Mike Webb On Cheating In Moto2: "If Anyone Is Cheating, They're Not Very Good At It"

Cheating in motorsports is as old as the sport itself. Whenever powered vehicles gather together to race each other, then someone, somewhere, will try to gain an advantage, either within the rules or, if that is not successful, outside of the rules. In all classes, and at all times, teams, engineers and riders have all tried to cheat in one way or another. Even the imposition of a spec engine in the Moto2 class hasn't prevented teams trying to cheat, and the paddock is awash with rumors regarding which teams are cheating and which teams are not.

The finger of blame is inevitably pointed at the most successful riders, and in recent months, it has been pointed mainly at Catalunya CX rider Marc Marquez. Marquez has a number of strikes against him, making him a popular target for rumors of cheating; firstly, Marquez is Spanish, and as Moto2 is a Spanish-run series, the non-Spanish teams are all fervently convinced that Spanish teams are not monitored as closely as they are. Secondly, Marquez has the backing of Repsol, one of the more powerful sponsors in the paddock, exerting influence not just over Marquez' Monlau Competicion team, but also over the much more important factory Repsol Honda team; the power of Repsol, the gossips suggest, exerts undue influence on the policing process. Thirdly, and most obviously, Marquez is fast, almost suspiciously so. The Spaniard's bike is always one of the fastest through the speed traps, and accelerates hardest off the corners. His team put it down to hard work at finding exactly the right set up for Marquez to excel. One of the lighter Moto2 riders on a well-prepared bike, ridden by a fast and talented rider? That, Marquez' supporters argue, is reason enough for him to be fastest.

To find out more about the situation, and what Dorna and the scrutineers are doing to address these concerns, I spoke to Race Director - and formerly Technical Director - Mike Webb at Estoril. I passed on the concerns that others had expressed to me about cheating in Moto2, and he explained to me exactly what Dorna are doing to monitor the bikes and ensure that cheating is kept to an absolute minimum, and that if it is happening, it does not pay. Here is what Webb had to say:

Q: I have had several people approach me and tell me there are shenanigans going on in Moto2. Illegal parts, and that there is all sorts of cheating going on.

Mike Webb: As everyone always says since day 1, the paddock is rife with rumors...

Q: Exactly, there was Marquez sitting up on the front straight, there were claims of illegal parts being used on some bikes. You are policing Moto2 as strictly as ever?

MW: Sure. And as always - OK I'm not so hands on now, there are now three people doing it whereas I was doing it on my own before - we are policing it with the principle we always had of random checks, where no one knows what we are going to be checking and at what time. Part of that is what we decide out of the blue, part of it is listening to rumors. A huge part of it is what we see on track, but much more importantly, what we see on the dataloggers. Moto2 teams, as always, are obliged to give us the data every day. We read the data every day, and we have people analyzing the data every day. It's really quick and easy and simple, you can quickly see where one rider is faster, overlay them all together, and the one that's accelerating better, or has a better top speed, or doing something different stands out, and then you can start to say, well, we need to check that and that and that, bring that bike in and let's have a look. It's a great system. With that compulsory data acquisition, and it's secure …

Q: That was my next question, can you hack the datalogger?

MW: That's something that we're really certain of, that we've got the data that's there, and they can't even give any excuses - "Oh, it got disconnected and we lost the data" - no, it's there and we can retrieve it. They can't, we can. That's stuff that the teams don't know about and we do, and I'm really happy with. And it's such a quick and easy flag waver: "Woah, something's different about that bike, what is it?" And then you can get down to finding out what's going on.

In the early years, we had teams who had bikes whose top speed was better, and we'd look and see, oh, they're actually running a more sensible gearing package here, sacrificing speed at one place and gaining it in another. Or laughable attempts at trying to make it go faster by using wacko settings, where the blokes actually winning the races had fairly standard settings. So there are things like that I've seen over the years and I'm really confident about what's going on. Marquez is the one point, well, he's got a weight advantage, and he's also got the best support, he's got an excellent team doing a very good job, and he's a light rider, so he does get off the corner faster. Plus a fair bit of talent to be able to get on the gas at the right time, of course. It's normal that his bike is being checked more than anyone else's; one, because he's on the podium a lot, so automatically it gets checked, and secondly because clearly, he's faster in a lot of places, so we have to figure out why. I'm comfortable with it. There's an awful lot of rumors going round about stuff, which we have all checked out on and never found anything.

