to get the bikes to the finish. If anyone is in doubt, I believe Nicky Hayden has some experience with this issue, and may have been quoted a time or two.

Finally, consider these quotes from Neil Spalding, published between the '06 and '07 seasons:
(Speaking of Ducati in 2005) "It was a gamble, as it was quite possible that Bridgestone wouldn't have very good tires at more than half the circuits... the strategy appears to have worked. Bridgestone have always been strong at Motegi... Sepang... Jerez... Mugello..." (P.26, MotoGP Technology)

"After four years of constant effort and development, Ducati had got the bike to the point where any major performance improvements were down to Bridgestone getting the tires right... Ducati's strategy of differentiation from its opponents meant that wins were typically unchallenged romps, with tires, bike, and rider in harmony. As the Bridgestones got competitive at more circuits, those occasions were seen more often..." (P.29, Ibid.. my emphasis added)

Does this sound familiar? The rules changes played into this exact situation, and exaggerated it, but the good CEO doesn't approve. He is responsible for trying to market a product that has become difficult to make appealing to the uninitiated or mildly interested. He seems to be suggesting the reason there are not more manufacturers and sponsors willing to fund satellite teams is the cost of the electronic nannies charged with trying to "maximize traction". Or, alternatively, he claims that there are too many tire suppliers and speeds are too high. He asks the world to believe that a standardized engine computer will make the sport both safer and more interesting, but could not possibly support his argument with Physics. He doesn't recommend a retreat toward a system that was working well regarding engine capacity, fuel capacity, mass, and tire allotments. He just wants more control.

I'm inclined to suggest to the manufacturers that they call his bluff...
Sometime late in the season, after The Champion is crowned, they should all just run the fuel maps their riders want. There would be minimal need for re-engineering the bikes, since the fuel maps already exist. If we suddenly see better racing and different guys at the front, then we would have all the answers we need. When they run out of gas, they fall out of the race, and then Dorna and the FIM will have a problem on their hands about who is to blame for the decreasing quality of "their show".

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Pedrosa might.

Also, at some tracks, Stoner might do just as well with the current bike settings.

Only the team and manufacturer engineers know that for sure.

If they really wanted to reduce lap times they should have kept the 990's but taken another litre off their fuel allowance. Who knows what the real reasons have been for any of the recent ruinous rule rejigging?

I don't know if you've ever seen the old British TV comedy called "Yes, Minister" (later "Yes, Prime Minister"). It's about the Machiavellian behind-the-scenes dealings of unelected civil servants. Planting ideas in politicians' heads, making sure that "independent" inquiries reach the right answer and so forth. It was pretty vicious satire at the time, but it's still hilarious and relevant 25 years on. The current MotoGP travails read like an episode of that.

Decreasing fuel is a de facto decrease in horsepower.  As Kropotkin points out elsewhere, this amplifies the pursuit of cornering speeds.

Two things temper that pursuit:  mass and horsepower.  Fuel is horsepower.

I haven't seen that show, but appreciate the parallel.

They all want 5 teams battling it out for 25+ laps all separated by less than a second, with another group 2-3 seconds behind. What they're all missing is the fact that the "race" starts in the the race department, on the engineers' computer; and in the R&D section of the tire companies; and in the pits with the mechanics-rider-teams' cooperation and knowledge about set-up and prediction of conditions. Unfortunately, this part of racing rarely gets shown on TV, but the evidence is there. When Stoner or Rossi or Pedrosa walk away from the rest of the field, it is because the whole team "got it right". The governing body can not seem to realize that they can't regulate this fact. I enjoy every race; be it one like Laguna Seca 2008, or one like Qatar 2007. More focus should be put on the part of racing that rarely gets shown.

>Does he actually think we are to believe that a spec-ECU will eliminate traction control, make the sport more competitive (etc..)

Well, he's here to satisfy Honda's requests for a more HRC dominated MotoGP scene. I don't think many people in the industry bought it when Dorna dramatically altered the 990c formula which was actually great to watch and saw less heavy casualties than now and budgets under control (just like you showed with the very good KR example).

