MotoGP title fight: who will run out of engines first?

MotoGP

Several top MotoGP title contenders are already way past the usual lifespan with their engines, so how will they cope at the last three races?

2020 MotoGP Teruel GP

Johann Zarco burns boot rubber as Morbidelli and Rins lead the Teruel GP

Petronas SRT

Three of 14 races remain in the 2020 MotoGP World Championship, Covid permitting. The second wave of the pandemic is racing through Europe as riders prepare for the triple-header finale on the Iberian Peninsula, starting with Sunday’s European GP at Valencia and ending with the Portuguese GP at Portimao on November 22.

Literally no one knows if the championship will go full distance, but the back-to-back races at Valencia – the European and then the Valencia GP – are currently set to go ahead despite a night-time curfew in the region.

Some MotoGP riders will be happier than others if the pandemic does cancel one or more of the races. It doesn’t take a genius to work out who will be happy and who will be sad.

Examining engine usage reveals that Mir hasn’t only got the advantage on points

A MotoGP title bonus – paid into your bank account by your motorcycle brand, your helmet supplier, your leathers supplier, your fizzy drink supplier and various other sponsors – is worth several million Euros. Finishing second or third – on the championship podium – also pays handsomely. Anything else, not so much.

The man at the top is Joan Mir, chased by Yamaha trio Fabio Quartararo, Maverick Viñales and Franco Morbidelli, who are 14, 19 and 25 points down on the Suzuki rider.

With 75 points up for grabs the championship could end up in any of their hands (in fact everyone down to Johann Zarco in 14th has a mathematical chance of winning the title) so everything matters at the last three races, including engines.

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This year each rider gets five engines for the 14 races, which at about 340 miles per weekend works out at around 950 miles per engine. That’s pretty much the same mileage as in a non-Covid season, when riders get seven engines for 20 races.

Laborious examination of MotoGP’s engine usage documents offers an approximate picture of how many miles each engine has done. This reveals that Mir hasn’t only got the advantage on points over his closest rivals.

The valve problems that struck Yamaha during July’s season-opening Spanish and Andalusian GPs are taking all three YZR-M1 riders into the danger zone with their engines. One can only imagine the sense of dread that overtook Yamaha engineers at Jerez when they realised they had a very serious problem that would haunt them for the rest of the season. And one can only imagine the communications between Yamaha and the outside supplier that manufactured the valves.

“When I’m riding with a used engine this is something you can feel”

Viñales is in the worst situation. Since September’s San Marino GP he’s been down to his last two engines. With three races to go both have already done about 150 per cent of their usual mileage, so by the end of the Portimao weekend both will have doubled their usual shelf life.

Quartararo and Morbidelli aren’t in great shape either.

Morbidelli is also down to his last two engines – one with almost double the routine mileage, the other on 1300 miles.

Quartararo is in slightly better shape, because he was the only Yamaha rider who didn’t break an engine during the season-opening Jerez double-header. The former championship leader has three engines left, one on 1480 miles, another on 1270 and the third on 530.

Mir is in the best situation. He has three engines on the go, all of them currently below the normal mileage limit – one on 950 miles, another on 850 and the last with just 210 miles.

Joan Mir's Suzuki ahead of Maverick Vinales' Yamaha

Mir has an advantage on points — and engine miles

Joe Klamar/AFP via Getty Images

Most riders and engineers won’t talk about engine mileage. But even Mir has noticed that his older GSX-RR engines are losing performance.

“When I’m riding with a used engine this is something you can feel,” he said during the recent Teruel GP.

Yamaha riders have been running reduced rpm for a while, trying to coax the maximum mileage from their remaining engines.

However, Quartararo, Viñales and Morbidelli do have one thing on their side – latest top-speed figures show that a GSX-RR isn’t any faster than an M1 in a straight line, despite its younger engines. During the last race at Aragon the three Yamahas and two Suzuki inline-fours filled the bottom five places in the top-speed chart, behind 13 Ducati, Honda and KTM V4s.