Q: Other rumor I heard was about someone taking the engines to Italy and there was someone in Italy who could give them a little bit of a tweak and make them a little bit sharper.

MW: I keep hearing the same thing, and yes, of course we're checking and no system is completely failsafe, though we continue to check. The other side of that whole rumor mill thing is that if they're doing all of this cheating, they're not very good at it, because the bike's doing the same speed. And honestly, there's a very small difference in top speed, acceleration and all those sort of things, that you'd expect in a normal set up environment. When we see a Moto2 bike consistently 10 km/h faster than all the rest, then OK, there somebody has done something. But we haven't seen it yet.

Q: The rev limit is enforceable and easy to check?

MW: Absolutely, yes. Enforceable because it's part of the engine package including the ECU, but checkable because of our secure loggers. We had to have the secure logger, because when we were doing the first Moto2, we couldn't get Honda to agree to allow us to run a different ECU on their engines. So we had to go with a Honda ECU, and although they say it's secure, I couldn't guarantee that because I didn't build it. So we opted for the secure model.

Q: So the option used in BSB where you have a standard, locked-down ECU was not an option for you?

MW: That was my first choice, I wanted that, but within the commercial deal to get the engines, it wasn't allowed. And I understand that, because we're putting their reliability on show by using their engines, and they didn't want to have outside equipment bolted on. I can understand that, so the secure logger was the option we went with. Moto3 is different, because we did get our ECU and it's a secure unit.

The cheating is ongoing. I'm equally sure that over the three years, there have been people who have got away with things. And Danny [Aldridge, Assistant Technical Director] and his team are trying to keep a lid on it, and occasionally having people saying "are we allowed to do that," and having to make rulings on these questions all the time. I'm sure that at some time, somebody's got away with something, but then again, they haven't gained much advantage from it. The bikes that consistently win are always checked, and as far as we are aware, they are all legal. To take the obvious example of Marquez, has his team got some secret guy somewhere who can take seals off the engine, do lots of stuff to it and then put it back together again? We own the engines, Geo Tech take them away for maintenance, we'd soon know if someone changed something internal. And if they changed something or hacked the ECU or something like that, sorry, but they haven't got 20 more horsepower out of it... It's slightly faster, as you would expect from an exceptionally well set up bike with a light rider, and a talented rider.

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-no question that MM is fast, but I've always thought of the possibility of a little "extra" assistance. On a few occasions, his "spec" bike in a spec series seemed to be out-of-spec fast. If a light weight rider makes that kind of difference, than Dani should be lapping the field.
The part that bothers me most is that Honda supplies all engines combined with how powerfully vested Repsol is in moto2 and motogp, add also that Repsol IS Spain. Spanish company, Spanish based race series, Spanish rider. In other collaborations of businesses, that kind of conflict-of-interest is unlawful or at least avoided. And while nothing is proven "for" or "against", too many times "where there's smoke, there's fire" says that there is something. I'm hoping that before the season is over, things will be more clear..

I am interested in the 'hacking the data logger' perspective - theoretically this is extremely hard (read impossible) to detect. In the business environment, the good guys had to resort to seconding/bribing bad guys to tell them how it's done. With the resources the team have behind them it would not be out of the question that the rider and key personnel were kept in the dark about what was going on. If race direction only have 3 guys looking into it there may be an opening for subterfuge.

If you read the interview, Mike Webb answered all of your questions. A great team, putting together a really well set up bike for a talented rider who is also lighter than average gives the kind of small advantage that consistently outperforms others. And Marquez is not just talented, he is really quite remarkable.

...you put in front of some people...

-While MM is often near the top of the speed charts, he is not off and away faster;
-Lighter rider => better acceleration. Which is why Dani Pedrosa is so often first into turn 1;
-When he was sitting up behind Luthi, he was in the slipstream. That's what being in the slipstream does... makes the bike behind faster;
-No, Pedrosa doesn't lap the field, but I haven't noticed MM doing that either;
-the engines are sealed and randomized;
-the data logging is handed over as described above.

