Corrado Cecchinelli: On MotoGP's Push For Non-Fossil Fuels, The Inevitability Of Ride-Height Devices, And Balancing The Rules

In November, the Grand Prix Commission, MotoGP's rule-making body, announced that the series would be switching to using fuel obtained from non-fossil sources in two steps. From 2024, at least 40% of the fuel used in MotoGP, Moto2, and Moto3 will be of non-fossil origin, with a switch to completely fossil-free, sustainably-sourced fuels by 2027.

Why 2027? The MotoGP series runs in five-year cycles. Contracts with manufacturers and teams are set for five years, guaranteeing continuity and financial stability, especially important for independent teams. Dorna also promises stability in the technical rules over that same five-year period, allowing manufacturers to work on technologies over the medium term. 2022 is the start of a new five-year contract period, due to expire at the end of 2026, so 2027 is the next opportunity for major technological change.

At the Sepang MotoGP test in February, I got a chance to talk to MotoGP's Director of Technology, Corrado Cecchinelli. As a former engineer with Ducati, Cecchinelli is the person appointed by Dorna to understand and guide the technical rulebook in MotoGP. In principle, the MSMA, the association of manufacturers active in MotoGP, manage the technical rules, but Cecchinelli is charged with translating those concerns into a working set of rule, and with working with manufacturers to make grand prix motorcycle racing a place where they can fruitfully compete, develop new technologies, and train their engineers.

As such, Cecchinelli is the right person to talk to to get a sense of the direction MotoGP is headed in the medium term, and how the commitment to non-fossil fuels sits with the electric MotoE racing class. Would MotoGP choose to continue with internal combustion engines, though using fuel on a carbon-neutral basis, or will the series switch to electric engines in the long term?

Over the course of the interview, we discussed the aims and benefits of MotoGP's fossil-free fuel future, the place of electric motorcycles, balancing technological progress with a set of rules which are clearly functioning very well in terms of creating a level playing field, and how Cecchinelli saw the development of ride-height devices.

Q: I’m curious about the future of the championship, because we are in a moment of transition to basically fossil fuels are the past. We’re not at that point yet, but that’s where we’re going to. That means there’s a whole realm of possibilities open. The idea if you have a championship, as far as I’ve understood, is to let the manufacturers race the bikes or the engines that they want to build.

Corrado Cecchinelli: Yes. As for the future of the championship, it’s not me you should talk to because it’s more for Carmelo or Carlos [Ezpeleta] because they have a longer vision. But for this specific matter, yes. I have been involved and I’m working on it, of course from a technical perspective. I can tell you that the idea is that of course we as the championship are more focused on introducing and testing new habits and technologies, more than focused on just reducing the footprint of one event.

It’s clear that if you want to reduce the footprint of an event, the best thing is not to do it. But, if those events help to promote things that will have a big impact on the world, so on billions of vehicles, then it all makes sense. And the choice of going to partial and then totally non-fossil fuels, the idea behind that is there’s an alternative way than full electric, that we also have. So, the championship is hybrid in the sense that we have an electric series and an internal combustion series.

So, if the championship as a whole is to be electric, if we focus on the overall problem, we think it’s beneficial to prove there’s an alternative way which helps saving the engines and the technologies that we already have, which also helps the electric energy demand. After all, if everything was turned into electric then you go into the problem of not having electricity.

Q: The problem with electrical engines is storing electricity?

CC: They have problems. And so we want to promote and help by that, not in general but by introducing non-fossil fuel, we want to promote the idea and the technologies that make the present internal combustion engines work with fuels that are more sustainable. That’s the idea. So, we have an option other than electric bikes.

Q: It really feels like not just motorcycling, the whole field of mobility is in a state of flux, a state of change. No decisions have been made because we have these electric fuels or e-fuels or non-fossil fuels. We have electric vehicles. Does the fact that you have to work in these five-year cycles in terms of rules make it more difficult?

CC: It’s very difficult, but not just for us. It’s very difficult in general because you are working on a quickly-moving scenario. Technologies go ahead at an unbelievable speed, so you have to plan over a time period of a year, and in a period of months you have changes, but not only in technologies, also in legislation and politics and so on. So, it’s very difficult. But still, think that nobody can argue that saving the present engines with more sustainable fuels is not beneficial. That’s a given, anyway, whatever happens. So, it’s worth a try.

To read the remaining 1640 words of this article, you need to sign up to become a MotoMatters.com site supporter by taking out a subscription. You can find out more about subscribing to MotoMatters.com here. If you are already a subscriber, log in to read the full text.


