At Assen, Dorna, the FIM and IRTA held a joint press conference announcing their plans for the future of the championship. From 2017, they told the media, the MotoGP teams would receive 30% more money from Dorna, factories would have to make bikes available to satellite teams, all 24 riders will receive financial support from the organizers, and Dorna retain the right to buy the grid slots of the two riders who finish last in the championship.
For MotoMatters.com readers, this is nothing new. We reported on this back in May, after the Jerez round of MotoGP. Only a few details have changed in the intervening period, but those changes are worthy of comment. And it is important to note that the new regime starts from 2017, with 2016 being a transitional year. So what will the future of MotoGP look like? Here's an overview.
For next year, the existing system will continue as it is, with teams receiving free tires from the official tire supplier – Michelin, as of 2016 – and an allowance to cover travel costs. Dorna will support 22 riders for next season, meaning that three riders will not receive any support. Which three those are will be decided by IRTA, on the basis of the results of each rider during 2015. The three riders currently out of the top 22 are Karel Abraham, Alex De Angelis and, rather surprisingly, Marco Melandri. Abraham is struggling with a foot injury, but there have been rumors that the Czech-based team is looking at a switch to World Superbikes for 2016.
De Angelis losing his slot would also not come as a surprise. Though they entered the championship with high hopes, Giampiero Sacchi's IODA Racing team have struggled in MotoGP, unable to field a competitive motorcycle. Withdrawing from MotoGP would be a blow, but would allow them to focus more on their Moto2 effort.
Marco Melandri's position is much more troubling. Although the Gresini Aprilia team is a factory effort, the subsidy from Dorna is very welcome. At the moment, Melandri and Aprilia are at loggerheads over the future. Neither one wishes to continue for the rest of the season, but Melandri will not leave without being paid, and Aprilia are disinclined to pay for such a gross underperformance. If this continues, however, it may be worth their while to pay for Melandri to leave. The Italian is rumored to be on a salary well north of €1 million a season, and he is keen to see that money. The amount of money Gresini Aprilia would be missing out on for 2016 if Melandri (or his replacement) is around €1.5 million, so it may prove to be more costly to keep Melandri at 25th in the rider ranking than to replace him with someone capable of finishing nearer to his teammate, Alvaro Bautista, and ahead of a few other riders.
From 2017, the system changes. Dorna will end the subsidy to the manufacturers – currently more than some factory teams receive from their title sponsors – and will instead fund each team. Teams will receive around €2 million a year for each rider they field, about half of what is required to complete a season in MotoGP. Dorna will subsidize at least 22 and at most 24 riders, and will retain the right to buy the grid slots for the two worst-performing riders. They do not expect to have to exercise that right, but it will be a way of ensuring that the teams in MotoGP are strong enough to race in the premier class.
The most important step in helping to assure the quality of MotoGP teams is in guaranteeing they will get to keep their grid slots, unless bought out by Dorna. All of the teams currently racing in MotoGP have been assured that they will be able to keep their grid slots until 2021. The combination of increased financial support from Dorna and guarantees of their long-term participation should make it easier for the teams to secure sponsorship and build partnerships.
The other prong of that policy is the imposition of a price cap on the supply of motorcycles. In addition to their own two-rider factory teams, each manufacturer will have to supply between two and four bikes to private teams, upon request. The maximum price a factory can charge will be €2.2 million euros a season, per rider. For that price, they will get two complete race bikes, plus full maintenance for the bikes for a season. Crash damage will not be included, for obvious reasons, but having a predictable and fixed price level for the next five years again makes it easier for teams to budget for the medium term.
The factories were willing to accept this because the technical and sporting regulations have been fixed for the same period, from 2017 to 2021. After next year, once the new spec software is adopted for the single ECU, and Michelin take over the role as single tire supplier from Bridgestone, the only changes to the rules will be made for safety reasons. Rule stability should mean both that bikes will remain current for longer periods of time, and make it easier for factories to plan their development cycles. The two-tier system of successful and unsuccessful manufacturers will continue, with Aprilia and Suzuki free to develop engines during the season and test with factory riders outside of official tests until they secure six so-called concession points, based on podium places. Ducati will join Honda and Yamaha with just seven instead of twelve engines per season, development on the engine frozen, and testing with factory riders limited to the official tests.
Stabilizing the technical regulations is what makes it possible for factories to make bikes availabe for €2.2 million. However, this price will be a maximum, not an average, and most bikes will be cheaper. At the press conference, Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta said he expected the average price to be lower, nearer €1.5 million. Private teams will be free to negotiate with any factory they like, and try to bargain the price down. Less popular factories will be forced to make their bikes available for less money, more popular ones will be able to ask the full price. Manufacturers will be allowed to make a maximum of three different specs available, for example supplying very recent bikes to a favored team, and bikes a year or so old to a second team for a cheaper price.
It will also mean that factories will not be able to refuse to supply a satellite team. In previous years, Suzuki has done exactly that, only building bikes for their factory team. By having more manufacturers supplying bikes, the price should be driven down.
The fact that the private teams are all guaranteed to keep their grid slots in MotoGP means that any new factory entering MotoGP from 2017 onwards must go through an existing team. In other words, they must do what Aprilia did this year, and work together with an existing team (in Aprilia's case, Gresini), using their resources, manpower and facilities. They cannot do what Suzuki did and set up a new team from scratch and enter that in MotoGP. So if Kawasaki or BMW decided in 2018 to join MotoGP as manufacturers, they will have to agree terms with an existing private team.
The only exception will be KTM, who had already agreed to enter in 2017 before this agreement was made. Should they so decide, they will be allowed to join the series as a separate factory squad with their own resources. Whether they will do so or not is as yet undecided. Iwan van der Valk, Dutch TV commentator and the power behind the websites Nieuwsmotor and Oliepeil, spoke to KTM racing boss Pit Beirer at Assen, after he spotted Beirer in the AB Motor Racing hospitality holding discussions with Karel Abraham senior. Beirer told Van der Valk that they had indeed held preliminary discussions about cooperating with AB Motor Racing, but that they had also held similar talks with a number of teams in the paddock. Aspar are another team who have been linked to a KTM entry, but again, that is only at a preliminary stage. The option of entering as a private team is still very much open, Beirer said.
The aim of all these changes is simple: to put the MotoGP championship on a more solid financial footing for the medium term. With private teams guaranteed a place, and certain of both their income and what they will have to spend on a motorcycle each season until 2021, teams can start to work for the longer term. Establishing long-term partnerships will be key, and sponsors will be easier to persuade when futures are fixed. Guaranteed stable technical regulations, factories know what they can invest and what they can't, and can make old bikes available to private teams are a reasonable cost.
Will this succeed in keeping the championship affordable? Teams and factories will find ways to spend whatever money they can persuade sponsors to give them, so spending will merely shift to other areas. However, the long-term guarantees mean that everyone is working from a firmer basis, and knows what their starting point is. The weaker teams have time to try to improve, instead of fearing for their future every season, and though the gap to the front will still exist, it should at least be a little more respectable.
What it does do is bring some much-needed stability to MotoGP, after a period of nearly ten years of constant flux. Things are not about to become easy, but it will afford factories, private teams and sponsors alike a little breathing space.