MotoGP's biggest problem right now is the number of bikes on the grid. The withdrawal of Kawasaki, leaving just a single bike in the Hayate team cut the grid down to 18 bikes, and once Sete Gibernau's Grupo Francisco Hernando team pulled out, the field was cut just to 17. With Kawasaki almost certain to withdraw the last remaining bike from the Hayate team next year and the return of the extra Ducati for the Aspar team, the grid is likely to stay at 17, though it could increase to 18 if Honda does add an extra bike, as HRC has hinted it might.
To deal with this problem, and drastically reduce the costs of participation, Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta suggested that the rules be altered to allow production-based 1000cc engines in prototype chassis to run against the existing 800cc full prototypes. As a serious suggestion, it was almost certainly doomed from the start, but as a bargaining gambit, it has been a stroke of genius. The suggestion immediately jolted MSMA into action, and at the Sachsenring, the manufacturers organization offered a counter proposal to lease just 800cc prototype engines on their own, rather than entire bikes. They asked the Grand Prix Commission, MotoGP's rulemaking body, for some time to come up with a more detailed proposal, which they promised to present at the meeting scheduled for this weekend at Indianapolis.
That proposal was presented this morning to the Grand Prix Commission - sort of. After the Grand Prix Commission met, the press release issued contained only a few minor detail changes to the 2009 tire regulations, so MotoGPMatters.com tracked down Herve Poncharal, boss of the Monster Tech 3 Yamaha team and IRTA's representative inside the Grand Prix Commission and asked him just what the MSMA's proposal had consisted of. The answer, it appears, is a little more complicated than just a straight proposal.
"Mr Tsubouchi gave us MSMA's position," Poncharal told us. "The members are thinking to lease engines, so this is positive. This will happen from 2011. But they've been asking for a bit more time to give the numbers and the price." Despite the request for more time, the proposal is almost certain to go forward. "The idea, the philosophy, the concept, they like it."
Though the proposal was far from complete, this broad agreement almost certainly ends the idea of allowing production engines to be used in MotoGP. "If they can manage to supply enough engines at a reasonable price, an affordable price, that will of course kill the so-called "Moto1" project," Poncharal said. "Ideally, it is better to keep one engine [type] only, which is the 800cc prototype." Poncharal also said that any capacity changes in the near future are extremely unlikely: "I think also that the MSMA made it clear that for the next term, which is from 2012, they want to stick to 800cc. This is stability, this is good," the Tech 3 boss said.
The precise details are to be worked out in time for the Estoril Grand Prix. "The next Grand Prix Commission which will be in Estoril, so we could get some information before, but by Estoril we will know more. But what we are almost sure will happen is that they will supply (engines)," Poncharal told us.
When asked about Honda's opposition to the plan, the French team boss said that the positions of the individual companies were not discussed by the MSMA, but that even if Honda did not want to supply engines, that would not necessarily block a potential deal. "Honda already provide 6 bikes and maybe 7 next year, so if they don't do it, you can understand, they are already at the maximum," Poncharal said, as action by the other manufacturers would be sufficient to solve the problem. "If Yamaha and Ducati are doing it, then this [the grid] is increasing. If Yamaha do it for 2 and Ducati do it for 2, that's already another 4 riders on the grid. This is already acceptable, then you reach 22, 23 riders," Poncharal said.
The end result was positive, according to the Tech 3 team boss. "This is very good news for the championship. I think clearly, this will put more bikes on the grid and this will be cheaper." And that, after all, was the point.
~~~ Update ~~~
The official MotoGP.com website is also carrying a story on the subject of the MSMA's engine leasing proposal. Most interesting of all, is the fact that the site has interviews with FIM President Vito Ippolito and Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta discussing the proposal.