It would require a fake-moon-landing level of conspiracy to get away with cheating... but then some people still believe that, too.

Oh, and where do I find the legislation that defines being from the same country as an "unlawful" conflict of interest?

to be generous, webb is naive - there is no such thing as an electronic/computer device (such as datalogger and ecu) that can't be hacked by someone with the will/money (the proverbial 15 yr old comp geek or repsol) - i guess if these devices were totally hard-coded (don't think that's possible for a datalogger,) they would be secure, but i doubt that's the case here - there will always be smokey yunicks (the coolest of them all) in racing . . .

To hack the logger, you'd need to generate fictitious data in which the bike went slower in the straights to hide its magically acquired extra power. However since the laptimes, and all the intermediate times need to match, it would be necessary to give him faster corner speeds. Oh, and on the laps where he was observed to be running nose to tail with someone so the speeds could be cross-checked, all would have to be cancelled and left as real. And of course the actual speeds registered in the speed traps would have to match, without a suspicious speed up just before. And it would need to match on-board video... and for that matter as David demonstrated last year, anyone with a pocket dictaphone can verify the rpm from the side of the track.

Now maybe with enough time and energy and computer power, all this could be done... but at the end of each session before the FIM guy fronts up to download the data?

If you think all of that can be done by a 15 yo brat, you're confusing Hollywood with the real world.

The 15-year old geek myth should really have died out by now. The world has moved on and computer security isn't anything close to how it's protrayed in Hollywood. 

If Mike Webb says that it is impossible (with the usual caveats of absolutes) then the only reason this would not be the case would be that he's either incompetent (assume this is wrong) or that he's on the take (again, assume this is wrong). Occam's Razor suggests that the simplest solution given the variables is that the dataloggers are secure enough.


If that is what makes Marquez so fast, I pity the beating he will take from the real aliens when he jumps to MotoGP. And Repsol would be left with former Moto2 ace getting squashed and thumped in the big league.

Like Elias...

I look at how Bradl is doing in MotoGP this year and don't see that MM and/or his team are cheating. Maybe he is, but as Webb said in the interview he isn't get much of an advantage from it. Bradl is showing what a talented rider he is; if MM was cheating last year there wouldn't have been such a close battle for the championship. MM's performance this year doesn't look much different to last year, but a better start due to more experience.

Elias was getting thumped in MotoGP before he was Moto2 champ once everyone was on the same tyres so I don't see how that comparison is valid. Where is Elias now?

was always an enigma to me. Anyhow, I only mentioned him to illustrate how Moto2 success doesn`t translate into MotoGP success and there is no point into putting all that effort behind and alleged cheater. The risk of being soundly beaten laterwards is very big and possibly career threatening. As we say in Brazil, it`s a way deeper hole in MotoGP.

it is more likely to be in a 'legal' area than an 'illegal' one - possibly in the aerodynamics of the bike, or the intake tract etc. As far as top speed goes, a small reduction in drag due to better aerodynamics (such as better management of the cooling airflow drag) could have a noticeable effect. Repsol certainly has the resources to be able to optimise every facet of the machine; common sense suggests that it would be wasting their efforts if they are doing something actually illegal and therefore running the risk of penalty.

IIRC, there was a great deal of talk about the '07 Duc having some illegal advantage and in the end Stoner's bike was stripped and measured, twice I think, and found to comply with the regs. Marquez is not running away from the field by anything like the sort of margins that Stoner was frequently exhibiting in '07, but if the suspicion persists that his team is cheating, surely the option of another team protesting the bike is available?

If you watch Marc's onboard footage, he carries so much more corner speed than most of the other riders. In fact he is so much quicker that sometimes he has to check up before he slams into the rear of people. Mid corner and corner exit speed are extremely vital to achieving top speed down a straight. The reason for sitting up on the straights is to keep from showing your hand. Clearly Marc doesn't like to lead and that is something all fans should be excited about, otherwise Moto2 would be like Motogp. If he was cheating, he would be rolling off the throttle instead of sitting up where everyone and their mother can see. Give the kid credit when credit is due, he is just that good. Not to mention he has been riding like this long before he sat on a spec engine moto2 bike.

