MotoGP Director Of Technology Corrado Cecchinelli Explains The Spec ECU Proposal

Costs in MotoGP have exploded since the introduction of four-stroke engines, with the rise turning almost exponential once the relatively simple 990s were dropped to make way for the 800cc MotoGP machines. Since the beginning of the financial crisis, MotoGP has been looking for ways to cut costs, with much of the effort taking place through changes to the technical regulations. The first step was a return to 1000cc engines, with a bore limit of 81mm to keep revs down. The following steps will be the imposition of a strict rev limit - most probably 15,000 RPM - and the introduction of controls on electronics through the adoption of a spec ECU.

There has been much debate about the proposed rule changes, and especially about the introduction of a single ECU. Electronics have come to play a central role in MotoGP, and have been a massive driver of costs in the sport, with the manufacturers focusing much of their development on developing ever-more sophisticated electronics strategies for maximizing performance from the 21 liters of fuel permitted for the MotoGP bikes. The fans and followers are divided: many would welcome a strict limit on the electronics used on the bikes, claiming that the amount of electronic intervention is ruining the racing and taking control out of the hands of the riders and placing it with the software engineers who write the code for the ECUs. Others deride that argument, saying that imposing a spec ECU is yet another step in the dumbing down of MotoGP, and another move away from the unfettered pursuit of advantage in every area, including technology, that underlies the spirit of Grand Prix racing.

Would a spec ECU lead to the unacceptable dumbing down of racing? Would it really help to control costs? To help clarify the debate, spoke to MotoGP's Director of Technology Corrado Cecchinelli, the man who was brought in by Dorna at the beginning of last year to help lay out a stable plan for the series in the future. Cecchinelli explained to us the thinking behind the adoption of a standard ECU, and went into detail about the capabilities which such a component may have. Throughout the interview, Cecchinelli was at pains to point out that a final decision had not yet been made on the adoption of a spec ECU, and that the introduction of a rev limit and spec ECU were the final steps in establishing a stable set of rules which could be used unchanged for several years. 

MotoMatters: We've heard so much about the introduction of a spec ECU in MotoGP, that we came to you to clear the issue up. What exactly are the plans for the ECU?

Corrado Cecchinelli: The truth is, we are considering introducing a single ECU in MotoGP. Which first of all means the same hardware and software for everybody. So this is the first point. Actually, this is the second point, because the first point is "we are considering" which means the decision is not final yet. The second point is that if the single ECU is accepted, it will be the same hardware and same software for everybody. The same software means that in our idea, it will be like in Moto3 now, people will have a sort of calibration or tuning tool and they will be able to make the track tuning of all the parameters but they will not be able to write their own software.

MM: So they will be able to load engine maps, but not write traction control algorithms?

CC: Correct. When you say engine maps, you should include chassis maps, if you want. Something like, for instance, traction control, for me, I don't know if you call it engine or chassis. But it means that they will be able to tune their traction control but it will work the same for everybody. So, if it will be based on, say, lean angle, then it will be based on lean angle for everybody. If it is based just on comparison between front and rear wheels, it will be the same for everybody. So, as you say, the algorithm will be the same for all.

MM: Essentially, the parameters will be available, the algorithm will be fixed for using those parameters, and then it's just be a matter of tweaking the variables.

CC: I think it is clear why the idea is this. But anyway, it is because this will save huge money for the big companies, and it will close one of the biggest technical gaps between the big ones and the small ones. Of course it will not make a huge difference on the small ones' budget, because they basically have running costs in electronics, so this is not a huge difference in costs for them. The difference for them is the relative competitiveness, while the difference in money will be huge for the big spenders that have a big R&D structure. So I'm happy you come and talk to me, because there is a lot of talk about "OK, but the small teams are spending 30,000 euros per year, this won't change". No. They will save this - probably, because the idea is to give it to them for free - but they will not just save this small amount, but they will have the same level of engine control as the big teams. This is the big gain for them.

