Ducati could have their concessions removed a year early. The manufacturers' association, MSMA, are proposing to introduce the concession point system, which was due to start in 2016, to apply from this year. That would mean that Ducati would be forced to race in 2016 against Honda and Yamaha under the same regulations, including frozen engines, seven engines a year instead of nine, and testing limited to official tests.
The success of the Ducati Desmosedici GP15 has shown up a gap in the regulations. The system of concessions allowed to manufacturers without a recent win has universally been hailed as a success, allowing Ducati to catch up with Yamaha and Honda, and Suzuki to already close the gap. However, as the rules are due to change in 2016, the system of concessions will also change. Under the system which applies this year, a factory which has not had a dry win in the last three years gets extra fuel, a soft rear, 12 engines instead of 5, freedom from the engine freeze, and freedom to test with factory riders. From 2016, all of the teams will have 22 liters of fuel and will be using the same tires, and so there will be fewer concessions. Factories will get 9 engines instead of 7, not be subject to an engine freeze, and be allowed to test with factory riders.
The system for calculating when a factory loses concessions will also change. A new system of concession points will be introduced for 2016, awarding 3 points to a win, 2 points for a second and 1 point for a third. If a factory with concessions racks up 6 concession points, in whatever combination, they will lose concessions. The unlimited testing will stop immediately, and for the following season, they will have only 7 engines and be subject to the engine freeze.
However, that leaves a gap which would allow Ducati to continue with concessions for 2016, despite having booked an awful lot of success with the GP15 this year. If Ducati do not win in the dry this year, then they would start 2016 still with more engines, free testing and the ability to develop the engine through next season, until they scored a total of 6 concession points. With Andrea Dovizioso's three second places in the first three races, and Andrea Iannone's third place at Qatar, Ducati would already have scored 7 concession points had the 2016 system already been in effect.
At the MSMA meeting at Jerez, the manufacturers discussed applying the points system in 2015, to affect concessions for the 2016 season. This would mean that Ducati would lose their concessions for 2016, having already scored more than 6 points this season.
Speaking to MotoMatters.com, Repsol Honda team principal Livio Suppo explained the situation. "There is some confusion, because we are overlapping two different sets of rules. What is clear is that as the MSMA, we said we start these concessions last year, basically. But at the end it is something we think we should keep, because there is much interest for KTM, Aprilia, Suzuki, and it is good for the sport, so we all agree that we should try to keep this kind of advantage for the manufacturers which are rookies, and which are not competitive."
The overlap between the two sets of rules is what was causing the problem, Suppo said. "This is clear, if you do six concession points in 2016, in 2017, you will be without concessions. Then we didn't think for 2016! Our opinion is that if this will work for 2016 to 2017, it should be the same for 2015 to 2016. That's a normal understanding because the spirit of the rule is, we help manufacturers who are struggling."
Unsurprisingly, Ducati were not in favor of the change, pointing to the fact that there is already a system in place, and the FIM had already clarified the rules. "The problem is that Ducati start to say, we need to win three dry races this year, because to lose the tire, we need to win races. But this is another story!" Suppo said. "Then they say, we need to win one race, because there is an FIM press release which speaks about one win, before we were speaking about podiums. Then suddenly, Mike Trimby (of IRTA) proposed the concession points. Probably it's better, because it's more clear. We agreed that it works, everybody agreed that from next year, it will be like that. Honestly, why not from this year?"
Suppo pointed out that the intention of the rule was to help manufacturers who are struggling to be competitive catch up with the more successful factories. Applying those rules to Ducati, who are clearly competitive, seems to go against the spirit of the rules. "If the spirit of the rule is to help people who are struggling, sorry, when I talk with Gigi (Dall'Igna) at the meeting and told him Gigi, you have done a very good job, but don't pretend you are not competitive and need help next year! Because in theory, they can win this championship." Suppo told us.
It wasn't just a question of being fair to the other factory teams, Suppo said, allowing Ducati another year of concessions would be unfair on the satellite Honda and Yamaha teams. "It's also in my opinion not fair for the other manufacturers, and also for satellite teams that pay a lot of money for our bikes and for Yamaha's bikes, and then they have many Ducatis in front of them. Forget about the factory team, but also for Lucio [Cecchinello of LCR Honda], for Marc VDS, they have a factory bike, why should they fight against another factory bike which has some advantage? It's difficult for them to survive. So it's not just difficult for other manufacturers. And the fact that even Suzuki says that if you get six concession points this year, then we lose the concession."
At the moment, this is still in the discussion stage, and has not been accepted into the rules. For that to happen, it must first be put forward by the MSMA, and then put to a vote by the members of the Grand Prix Commission. Obviously, the proposal will not have the unanimous backing of all of the MSMA members, as Ducati are still clearly against it. That will not matter, however, if the proposal is accepted by a simple majority in the GPC.