This is part of a regular series of unique insights into the world of motorcycle racing, exclusive for MotoMatters.com site supporters. The series includes interviews, background information, in-depth analysis, and opinion, and is available to everyone supporting the site by taking out a subscription.

If you would like to read more of our exclusive content you can join the growing band of site supporters, by taking out a subscription here. If you prefer, you can also support us on our Patreon page and get access to the same exclusive material there.

Tweet Button: 

Back to top

Comments

This is just me but I know others feel the same way. I don't watch the electric bikes because it's boring to me. It's too short and I miss the sound. That's where everything indicates MotoGP is headed even though this article talked about changing the way the liquid fuel is made. Bottom line, if it changes too much, viewership will decline. 

This is such a puzzling point of view to me - you watch racing for the sound? I watch racing for the racing! MotoE has proven itself to provide great action, even over a short distance. You're doing yourself a disservice by ignoring it. 

I get goosebumps when they pull out of pit lane with that exhaust sound. It’s visceral.

Why people watch racing of any kind. Sometimes its the backstory, sometimes its the because they relate to the experience. Sometimes its a desire to be a part of the action. Great racing comes in all sorts of forms and categories but some lack any sort of draw for me personally. Must be a combination of many things. Sounds is surely an aspect.

When F1 switched from the high (relative) rpm screamers to the "hybrid era" it lost a lot of draw for me. Partly because of the sound, partly because of the overly complicated and controlled technical nature of the rules change. Never has had the same appeal to me since. Of course "racing" and F1 should rarely be used in the same sentence.

The exciting moment for MotoE? When it burned itself down. 

I don't have a specific reason. Many. I dislike the heavy slow bikes. The riders are relatively 3rd hand. They dont do many races, I am surprised if they are there. I don't identify with any of it except that they are going around a track. I wouldn't want to be on something doing the pace of a mid pack 300cc twin that is heavy as a touring bike. Why watch it either?

The quiet whizz whir is kind of novel, might be the most pleasant part. I bloody detest the MotoAmerica huge Harley etc "Baggers" too. Those are barely motorcycles in my mind, but at least those are comical. They have to do clown riding to get them around wee goat tracks like Laguna Seca. It is a humor break. Or bathroom break.

Oh man, what a joke. The motorcycle equivalent of semi racing. But there is definitely an appeal to people. I, however, am not people. I'm sure there is $$ in it for the riders and that's good.

Too bad the motoA superbike field got diluted but Ducati looks to have an "easy" championship. Probably would have regardless. Maybe that'll spur some larger interest is US superbike racing.

Ridiculous, for sure. But did you see the lap times at Daytona? Only about five seconds off the sport bikes!

Almost scary fast. But with the usual caveats ... range, charging time and scarecity, the idiocy of turning something (gas, oil, whaatever) intro electricity to then turn into power for machines rather than just turning (gas, oil whatever) into power for machines, makes me ill.

Yes Larry if they are burning baby seals to generate the electricity I'm not in favor of that. Or brown coal. Devil's advocate says Whale oil is a renewable resource.

I have plans to acquire a battery to go with my PV system. Would definitely prefer a battery with wheels, two ideally. An electric dirt bike would be cool for sneaking up on wildlife. Zero bikes are less heavy than some. I don't like the way they sell. Buy the bike. Pay extra to access battery capacity that is there already. Pay extra to access the fast charge capability my bike has already.

For the tiny price I get for my kilowatt hours from the energy co. I would rather pump the juice into a motorsickle and have fun burning it up myself. Or save if for a rainy day. So I'm still looking for an e-Moto that suits my taste & budget.

Some years back, you know back when the chassis were total junk. Lots of torque and a just too quiet at low speeds (parking lots, etc. could be an issue). The guy that let me ride the bike was doing track days with it. When I got off it I told him to be careful as this thing was bound to bite him on the "gas" out of the corner due to the horrible chassis dynamics and the silly toque levels. Sure enough he ended up in the hospital with a broken pelvis a couple of months later after a monster highside. 

Of course the chassis and suspension on modern Zeros are much improved as are the "rider aids" but I think a powerful electric without the aids would be a beast to ride fast. Perhaps we could spice up the electric racing if we open up the technical regulations completely in terms of powertrain and battery put specify a linear potentiometer throttle control only. Ban all forms and TC, axis-based power regulation, etc. It would definitely spur innovation in airbag suits if nothing else.

