MotoGP’s tyre-gate


Racing is mostly about self-interest. It can be no other way. And even though the cliché that says nice guys don’t win is incorrect, the nice guys who do succeed only do so by morphing into ruthless assassins the moment they start thinking about racing, let alone actually going racing.

But even in this most vicious of sports there are times when self-interest needs to be overruled for the general good.

A couple of months ago Nicky Hayden came up with a good idea. He realised there’s an inherent problem in the qualifying one/qualifying two format; that the two riders who top Q1 often can’t take any advantage of their promotion to Q2 because they’ve already used all their soft tyres. So what’s the point of even taking part in Q2? He therefore came up with a suggestion: that Q1-to-Q2 qualifiers should each be given an extra rear tyre.

Hayden’s suggestion makes perfect sense. If a rider has to spend an extra 15 minutes on track, he deserves an extra rear because MotoGP’s tyre allocation is super tight as it is. When the proposal was put before the Grand Prix Commission – the four-part body that governs MotoGP – Dorna, the FIM and teams’ association IRTA all agreed that Hayden’s idea should be written into the MotoGP regulations.

But the fourth component of the GPC – the Motorcycle Sports Manufacturers’ Association (currently Ducati, Honda and Yamaha) – rejected the proposal. So Q1-to-Q2 riders must continue the charade of taking part in Q2, despite the fact that they’ve invariably got very little chance of actually improving on their grid positions.

“Hayden’s proposal was a good idea – it seemed like a no-brainer to us,” says Mike Trimby, IRTA’s general secretary. “We were stunned when the MSMA rejected it.”

Of course, the MSMA exists to look after the interests of the factories, but wouldn’t you think that this was one of those moments where concern for the general good of MotoGP should overtake self-interest?

No one is exactly sure why the MSMA rejected the proposal. This is not a transparent organisation, but I’m told this may be why they said no: the MSMA don’t think it’s fair that two riders get an extra rear tyre and they think those two riders are already lucky enough to get an extra 15 minutes of track time. But what’s the point of extra track time if you can’t really use it because you’ve run out of rubber?

Neither did the MSMA like the idea of the rules being rewritten midseason, but wasn’t it the factories who went ballistic when Dorna announced the Open 2 rules rewrite before the start of this season and forced Dorna into a further (laughable) rewrite? And when Aleix Espargaró and his Open-spec Forward Yamaha led the way in free practice at the season-opening Qatar Grand Prix, at least one factory boss started lobbying Dorna to have the extra-soft tyre taken away from the Open machines.

And, considering that neither Espargaró nor any other Open rider has been able to seriously worry the factories since Qatar and its unique conditions, what exactly are they afraid of?

You would think that the MSMA – whose members build most of the Open bikes on the MotoGP grid – would be happy to give the little men a bit of a helping hand and liven things up a bit, just for the good of the sport, if nothing else. Perhaps occasionally we would see a Q1-to-Q2 qualifier squeeze onto the third row of the grid. That wouldn’t cause the factories too much agony would it?

Hayden surely isn’t paranoid when he puts the MSMA’s apparently bizarre decision down to politics. “I’m sure they have a reason, it’s probably something political,” says the 2006 MotoGP champ. “It makes it tough to do the whole weekend on seven tyres, while still trying to saving a tyre, in case you get into Q2. You wouldn’t think it would affect them [the factory teams] too much.”

Hayden is right, of course. This is just a minor skirmish in the current war over MotoGP’s future regulations. The factories are locked in battle with Dorna over the exact format of various ‘cost-cutting’ rules due in 2016 and so no one really knows why they took this angle on the extra-tyre vote.

Like any war, it’s all about tactics and strategy, playing feints on the enemy and catching them by surprise. But it’s not right that the middle men on the grid – riding as hard as anyone to get in among the factory bikes – have become collateral damage in this particular battle.


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