This is wishful thinking on my part but I really hope the other manufacturers DO fight the Ecu rule and any changes to already emasculated rules.

I actually wonder what a referendum who see coming out as I bet most riders would love to go back to 990c rules.


I do think the racing might be slightly more interesting with the Traction Control gone and everyone on Spec ECUs.  But to say that would make it safer is the funniest thing I have heard in a whiiiilllleee. 


It looks like two orginizations that speak with each other trying to out do the other.  Formula 1 went to Spec ECUs and the racing seems to be more interesting, (does not take much to make racing more interesting when a great deal of passing goes on in pit stops.)  Motogp added a night race and now Formula 1 is looking into it. 


The reasons they give for make changes do not always seem to match what they say.  Sometimes it just looks like some with Tourette's Disorder is the room where they are having meetings yelling out suggestions and it is taken and pushed to be instituted.

I agree that MotoGP has lost some of the excitement of the 990cc era and it would be great to get back to having more potential winners and the lead rider changing throughout the race. However, let's be careful not to view the past through a rose-tinted visor: Doohan completely dominated the late 90s in GPs when rule changes were realtively minor and much of the 990s era was dominated by Rossi albeit with late-race passes rather than clearing off from the start.

One of the problems with racing is that it's difficult to have a satisfactory rider championship and cutting edge technology coexisting happily. If you want to see who the best riders are a World Supersport race is as good a place as any to look; but the technical innovation is less pronounced. MotoGP is a great platform for cutting edge bike design but it puts more emphasis on technology and development so the "best" rider will not always shine.

I'd like to think MotoGP could have the best of both worlds - close racing and hi tech with a period of rule stability where the law of diminishing returns prevents wealthy teams from spending their way to success. However, the move away from 125 and 250 GP bikes is we're told due to costs being too high compared to a new 4-stroke series (but do we believe it?) and they should be pretty well developed by now!

If we can't make the racing closer by technical means maybe commercial drivers will shape the series. If TV coverage focused more often on mid-field battles the mid-pack teams would get more sponsors helping them get on terms with the leaders. At the very least we might see Stoner and Pedrosa circulate in the pack until the closing stages before reeling off the superfast laps (like Rossi would a few years ago).

To return to the technical regulations, I think we should be careful what we wish for. We've had 3 different world champions in the last 3 years and whilst the racing could be more dramatic it could also be a lot worse.

Racing should be where the manufacturers can show off their technological achievements. Hopefully some of those achievements will reach us mere mortals in the market place. Race on Sunday sell on Monday. Traction control and ABS has reached the market place. Good for us.

But racing has never been about who can get the best fuel mileage. So why strangle the engines so they can finish the race. Oops, Sorry Sete you ran out of fuel. Sorry, Nicky the computer is going to slow you down so you can finish the race. Oops, sorry again  Nicky, Colin went by as you were coasting to the finish line. What kind of racing is that? It's not!

The rules have been changed to have smaller engines 990 to 800.  Have the manufacturers been building smaller engine each year? No! Why should they go to the expense of building and racing 800 engines. They aren't going to sell them. Let's see, why did Honda drop out of the 250 class? They don't build them anymore more because the public stopped buying them. Let them use whatever engine size they want. Let the engines size reflect the market place. A 1000cc engine used to be considered large, not anymore.

As for ECU's and Traction control, okay let is be optional. These innovations are available as an optional item on many cars and some bikes. The governing body should not be making the specifications on what is being raced. Let the manufacturers do it. It's the manufactuers who are paying for it, and we eventually get the benefit.

The former manager of the WCM team, Peter Clifford, suggested on Australian television after the Phillip Island round in '05, when all the talk of 800's was beginning, that the best way to slow the bikes down would not be an expensive reduction in capacity, but to actually reduce the number of gears available. There is no way Lorenzo would have highsided so badly if his bike only had four gears. This is also a very cheap modification for most manufacturers to make to their machines, and it certainly would have kept WCM on the grid, it's fairly simple to strip out a couple of gears from any old road-going bike (they were using a suped up R1 engine at the time).


 Good memory, I recall the comments and very logical. How the riders would howl and bitch hahahaha