MM: You will still see gaps in competitiveness, as you have seen in Moto2 where they can only change the maps, and there are some people who get the maps better than others.

CC: For me, of course that software will be more complicated, and more than that, it will be applied to more difficult situations, like more powerful engines and things like this, so tuning it well or tuning it badly will make a bigger difference than in Moto3. For instance, in Moto3, we have a reasonable traction control system that nobody is using, because it's not needed. Of course, if it is needed, then the tuning makes a difference. This is what I am saying. But still, everybody will have the same chances to get to the same level.

Of course, the big teams will be better anyway, first of all, because they can start with better engines. This is the main point. Of course, they have more ability to do the job at home, I mean that rideability of an engine is made by two factors: one is how well you map it at home, and how well you - I don't know the term in English - 'characterize' it at home. You take the picture of your engine at home. If you are good at doing that, you have a better starting point. In this, you can make no difference, because you cannot control how many hours they spend on the dyno at home. And then comes the proper tuning on the track, which is the other part of the job, but not all of it. But the base idea is you can have a shit engine and make it work with proper tuning, or you can have a perfect engine and need no tuning. Probably you will be in between.

MM: So what's the idea with the CRTs for next year? I know there are talks with Magneti Marelli about supplying an ECU...

CC: There is nothing regarding CRTs vs full prototypes. This is just fantasy. The idea is that in case the project will go on, we would like to offer it - not force it - but offer it for the year before the enforcement. This is the idea. But no mention of the CRTs or whatever, the idea is that if we are introducing it in the year number 0, in the year 0 minus 1, it will be available for anyone who wants to try it.

MM: So if it's 2015 for the spec ECU, then it will be offered in 2014; if it's 2014 for the spec ECU, then it will be offered in 2013?

CC: Correct. And of course it will be a bit more free than the final version so that we can make evolution. For instance, a key point of the final version will of course be the rev limiter, which will be free in the trial version, so that people don't have to make a new engine one year earlier.

MM: There is one question I would really like answered, which I don't have enough of an engineering background to answer. People say that the difficulty with a standard ECU for everyone is the different engine configurations.

CC: That's not true. That's an argument for the people who don't want a single ECU for other reasons. The ECUs and their relevant software are made to work exactly the same for every engine configuration. This is their design starting point. So this is an argument invented by those who are against it.

MM: To my mind, all an ECU does is tell the engine when and how much fuel to inject, and when to fire a spark to ignite the fuel.

CC: Your mind is correct. Just imagine that the same ECU works for four cylinder, eight cylinder, single cylinder. So the ECU is stupid enough not to care how the engine is made. But still I would like in the trial year, the more different the people are who will endorse it, the happier we are. Because still it's experience, so I'm saying that in theory, it makes no difference, but I would be happy if the configurations are as different as possible. Just to prove it is right not to take it into consideration.

MM: Like the old saying "in theory, it works in practice"?

CC: Exactly. So the more difficult this practice is in the trial year, the happier we are. So if we have a V4 and an inline four, we are happy.

MM: So as much difference as possible?

CC: The best case is something like you start with an engine and you change the firing order during the season. This is the best trial case, so that we can try the most difficult situation in a real racing situation. But I'm confident it will not be a problem. Of course, it must be said that the goal is not to have exactly what we have now, I mean someone will lose something. This must be clear. But this is not an argument against this idea. It's like saying that we don't like Moto3 because they will be slower than 125s. This is not the point - and it is not even true now, more or less [the Moto3 bikes lapped faster than the 125s at Mugello this year - MM] - but anyway at the start, this was not a concern. If one rider complains that his traction control was better with the factory's own ECU, that will not be a drawback of the system. It's almost a design target, to make it worse.

MM: Shuhei Nakamoto of HRC said that in Formula One, when they introduced the spec ECU, they spent a lot of time and a lot of money working their way around the system. Won't this be true here?