Moving towards renewable drop-ins is a good direction. Renewable fuels are a practical contribution racing series can make to the consumer market. Does the 2027 introduction date indicate that the GPC believes 1000cc engines will continue beyond 2026 (or maybe changes are already negotiated)? Hard to run a test mule and simulate without knowing the cylinder capacity. Will the change accompany longer service intervals for the engines?

Regarding ride-height and aerodynamics, something must give. The rider is responsible for setting up the bike, and shifting shapes. The inherent limitations of humans contain vehicle performance within the human realm. If the manufacturers replace or augment rider inputs, tragedy is nigh. Allowing ride-height devices and aero because the manufacturers see sales potential is dangerous. I'm worried the aha! moment may not occur until a rider gets sat up at Hoge Heide or Ramshoek, and then goes flying through Dutch countryside for the last time in his career or maybe his life. Suddenly everyone realizes that raising trap speeds with ride height devices, and allowing 5% of the lateral grip to be aero-dependent was a bad idea.

Dorna pushed through the 1000cc formula. If they can't ban ride height and aero, capacity/power should be reduced substantially, and SBK should become a profitable, differentiated series that is even more rider-centric. Dajiro Kato's ghost doesn't need to make an appearance. 

I dont mean to be glib or dismissive of the dangers of the sport. But I think it's important to put things in context. MotoGP is a racing series where ~300HP motorcycles race within inches of each other, often well over 200MPH. I just don't buy that a ride heigh device will be the straw that breaks the camel's back. The recent deaths in the sport generally had nothing to do with the technology.

I agree that giving the riders all this secondary workload is no good... which is why they should just allow stuff like ride height control to be managed electronically. People argue that more tech hurts the "purity" of the racing...... but if a prototype class can't experiment with technology where can it be done?

Motorcycle racing is dangerous. Why make it more dangerous by raising trap speeds with an electronic device that the rider cannot directly control? Aerodynamic downforce is a bigger potential issue. On a motorcycle, downforce is speed sensitive and roll sensitive. It's extremely complicated and easily affected by wind or dirty air. Shapeshifters actually make the aero issue worse because the body clearance regs don't really mean anything, if a shapeshifter can lower the bike. 

Right now, it's not a big deal. The aero grip is probably negligible, but when does grip become too unstable/unpredictable on a track with racing in close quarters? We won't know until someone is in the hospital or until a factory makes a big enough leap forward that the GPC gets spooked. 

MotoGP is not pure prototype racing. It's Superbike+. It's the same bore-stroke for everyone. Same number of circular pistons and valves. Same firing order. Same twin-spar frames. Same conventional forks and shocks. Same brakes. Same number of gears. Why are those things spec? Because they don't drive profits in the motorcycle marketplace. Why shapeshifters, hole-shot and aero relatively free? 1) They are difficult for smaller manufacturers to replicate 2) The car industry indicates people are dumb enough to pay a premium for these systems.

Dorna: It's going to be scary and fast!! MSMA: And we're gonna raise the danger factor with electronic systems the riders can't control!! Two junkies helping each other get high. Starts like The Notebook. Ends like Requiem for a Dream.

 

Full blown electronic active suspension would make the aero more predictable because you would be able to maintain the flow of air across parts of the bike more consistently. Get up to 100k, push your hand out to the front and angle just your hand up and down. You can feel the forces and that's just your hand. Now imagine 200k-360k with a custom made hand with the surface area of however many wings the Ducati has these days. No idea...dislocated, bent, crumpled mess lying in the road as the bike continues on its merry way. That's not just an idea of the scope of forces which might be involved it's also a big pointer to the difference in the forces generated as the angle of incidence changes. Movable aero is banned and aero is not allowed on the unsprung parts of the bike (roughly speaking) yet the sprung part of the bike moves on the suspension obviously. Controlling the height of the bike front and rear independently gives far more options for optimising the angle of attack of the wings to the air flow at any point on track as opposed to the current systems which are always a very broad compromise. The angle of the bike determines the amount of downforce.

I think one of the main safety problems with fully controllable systems is that failing safe is possibly more likely to involve a change in the angle of the bike than no change at all. That would mean a potentially big change in the amount of downforce at what might be the worst possible time. Yes, these systems are common and very safe but they do fail even if extremely rarely. The road bikes are not travelling at the speeds of MotoGP or generating the forces of MotoGP.

Also worth mentioning that current devices will also not fail safe other than not falling off and not fouling the tyre/wheel...hopefully. Parts fail but generally parts fail to a lack of function. Now we have systems that may fail by functioning inadvertently in some manner.