David, Thanks for the article! I've been waiting for this piece since you first mentioned the 'alleged' MM cheating. Some folks just can't deal with the fact that someone is faster due to 'talent'. Ahhh, remember all the 'allegedness' regarding Casey on the Duc. Turns out, he's the fastest man on the planet!!! As I read somewhere....he was bringing a knife to a gun fight and WINNING!!!!

That certainly justifies a good enough reason for combined weight of rider and bike. If all the rest being equal.

With a distinct power disadvantage over MotoGP, having a lighter rider makes all the more difference and in the world of controlled racing, these things should be considered. No reason why Marquez should have an advantage of everyone else. It's not like being lighter shows a heightened level of skill and talent.

Well, maybe, then you would have to also take into account the lesser strength and leverage on the controls of a lighter rider and the "parachute" effect of a larger torso described by Stoner, to pivot the machine through turns. Add to that the greater potential for a higher coefficient of friction from the greater weight of a heavier rider on the contact patch.
It of course would be grossly unfair to pay attention to the benefits but not the negatives of being small. Any quantitative penalties would be near impossible to accurately assess.
Status quo on this, please.

I enjoyed that interview. Thanks, David.

To all the folks who say there's no cheating, read Mike Webb's response again:

The cheating is ongoing. I'm equally sure that over the three years, there have been people who have got away with things.

Yes, he also makes the point that cheaters don't seem to have gained much. But why do you get so indignant when people speculate about how the cheating might be accomplished?

The cheating is ongoing. Even Mike Webb acknowledges this. So why do you deny it?

Can the data logger be hacked? Probably - but I don't see MM pull over after every race and some one in the crowd come out with a lap top and sit there for 1-2 minutes putting fake data on the logger.

As MM is always on the podium, that bike comes into Parc-Ferme and stays there till checked.

If MM's engines are special, then all you'd have to do is force an engine swap after qualifying. Acutally thats a good idea...

David, tell Mike that the top 10 engines should be swapped with the bottom 10 qualifiers after QP. If a title leader qualifies out of the top 10 you know he's cheating! ;)

Surely they should have a minimum weight like in moto3? Bike and rider 230kg or something like that for moto2

What this rule come flying into the rule book when Spain finds a maniac good rider that is over 50kg!

Interesting if somewhat predictable responses from Mike Webb. He's hardly going to admit his team can't monitor some aspects of the engines. However, his slightly aggressive responses about the "infallability" of the controls and checks is worrying.

Access to a 15 year old geek or not, there is no such thing as infallable. As is always the case, the winning teams usually employ brighter people than the rule makers. Anyway, if a team is going to cheat why bother with the engine, which can be checked, instead go for the chassis/aerodynamics, which have less rigid rules.

Obviously a small, light but fit rider will have an advantage, although Pedrosa still seems to lack stamina over a race distance, something Marquez will face when he jumps on a MotoGP bike.

Final point re cheating or "getting competitive", glad to see someone mention Henry "Smokey" Yunick the late American NASCAR team owner who managed to win races against both factory teams and best efforts of the France family who run NASCAR. As he is now deceased I hope David won't mind me giving a plug to his autobiography "Best Damned Garage In Town", a fascinating read about how to "cheat" in auto racing and get away with it. The man was simply a genius.

I’m beginning to sound like a scratched record here but claims of teams cheating are a bit of a smokescreen for the real issue which is the lack of a combined bike/rider weight limit. I got a fair bit of flack for previous posts on this issue but to me it’s not closed.
Power to Weight has got to be part of a Control Formula such as Moto2 claims to be. I believe all the classes should have a combined weight limit but with less power than MotoGP it is more important that Moto2 sets its house in order first.
Now BEFORE someone marches out the old excuse about Pedrosa should be dominating MotoGP if weight is so important…Forget it – he is a unique case where the advantages from being SO light are more than outweighed by his inefficiencies in other areas. There are riders who spent their whole racing careers in the smaller classes BECAUSE of their size. If you take Pedrosa out of the equation there is a definite trend favouring the lighter rider.
Of course nothing can over-ride talent and it may be Marquez would still win the championship (after all he won it on a ballasted 125s, albeit the best). Combined weight is not a penalty, its equality. Until they take this on, the debate about cheating will rage on and unless they can prove it they should start looking elsewhere for a solution.