As Formula 1 embarks on a season of change, MotoGP is revelling in the success of a recent change in its rules
MotoGP’s competitive landscape has been transformed since the introduction of unified software in 2016, which made MotoGP more feasible and attractive for new entries. A record nine different riders won races for four manufactures last season, with eight consecutive races seeing eight different winners.
Discussing the state of play in both sports with Mark Hughes in a feature for Motor Sport this month, Mat Oxley was full of praise for the sport’s (forced) embrace of change.
“Dorna has done an amazing job. They have managed to wrestle back control by bullying and fighting with the factories over years and years to try and reduce costs, make the grid tighter and to encourage new manufacturers to join with the unified software. The racing is fantastic at the moment, and that’s largely because of what they’ve done.
“Getting the teams to agree to the unified software was amazing. The Japanese teams want to play with their electronics, especially Honda who was not happy about it, but it was without a doubt the right thing to do. Most of the riders are much happier now they actually ride the bikes themselves.”
“Suzuki are now coming and they’ve done very well. I don’t know how large their race department is, but it’s probably something like 20 or 30, whilst Aprilia’s race department is just 7 engineers. By contrast HRC is about 120, and Ducati Corse is over 100.”
Aerodynamics have reached unprecedented levels of complexity in recent seasons of F1, to the extent that its relevance to the road car industry has become questionable. MotoGP has made revisions in this area too, banning winglets for the 2017 season.
“The wings offered a tiny, tiny performance increase, to the extent that not all riders ran them,” Mat Oxley explained. “If you were drafting, the bike in front would get all of the air force and because you’re in his draft you wouldn’t get that down force, so the bike in front would always have the advantage.”
Mark Hughes weighed up the feasibility of making similar revisions in F1.
“You could certainly make a good case for reducing the aero. It isn’t relevant anywhere outside of F1 and it doesn’t do anything in particular for the racing. If it were more about drag reduction than downforce generation, then it would have more relevance to the road car industry, through reduced fuel consumption and the likes.
“It would need an entire culture change though, all the way through root and branch of the sport. I guess then it would make F1 nervous about being compared to IndyCar too, which would de facto become massively faster”.
Like MotoGP’s adoption of unified software last season, interest in standardisation has increasingly been voiced in the F1 paddock too. In particular, interest surrounds standardising parts less visible to fans or those that do not add to the sport’s spectacle, such as suspension units.
Speaking to Motor Sport in 2016, former Ferrari president Luca di Montezemelo recognised the merits of this.
“We are in a very delicate situation with F1 at the moment but, despite that, it still has big, big potential if it is managed correctly.
“We have never properly looked at standardising parts that make no difference, which you cannot see but add enormously to the cost. Why not? I wouldn’t want it to be like IndyCar where all is the same, but somewhere in between.”
At the Abu Dhabi season finale in 2015, Red Bull team principal Christian Horner went further by proposing the standardisation of ERS. Mark Hughes weighed up the feasibility of this.
“Standardising the ERS would be taking away the R&D appeal of hybrid development for the manufacturers, but they surely cannot have it all ways. If their R&D is potentially going to bankrupt the sport, it’s a luxury the sport cannot afford.
“Current F1 budgets are cheap for manufacturers, but unaffordable for independents, so why not even out the playing field a little? Something needs to happen. Why not this?
“At the moment we are heading for a long-term possibility of just five teams, with at least two of them running uncompetitive engines. That spells disaster and collapse.”
As a sport always viewing technology as progress, F1 is naturally reluctant to embrace standardisation. However regulatory overhaul in 2017 has promised a similar shakeup of the competitive order, with cars more challenging to drive allowing driver ability to return to the fore.
The visibility of different riding styles to fans has long been central to MotoGP’s appeal, Mat Oxley argues.
“Márquez and Lorenzo are the two extremes. Márquez looks like he’s out of control, all over the bike, twisting and reacting to it, making it all work. Lorenzo – you don’t even see him move. It’s to do with the bikes they ride, but also where they came from. Lorenzo came from 250cc, all about momentum and smoothness, whereas Marquez came from Moto2, where the racing was close and physical.”
Such distinctions are less evident in F1, Mark Hughes argues.
“The driver doesn’t have that same influence in F1; the traits are pretty much defined by the car. There are some drivers who have the knack or style to work a particular tyre or car characteristic better than another, but it’s never the defining thing that says ‘this guy will be faster than that guy’. It’s always car or tyre defined.”
The results of MotoGP’s recent reforms speak for themselves – a highly competitive 2016 season was a win for fans and a win for manufacturers. There is much that F1 can learn. Time will tell whether it is willing to listen.
To read the full interview with Mat Oxley and Mark Hughes buy the latest issue here. There’s also everything you need to know about the new Formula 1 season (from tyres to travel), Lunch With John McGuinness and motor racing’s most controversial moments.