Active aero and suspension could stabilize the bike, and make its behavior more predictable. As you point out, fully active aero is not going to be part of the sport anytime soon, or ever. 

People think about downforce in pitch because cars are pitch sensitive. Motorcycles roll, and no matter how many systems are on a bike, engineers cannot assume that 60-degrees of lean will be available at the apex. Another rider could be there. If 10-degrees less lean reduces lateral grip by 30%, it's a safety problem. Are we there yet? I doubt it. But we won't know until someone takes evasive action at a high speed corner in stiff cross breeze, and they go flying through the countryside. 

The current formula is not compatible with aero and active ride height tinkering. I'm sure Dorna are still monitoring corner entry g's and other metrics, like acceleration relative to braking, but that doesn't tell you anything about the degradation of lateral grip in a dynamic race setting.

In my opinion, these systems will have to be banned, or you can prepare to watch 72mm 720cc bikes with 16L of fuel, piloted by ECUs with a junior vice president of marketing in charge of the steering. If MGP a gladiator sport for riders. Fine. If it's a tech expo for engineers and leather-clad lawn gnomes. Fine. But it can't be both. Time has passed that era by. 

Thinking about downforce in terms of pitch is because even when the bike leans over the downforce is acting in the same direction relative to the frame. I have no idea why the wings are the shape that they are on the bikes. Do the Yamaha, Suzuki and Aprilia wings droop down for some other reason than to fit maximum span inside of the rules box ? I think when the bike is leaning over they work the same as when the bike is upright. Maybe the bottom 'scoop' on the Ducati gets close enough to the tarmac to do something different but I don't know. I think I've heard every rider talk of difficulty in turning the bike. Maybe the bike doesn't lean, the track tilts up instead.

Not so many years ago the Yamaha turned better than the Honda but the Honda stopped better and if sat up quickly would have good traction out of the turns. Despite the differences they produced nearly identical lap times. Different ways of approaching the question: How to get from A to B in as short a time as possible ? I'm not sure the aero helps much with turning. Specific circumstances yes maybe, maybe not. I think it must help a lot with braking and with accelerating. Maybe a loss in turning is outweighed by the gains in braking and accelerating. End result, shorter lap time.

Not sure I like that direction. If you had a bike which was 50kph slower through the speed traps, 10kph slower through the turns but could stop in half the distance and put down pure abusive levels of torque without a hint of wheelie or wheelspin out of the turns (traction control falling alseep through boredom)...then the drag causing you to be 50k slower is worth it. You will be quicker across the lap (not actually worked that out but you get the idea). I was attracted to bikes as a kid because they had grace. Even with Marquez there's a gracefulness to the way they move. They're are becoming more like dragsters. Not there yet but...

Great thoughts Wavey. Do you suppose that the engineers have included contingencies in their design such as; passing on the outside, right hand turn, air flow blocked? 

You get the idea. The aerodynamics can be incredibly complicated depending on so many variables.

I think yes and no. You'd be mad to not consider the effect of 'dirty air' on the aero of your bike. That goes with or without wings. If your year 2000 NSR shakes like wild beast when behind another bike, so much so that your teeth fall out...it's a problem...fairing vanishes ? Can't see ? Can't turn ? Whose problem it is, is a philosophical question. There's been a few tales in recent years of bikes being 'welded together' side by side on the straights, trapped by some sort of voltron aero megabitch. I remember Jack and Marc talking about severe turbulence on the COTA straight. Is the problem not being able to handle the dirty air or is the problem producing more dirty air than previous generations ? Both eventually kill racing...if you consider racing a close order battle.

Safety/rideability concerns aside there's the conundrum of lap times and how to win a race or a championship. If you had a choice between...

- Type A: a super optimised aero package that will deliver a '100%' lap time when in clean air but a 120% lap time in dirty air

OR

- Type B: an aero package that will produce a 110% lap time no matter clean or dirty air

...which do you choose ?

The only bikes which have the chance to open a gap are the Type A bikes. The constant Type B bikes will never pull away from the other bikes. The Type A bikes will sit behind the Type B bikes, far enough back where the air is clean enough, always ready to take advantage. However, in qually, in clean air, the front rows of the grid are all Type A bikes. One of these bikes will more than likely win the race....lap one, T1 leading, off you go. The Type B bikes starting further back might feast on bikes struggling with dirty air but they will very rarely win a race. If a group of Type A pull a gap at the beginning...they're gone.

