If the acuity of a political operator can be measured by the skill with which they manage to find alternative ways to achieve their goals, then the people at Dorna are truly masterful. After Carmelo Ezpeleta's previous attempts to introduce a spec ECU into MotoGP was met with widespread disapproval, the wily Spaniard has found another approach.
This time, according to Spanish sports daily AS.com, Dorna will be pushing for introduction of a spec ECU on the grounds of safety at a meeting to be held at the Czech Grand Prix in Brno. After the reduction in capacity from 990 to 800 cc failed so spectacularly to slow the MotoGP bikes down - with lap records falling during the very first season of the reduced capacity - Dorna is looking around for another way to reduce speeds. The reduced top speed has led to dramatically increased corner speeds, meaning that crashes are now happening at higher speeds, and that the smaller bikes are arguably more dangerous than the old fire-breathing 990s.
The idea is that a spec ECU could be used to artificially reduce performance, meaning that the bikes could be made slower. However, even the most cursory examination of this argument reveals how deeply flawed it is, as it is essentially a rehash of the capacity reduction. If you reduce performance, you simply increase the importance of corner speed, and make crashes happen at even higher speeds, as riders struggle to maintain as much momentum as possible through the corners.
What's more, of the four crashes which have caused riders to miss races, it is hard to point to a single one that would have been less serious if the bikes had been limited by top speed. Dani Pedrosa simply outbraked himself in extremely difficult conditions at the Sachsenring, and Loris Capirossi sustained an arm injury in a typical racing crash, when he collided with Toni Elias. Jorge Lorenzo's big highsides were caused by cold tires, though the crashes which caused both Lorenzo and John Hopkins to miss races were arguably as a result of losing the front at very high speed through difficult corners. However, traction control had no effect on any of these crashes whatsoever.
The more interesting proposal is one to examine ways of reducing tire performance. Part of the problem has been that tires have improved so dramatically over the last few years that corner speeds are getting higher more quickly. Alan Cathcart, in an interview with Dean Adams for the Soupkast podcast said that he expected MotoGP to go to grooved tires at some point (mp3), in an attempt to reduce speeds. Now, that prediction, made last year, is starting to look spookily accurate.
The problem is, of course, that motorcycle racing at all levels is fundamentally dangerous. Riders whose prime motivation to beat the other guy will always push as hard as possible, and well over the limit from time to time, with sometimes painful consequences. But with only 18 riders on the grid, injuries tend to be extremely prominent. Perhaps if Dorna concentrated on finding a way to make the racing more affordable - such as leaving the rules alone for long enough for teams to justify their investment, and for the performance of the machines to reach a natural plateau - then we could see a return to fuller grids, and a more consistent show.
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