MotoGP: "For 2020 the future doesn't look very bright"

MotoGP

KTM motorsport director Pit Beirer and MotoGP teams boss Hervé Poncharal discuss the present and immediate future of MotoGP: fan-free races, skeleton teams and charter flights, but no Loch Ness Monster

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“I like to always be positive,” says Hervé Poncharal, president of MotoGP teams association IRTA and owner of the Tech 3 squad. “But the world is going through a very tough time. We are in the shit because we have no idea what’s going to happen in the near future and we have no idea what the 2020 season will be.”

“At the moment we are all – Dorna, IRTA and the MSMA – fighting like hell to imagine solutions and prepare different scenarios in order to be ready to race when we are given the chance. For 2020 the future doesn’t look very bright, but all around the world there are more people and more resources than ever before looking for a vaccine or a cure for this virus, so we have to look on the bright side.”

Poncharal is in daily contact with IRTA CEO Mike Trimby and Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta, while the MSMA (the MotoGP manufacturers association) holds weekly video conferences to discuss the problems of restarting MotoGP and adapting to a new economic reality.

“I think this crisis will show us what we really need and what are the luxuries”

Paddock optimists hope the 2020 MotoGP championship will commence in August, although the calendar will ultimately be decided by governments, not by MotoGP management.

If the racing does get underway in the next few months the MotoGP circus will be very different from its pre-coronavirus state. There will be no fans at the tracks, paddock personnel will be slashed by around 50 per cent and staff will have to travel to some races by charter flights, if numerous airlines collapse.

The main goal, of course, is to make sure that the actual racing doesn’t suffer.

“Now we are trying to work out what’s the minimum number of people we can go racing with,” says KTM motorsport director Pit Beirer. “We think a factory team will need maybe 40 people, so a reduction of around 40 per cent of the number of staff we take to racing, which normally includes management, marketing and hospitality staff. I think this crisis will show us what we really need and what are the luxuries, so we can reduce costs and still have a very high-quality show.

Independent MotoGP teams reckon they will need an absolute minimum of 20 to 25 staff. That includes seven pit crew per rider – a crew chief, an electronics strategy engineer, a data engineer, three mechanics and a tyre/fuel technician – plus a team tyre technician and a team suspension technician.

Similar reductions across all three classes should reduce the MotoGP paddock from 3,000 people to around 1,500. But will this be enough? MotoGP’s August fixtures are the Czech and Austrian rounds. The Czech government has banned large gatherings to the end of August, at the earliest, while in Austria gatherings are currently limited to five people, although bars and restaurants are likely to reopen in May, with capacity limits. Similar restrictions are in place around the world and some experts insist that large sporting events, festivals and so on won’t be able to recommence until midway through 2021.

Herve Poncharal

Hervé Poncharal, president of MotoGP teams association IRTA and owner of Tech 3

Tech 3

“My big dream is still to have ten races this year, unfortunately behind closed doors,” adds Poncharal. “But if we only have six that will be enough to show that MotoGP is alive and kicking. There is no minimum number of races…”

Although Beirer accepts that MotoGP will have to restart without the roar of the crowd he doesn’t think that’s a long-term answer.

“I think we can survive for a short while with no fans, but going racing is all about fighting to get good results and then getting that great feedback from the fans,” he says. “We need to survive this period and then come back to normal, because we need spectators, otherwise the sport doesn’t make sense.”

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Both Poncharal and Beirer have been impressed by the spirit of cooperation between the six manufacturers in the MSMA.

“I want to underline that we’ve had really great conversations between all the manufacturers,” adds Beirer. “We speak weekly and share our thoughts and our problems.

“We have already committed to huge cost savings by agreeing to stick with the same bikes for 2021, so the bikes we used in last month’s tests in Qatar will be the bikes we use in 2021. Although in reality, this isn’t so much a cost-saving programme as much as a survival programme.”

Poncharal’s IRTA role demands he looks after all the teams in the paddock.

“A month ago IRTA gave a small financial contribution to Moto2 and Moto3 teams,” he explains. “The next step was to help the independent MotoGP teams, for which we’ve finalised support for April, May and June, and now we are working on more support for Moto2 and Moto3 teams.

“Dorna are doing an incredible job to help us, by negotiating with their owners Bridgepoint, who are showing a huge amount of goodwill, because they understand that by helping teams to keep going we can restart without losing too much time when we go racing again. If teams go bankrupt they will lose staff and then we won’t have the grids ready, so it will take much longer to get going again.”

The MSMA’s next task is to develop longer-term cost-cutting regulations, because when the world emerges from this crisis there will be more unemployment and less money around, which means fewer sales and reduced profits.

“It’s a simple calculation – you can only spend what you earn,” affirms Beirer. “So if we earn less our racing budget will be less. On the other hand, in the long-term MotoGP is here to develop motorcycles to the highest possible level, so if we keep the same bikes for the next ten years we would save money but we would also get less money from sponsors and so on, because people want to see us develop special machinery.”

KTMs Pit Beirer with Pol Espargaro

KTM motorsport director Pit Beirer with Red Bull KTM MotoGP rider Pol Espargaró

KTM

Poncharal is delighted that one supposed cost-saving regulation – which has been under consideration on and off for years – has finally been abandoned.

“I was upset when the old Loch Ness Monster idea – the one-bike rule – came up again,” he says. “It’s a stupid idea. The best thing about MotoGP is the show and a one-bike rule would hurt the show. The format we have now works really well, but with one bike only we’d have to change a lot of things: you couldn’t have FP4, then Q1 and Q2, and you couldn’t have flag-to-flag races, which helps the show tremendously.

I think we will see a different business model for teams in MotoGP

“Also, what do you gain from restricting riders to one bike? You still need a spare bike, ready to assemble, and if the rider has a big crash you’ll need more mechanics to get the bike ready for the next session. We need to keep the show, so I’m glad the one-bike idea is finally where it belongs, back in Loch Ness.”

KTM and other factories are taking drastic measures to get through this crisis and to survive the aftermath. KTM staff – from MotoGP riders to management to factory workers – have already agreed to take a pay cut.

“We already have a strong plan to get through this crisis,” continues Beirer. “The big target is to not reduce the number of people working in KTM, so we don’t damage the core of our business. But we have postponed all new programmes and if someone leaves the company I am not allowed to replace them.

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“We have stopped producing motorcycles and we hope to restart in May, because the most important thing is that we restart production and start selling bikes again. We are doing everything to support that, with people from the race department now working in the production department. We need to dive through this difficult period and come back to normality as quick as possible.”

What will MotoGP’s new normal look like? Dorna’s next five-year contract with IRTA and the factories runs from 2022 to 2026. Until COVID-19 arrived the plan was for 22 GPs per championships, but that looks unlikely to survive the crisis.

“The world is going to be very different, so it’s difficult to imagine 22 races per season from 2022,” adds Poncharal. “Maybe 18 would be a good number. I think we will see a different business model for teams in MotoGP. If we say that independent teams get 50 percent of their money from sponsors and 50 percent from Dorna and IRTA, maybe in the future it will be 35 or 40 percent from sponsors and 60 or 65 percent from the championship.”

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