CC: I assume this is true, because I respect Nakamoto-san, but the environment is completely different, because the software is almost free in Formula One. There are big chunks of the software where you can write your own, so of course you want to bring it as close to perfection as possible. But here the system will be very closed, and also the idea is, when I say hardware, I include the sensors and things like this, so you really have to machine your aluminium parts to accept everything.

MM: People have also mentioned trying to hack the wiring loom...

CC: I think the wiring loom is really a small issue, once you have the pin-out and the sensors, possibly the actuators also, coils, injectors, things like this, which is something we are considering. If we make a full package.

MM: It will have to be from a top-level manufacturer, with a lot of experience...

CC: Of course, it will be from a top manufacturer, because we don't want to make any mistakes in this. I mean we must be in control if we want to have a level that is not exactly the state of the art, it must be in our hands, not because we can't do that. We must have the ability to tune it at the level which is optimal for us. We need to be able to get to the top level if we want. So we will choose very powerful hardware and a very respectable supplier.

MM: People with a lot of experience, because it is easier to tune down than it is to tune up...

CC: This is the idea. But the final target is not to have a top level at the moment. It is to have a level to control the overall performance.

MM: Do you think that it really will make such a big difference?

CC: Yes, I think so.

MM: You're convinced?

CC: Yes. I think it will be effective for both of the goals I mentioned, which are saving the overall money which is spent in MotoGP, and a big part is R&D from the big companies; and closing the gap, and the big part of this is making the low ones higher.

Our interview with Cecchinelli raised a number of extra questions which only occurred once I returned home and started typing out the interview. I emailed those questions to Cecchinelli, and he was kind enough to provide some extra answers. Once again, he emphasized that all of these answers needed to be prefaced by the words "if the single ECU proposal is adopted." Nevertheless, they make for an interesting addendum.

MM: A spec ECU has a number of implications. As we saw with Hayden's bike at Estoril, and Lorenzo's bike during QP at Mugello, the software is aware of its location on the track. I presume that this function will be gone from a spec software package? That won't stop riders from swapping maps between corners, of course, replicating manually what the computer does, but it won't be automatic.

CC: This is still to be decided; on the one hand a single ECU is a good chance to get rid of some exotic complications like chassis controls based on the bike position, on the other hand we have to consider all the issues that any decision brings into the game. For instance your point is good: if we remove the ability of the software to understand the track position, but still we have different selectable maps, we will probably push riders to operate using handlebar switches, which in general is not the safest thing to do (despite that it is working now). In that case, why not remove the "tracking software" AND the maps switch? So, as you see, it is not that easy to to take decisions like this in a hurry.  As a general note it must be said that, with a single ECU, even some software "complications" like tracking ability, we can keep these under control in the sense that first of all it would be us who will be able to control their level of sophistication (i.e. the money spent into them), and then they would make no difference between the big manufacturers and the independent teams, so they are to me a lesser concern than now. I mean: in general the costs and the performance gap that technical freedom brings into the game is huge in a "free" environment, while it is negligible with a controlled ECU. But still it is not zero: the money to develop high-end strategies would come from somewhere in the MotoGP world anyway (us or the teams, it is always money that can be used with different purposes if not in the ECU and software), and still there is a (smaller) difference that big teams can make with perfect track tuning.

MM: Secondly, I know you mentioned looking at having a complete package, including standard injectors, but will a spec ECU also mean a limit on the number of injectors the bikes can use? Will they be allowed to have primary and secondary injectors, or will they be restricted to a single inector?

CC: The ECU, if any, will be able to run 8 injectors, i.e. 2 injectors per cylinder on a four cylinder engine. This is current technology and it gives the best balance between rideability and peak power, and not having it would be a too big step back to me. Also not having it would probably make it impossible to handle an engine with reasonably priced injectors, so it would be more expensive in the end (I think).

MM: The same question goes for butterfly valves: will they be allowed to use primary and secondary butterflies?

CC: This is still to be decided, after having talked to the engine manufacturers. My personal idea now is to make it simple and have only one throttle motor.