That's obviously an abstracted view on what is a far more nuanced reality but the basic directions are there. MotoGP and the points system does reward consistent top 5 finishes but the winning hand in most seasons is a bike which wins 5+ races. If type B cannot run with type A at all...champion is type A.

I guess the magic trick as always is having your cake and eating it.

The wing angle could be related to dimensional restrictions, but it also helps with cornering downforce. When the bike is leaned over, the angled top wing will produce downforce. Unfortunately, the angled underbody wing will be producing side force so teams need to find strategies to stall the wing when it's underbody. Ducati also appear to be experimenting with Venturi Effect when the bike is at full lean. 

I don't see this going anywhere good, and aero appendages have no street relevance except as some sort of signaling mechanism between street bikers.  

Exactly, yes the 'top' wing is suddenly sort of horizontal to the track, yet the 'bottom' wing is not. They are both attached to the same frame so it's the same regardless of the lean angle of the bike, just components of an end result. Maybe rider position changes things.

Diesels burning soybean oil?

At least it will smell good.

are already being produced. The main issue, big surprise, is they're more expensive, and some of the big fossil fuel producers are resistant to the potential changes. 

Racing Engine Technology magazine, August '21 has an excellent article on the various options, and the IC engine still has enough advantages that it's likely to be around for quite a while in conjunction with EVs. 

Curious about a couple things. How much are Cecchinelli's Italian/Ducati roots present in his approach to gadget legality? 2nd, if much of our long term team funding comes from petroleum industry, how will this effect and be effected by the fuel change? 

Some are primarily oils (Castrol), then there are Sonoco etc that do fuel. I wonder who is making these non fossil fuels? 

We have bio mass based fuels blended in to 10% in the USA already. They can be tough on certain rubber and plastic bits in older fuel systems. The debate though is that they are from an agricultural source taken away from food production, so it of course isn't a panacea. 

Personal favorite? There are a few really clean facilities taking post consumer plastics and converting them into fuels (jet fuel, diesel, etc etc). Really cool! Not financially competitive, but a fantastic way to view us and plastic.

Dad joke for Richard... so a plastic dinosaur is ACTUALLY a dinosaur!? That someday will be found by future archeologists, and used for fuel? "Post industrial age homo sapiens had a VERY brief pinnacle period which included burning fossils for entertainment aboard two wheeled machines going over TEN times faster than humankind would without it. This culminated in what we call the Marquezestine era in which they all crashed their brains out, reverting to vegetable oil burning tricycles with ride height devices and continously variable transmissions."

Is it Portuguese dinosaur burning time yet? Back to work...

They should talk to Prometheus Fuels. Carbon-neutral fuel generation. There are other companies doing this as well, Like Carbon Engineering and Climeworks. Having said that, hydrogen generated from wind and/or solar would be pretty clean.

Australian Supercar V8s have run for a couple of years on 85% ethanol. No issues there and a bit more friendly.

Moto E is great; when I am fortunate to be able to attend a GP in person the e bike race permits me to go line up for food, find something to read and look for a clean restroom, etc. 

"Self-contradiction is most evident in the decline in energy efficiency. In his fascination with ever greater sources of energy, man has moved from the heat of the fireplace to electrical generation with a water wheel to thermal power generation to nuclear power. But he closes his eyes to the fact that the efficiency of these sources (ratio of total energy input to total energy output) has worsened exponentially in the same order. Because he refuses to acknowledge this, internal contradiction continues to accumulate and will soon reach explosive levels." -Masanobu Fukuoka, The Natural Way of Farming, Natural Farming for a New Age, The Only Future For Man

Kevin Cameron knows a lot of stuff. I like a lot of his writing that I have read over the years. Don't know where those figures K.C. quote came from.

Yes there is a lot of embodied energy in the concrete foundations, the towers & turbines etc. Dr Karl Kruszelnicki confirmed today that energy is currently paid back in the first 6 months or so. Then 20 to 25 years of energy benefit, for charging MotoE bikes. I'm no engineer but to me that is a return on invested energy of about 40 rather than 2 that Kevin Cameron suggests. This puts wind electricity on par with some hydro, according to the figures used by K.C. More research needed I think.

Fake 100 octane dinosuar juice would do me. Made from algae or jojoba beans or whatever. A German figured out how to make bio-diesel out of dead cats. Let's process all the feral cats in Oz. Non-food sourced ethanol or methanol. Old cooking oil, I just want to continue enjoying what I have for a while longer.