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Viñales used his fifth engine (1380 miles so far) in that race, which gave him the exact same top speed – 210.5mph – as Quartararo, who also used his fifth engine (530 miles so far). This suggests two things. First, MotoGP engines still produce good power past their usual shelf life. Second, they make so much horsepower that losing some doesn’t matter too much.

Even weirder – perhaps – the slowest bikes of them all have won the last two races. Morbidelli’s Teruel GP-winning M1 was the slowest bike on the grid that day, just as Álex Rins’ GSX-RR Aragon GP-winning GSX-RR was the slowest bike on the grid the previous Sunday.

Thus the battle for this year’s MotoGP championship is a fight between the slowest, best-handling bikes on the grid. And, of course, the bikes that work best with Michelin’s 2020 rear slick.

So maybe engine mileage and horsepower don’t matter as much as we think they do. Then again, perhaps we’ll change our minds if one of the older engines used by the title contenders cries enough during the final three races.

Right now, all three Yamaha riders are in danger, because they’ve only got two good engines, whereas Mir, and sixth-placed Rins have more engines to choose from if they do suffer problems.

Only one rider that’s contested all 11 races so far has yet to use all five engines – Repsol Honda’s Alex Márquez.

 

The top title contenders – engine by engine

Joan Mir engine usage

Joan Mir November 2020 engine allocation

Engine 1 850 miles
Raced in Spanish, Styrian, French and Teruel GPs.
Engine 2 1200 miles
Raced in Andalusian and San Marino GPs. Not used since French GP FP2. Presumably suspect.
Engine 3 200 miles
Used at Czech, Austrian and Styrian GPs, then withdrawn from allocation due to unspecified problem.
Engine 4 950 miles
First used at Emilia Romagna GP. Raced there and at Catalan GP.
Engine 5 210 miles
First used and raced in Aragon GP. A fresh engine for the final races.

Fabio Quartararo engine usage

Fabio Quartararo November 2020 MotoGP engine allocation

Engine 1 260 miles
Raced in Spanish GP. Sent to Japan for check-up. Returned for Catalan GP. Unused since. Presumably suspect.
Engine 2 80 miles
Used in Spanish GP FP1/2. Also sent to Japan and returned for Catalan GP. Unused since. Presumably suspect.
Engine 3 1270 miles
Raced at Andalusian, Czech and French GPs. Not used since. May or may not be good for further use.
Engine 4 1480 miles
Raced in Austrian, Styrian, San Marino and Emilia Romagna GPs. Only used since in practice/qualifying.
Engine 5 530 miles
First used at Catalan GP. Raced there and in Aragon and Teruel GPs.

Maverick Viñales engine usage

Maverick Vinales Nivember 2020 MotoGP engine allocation

Engine 1 160 miles
Used in Spanish GP FP1/2/3 and not again until Styrian GP. Not used since. Presumably valve problems.
Engine 2 80 miles
Withdrawn after Spanish GP. Valve problems.
Engine 3 230 miles
Raced at Spanish GP, used during Styrian GP but not since. Presumably valve problems.
Engine 4 1450 miles
Regular use since Andalusian GP. Raced in San Marino, Emilia Romagna, Catalan, French and Aragon GPs.
Engine 5 1380 miles
Regular use since Andalusian GP. Raced in Andalusia, Czech Republic, Austrian, Styrian and Teruel GPs.

Franco Morbidelli engine usage

Franco Morbidelli November 2020 MotoGP engine allocation

Engine 1 460 miles
Raced at Spanish GP. Put aside until Styrian GP practice. Unused since. Presumably due to valve problems.
Engine 2 135 miles
Unused since Spanish GP warm-up. Presumably due to valve problems.
Engine 3 1700 miles
His oldest engine, in constant use since round two. Raced in Czech, Austrian, Styrian and French GPs.
Engine 4 130 miles
First used and raced in Andalusian GP. Blew up when he was running fourth in that race.
Engine 5 1300 miles
The younger of his surviving engines. Raced in San Marino, Emilia Romagna, Catalan, Aragon and Teruel GPs.