MM: Thirdly, without the ability to write software to manage it, running with 21 liters will be very difficult. Will the fuel limits be changed to make the transition easier? A limit of 24 liters for everyone would make more sense, it seems to me.

CC: I agree with you, so this is something to be considered for sure. Making one MotoGP race with just 21 liters of fuel introduces a number of useless complications and makes the gap bigger between big companies having big R&D capabilities, and smaller independent teams.

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it is always good to hear interviews with the people who are making the rules, or in this case making recommended rules. another very good interview is by Jules Cisek at last weekends round in Mugello. he talked to Mike Webb about how race direction makes it's rulings mainly, but he did go into his previous roles and they discussed rules and tech. it was interesting to her him talk about who makes the rules... and it wasn't Dorna... and what the riders actually wan't. not to be as spoiler but the answer was less rider aids. it is defiantly worth a listen, episode #328: the Italian job. its a pod cast.

As of right now, I would think the manufacturers have all the data they need for traction control and electronics for road bike use. BMW developed their system for road bikes without even being in MotoGP. I think they released their system on their bikes before they even raced in WSBK or at the least at the same time. Surely a spec ECU will cut down on cost and decrease the electronics gap between the have and have nots.

A very good read indeed. I for one don't see any any harm in a spec ECU for the series as a whole. I like the fact that the 24 litre fuel option was alluded to and not discounted as a tool during transition should the spec ECU be implemented. By the same token, given 4 cylinders and any configuration being apaptable to the concept,the 81mm bore limit should in my opinion also be junked.

Its pretty obvious the fuel limit is driving some of the costs, that really needs to change. Fuel is relatively cheap and really, should be up to the manufacturers to decide how much fuel they want their bikes to load up on for the race.

The spec ECU is really just going to limit development by introducing more engine requirements in order to run effectively with the ecu limitations.

Why does a spec ECU introduce more engine requirements? The rules already dictate a 4 cylinder motor.

Great news to these ears. Hope it goes through. 24 liters, no tc, no anti-spin, no LC (make the riders do it)' no turn by turn mapping and you'll get the spectacle back.

When the bikes slide again (not just one particular corner, all of them) you'll see the real master of the right wrist, more fans tuning in, and more at the track.

There hasn't been a notable rise in highsides in BSB, where they have introduced a massively restricted ECU.

True, but BSB and MotoGP machines are not the same thing. The same goes for the teams, riders...

The proposed spec ECU really is the magic carrot all other manufactures seem to have been waiting for to finally join the show. If Honda and Yamaha want to be so selfish as to make MotoGP into a series only their ridiculous R&D budgets can be competitive in then I say shame on them. If Honda doesn't like like it they can pack up and leave. That would be sad but it's not HondaGP, it's MotoGP, and all manufactures should be able to compete under a set of technical regulations where they have a fair chance to succeed. The 21liters of fuel rule is a farce, and totally unneeded if it's going to ruin the show. It's not like those 3-4 extra liters of dino-juice is what's differentiating MotoGP as trying to be "greener". All it's doing is giving an unfair advantage to the teams whose MASSIVE budgets can handle the work with the 1's and 0's.

I'll lose Honda if it means I gain Suzuki, Kawasaki, BMW, Aprilla, and maybe even Norton, KTM, and MV Agusta. That's a no-brainer right there.

I know technology is important, and that we all benefit from it, but there needs to be a balance when it comes to sport and entertainment.

I love technology like the next guy, but not if it ruins the racing.

Racing > Technology

It's not just about being greener, it's about technology and rider safety. Speed of the machines is reduced with 21 liters of fuel rule.

You're a right, I carefully read all your articles, but Ren-jr. was trashing 21 litres of fuel rule without, in my opinion, knowing what it's really for.

How having less fuel slows the bikes down, or how it would ever even be considered slowing the bikes down?

It's an exercise in optimizing efficiency technologies, not speed reduction. Electronic optimization of fuel consumption is the only tool these large companies have to justify them still using internal combustion engines.

When you start looking at the big picture one clearly starts to realize that this merely another way for certain manufactures to gain a competetive edge via much larger man power and R&D budgets. It's a race within a race type of deal.

If you buy the factory talk about reducing speed through having less fuel, than you'd also think reducing engine capacity would reduce speed as well. Did it?

It seems your sir are the one who doesn't understand why the rule exists...

Are you kidding me? Sticking more fuel into an engine is a simple and most effective way of producing more power. More power means more speed and vice versa.

I agree with you that 21 litres o fuel rule is an exercise in optimizing efficiency technologies, but that exercise directly leads to speed reduction of the machines.

From my perspective, the big picture remains the same, nothing has changed, there will always be battle between large and small manufacturers.

I admit, I'm buying a lot of the factory talk and I don't think that MSMA is the only one to blame.

No, I don't think that reducing engine capacity would reduce speed of the machines, that depends on lot of factors. Anyway, we did not discuss about engine capacity, but the permitted quantity of fuel.

Following the fuel capacity debate closely since the beginning and I have never heard the argument that it was intended to reduce speed and increase safety.

Even if someone had been foolish enough to bring it up, it is such an easily dispatched argument that it would have been quickly ignored.

If the goal is to slow the bikes to increase safety, there are much, much cheaper and more predictable alternative.

If I remember correctly, in 2007 engine capacity was decreased from 990cc to 800cc and fuel capacity was also decreased from 22 liters to 21 liters for safety concerns.

Just because there is 3 liters less fuel IN THE TANK doesn't mean that we are putting less fuel into the engines, it only means we are leaning them out for the last couple of laps, or worse, running out of fuel ala Nicky Hayden. In fact it's even been mentioned by a few riders who have unexpectedly gone backwards in the last couple of laps of a race that the bikes suddenly realize that they'll run out of fuel before the allotted calculated laps and go into "fuel saver mode". There wouldn't be said mode if they were using less fuel in the first place, like you suggest.

This obviously points to the fact that the bikes are being calculated to literally cross the finish lines on fumes. They just need to finish the race, that's it.

You think the bikes in qualifying trim are not using all the fuel they can to make as much power as they can?!?

So then the question becomes: The bike are slower when? When they are in the last few laps? When they realize they aren't gonna make it?

Cause they sure aren't slower for most of the time...

Like you yourself said, you're buying a lot of the factory talk.

No, it doesn't mean that, as you know MotoGP bike's tank is limited to just 21 liters, and constant control of the level of fuel injection ensures the rider can use that fuel for maximum performance. When power is really needed the system supplies all the fuel required, but the rest of the time it minimizes fuel consumption.

The whole point of the 21 liters rule is not to achieve a higher horsepower, but to reduce the consumption for a higher performance. Reduced fuel consumption does not occur in the last few laps as you suggested but during the whole race.

I see that you have read "The Troubles With Fuel Limits, Part 1: The Perfect Storm at Estoril, 2010", good for you.

As much as I'm against spec tyres, and for fuel limits. If the series is to continue with having spec tyres, then there is no real need for a fuel limit at all.

All that needs to be done is to limit the amount of traction available from the spec tyres, as all the bikes are reasonably similiar in aero drag and have minimal if any downforce, then the bikes are limited by grip for top speed, not fuel availability.

In terms of acceleration, same goes, they all have roughly the same traction limit, then it all about who uses it best, not fuel saving.

But personally, I still would prefer a fuel limit and no spec tyres, just saying that there is no need for both of these

Reducing top speed is all about aerodynamic frontal area.
It is pretty simple.

Just specify a basic frontal area ....all in the name of allowing normal sized humans to fit on the bikes. Much of the rest of the fairing sizes etc. are already in the rules.

That said, who cares how fast the bikes go at top speed?
There hasn't been a risk from this.
The crashes have occurred in the corners; Tomizawa, Simoncelli.

I would like to see the option of teams having a choice of Spec ECU or Proprietary ECU. Set a limit on the types of parameters. Get rid of the stuff that is really craze like turn by turn.

I would be interested to see if the spec ECU ends up being better than any Proprietary ecu after a season or two.

The point of the spec ECU is to get rid of that "really crazy" stuff. They haven't come up with another way to actually do that without a spec ECU.

And a spec ECU will see little development after it is introduced so, a proprietary ECU, built specifically for the motor it is managing, will always be faster.

You are probably right.

The thing is though the spec ECU shouldn't remain the same. The Spec ECU should evolve each year and it should do it more quickly and easily because there are so many sharing the cost of this and also the data input is far far greater.

This is why I say the soc ECU should eventually overtake and eclipse any proprietary system and be the ecu of choice making custom ecu's obsolete.

These kind of interviews is the reason why I like this blog so much. Really nice insight.
My guess is that what manufacturers mean by different engine configurations is that each one of them has some sort of trick in the ECU.
If you remove the ECU factories will just spend lots of money on something else. Look at F1. No engine development, guidelines for this and that, still they are spending lots of money in aerodynamic packs and other stuff.
Also look at Moto2. Same engine, ECU and everything else and still riders are saying that they don't have access to the same material or technical support. Bradl was very fast and he had support from Kalex, while Marquez has a ton of support (and money) behind him.

The posts talking about a spec ECU being desirable because it would eliminate rider aids such as traction control are fantasy, IMO. Numerous references by Cecchinelli to TC make it obvious that eliminating TC is not a goal of this project. There are important safety issues as well. But, I would pray that the spec ECU could somehow have TC that would only kick in when an emergency loss of traction occurs, to be followed by some brief period of reduced engine performance as a "penalty" for invoking the TC. Traction control is great to avoid launching a rider into low Earth orbit, but speed should be made by the right wrist!

It won't entirely rid the sport of TC, it will just dramatically decrease it and its' importance, which is a good thing. Try to read between the lines.

British Superbikes went to a spec ECU this year, and so far, it's still the same teams way out front. Not only that, according to an article in the August issue of Roadracing World and Motorcycle Technology, teams in BSB already have started playing with the spec ECU. Not cheating, just looking at the system and saying, "OK, we can't adjust this, but how can we emulate the effect by tweaking that?"

I think if you gave Honda or Yamaha's MotoGP electronics wizards two tin cans and a string, they'd manage to get traction, wheelie and rear braking control out of them.

I agree 100%.

GP should be a death match proving ground. Survival of the strongest.

There can only be one winner. Let the winner be the one who out thinks, out engineers, out spends and out rides the others.

There is lots of room in the world for cheap spec racing series. GP is not the place for it. It simply doesn't work. How much money has anyone saved over the last 5 or 6 years of this recent trend of bullshit?

I'd rather see 2 or 3 'real' bikes only in the top class then to fill it with a bunch of half measure junk like the CRTs with spec tires, spec ECU, spec motors? Maybe we could even create a software of a spec rider for the ultimate fairness and cost reduction. Calling bikes Kalex or Suters... give me a break.

This has been done already, it didn't work.
1. 6 cylinder 250cc and 5 cylinder 125cc bikes in the sixties
2. F1 in the early 90s, active suspension, CVT transmission
3. Can Am racing

It is an arms race that leads to Mutually Assured Destruction ......and small grids.

A standard engine will have a standard engine MAP (1000cc, 4x 250cc, 81mm bore, 15,000 revs - the volumetric efficiency is pretty standard) that delivers 90% (say) of fuel. Cosworth can plug specs into software and pump out a solution.

Let Dorna make this; 1x set of butterflies and injectors + wiring loom and sensors.

Let the Factories control a 2nd set of butterflies and injectors to deliver the last 10% (using input from the Dorna standard sensors). What ever software algorithms they want. The more they control, the more fuel they use.