Rules and regs the hot topic in MotoGP

by Mat Oxley on 26th September 2012

It’s ten days since a potentially thrilling climax to the MotoGP championship disintegrated to the sound of shattered carbon-fibre and a chorus of Spanish expletives. Time for a cool, calm reappraisal of the events.

It may have been hapless Hector Barbera who torpedoed title challenger Dani Pedrosa, but the thing that really did for Dani was the rulebook.

Sport needs rules, but wouldn’t it be nice if sport came first and rules came second? I was saying pretty much that as Pedrosa’s title hopes went awry on the Misano grid, but another journalist sitting nearby argued that I was entirely wrong. To him, the rules are what matters, and damn the romance of racing.

Of course, if those in charge had bent the rules for Pedrosa – allowing him to start the race from pole position instead of from the back of the grid – Yamaha would have protested, no doubt about it, and their protest would’ve been upheld. There’s only one likely winner in any battle between a corporate lawyer and the spirit of sport.

Race director Mike Webb did follow the rules to the letter. Pedrosa’s Repsol Honda RCV had a brake problem when the one minute board went up, so his bike had to be moved from the grid into pit lane. Fair enough, you can’t delay the race while someone is fiddling around, fixing a broken bike.

The rules then required Pedrosa to start the warm-up lap from the pitlane, which he didn’t. That rule also makes obvious sense, even if his team chose to ignore it. The rule with which I take issue is that which states that any rider who has started the warm-up lap from pit must start the race from the back of the grid. Why? Why can’t the rider take the start from his rightful grid position? Unlike car racing, riders aren’t required to keep position on warm-up laps and they can easily filter through to the front of the grid, so if a rider gets out of the pitlane smartly enough, why should he be punished by being sent to the back of the grid? He has done nothing wrong, so he shouldn’t be penalised.

It seems like a daft rule to me, and if it wasn’t there in the FIM rule book, Pedrosa and Jorge Lorenzo would still be battling for the championship. Webb indicated that the delayed-start regulations require fine tuning; hopefully this is one rule they will rewrite.

Webb was unhappy as the rest of us with the turn of events. “I’m gutted as far as the championship is concerned because I was looking forward to a tight finish,” he said.

Of course, it ain’t over until it’s over – Pedrosa is a little terrier who doesn’t know how to give up and Lorenzo is running low on engines. Anything can still happen; possibly…

If you want to check out the regulation under discussion (article 1.18.18) you can download a full copy of the FIM MotoGP regulations from the governing body’s website.

Although the Misano incident will be a big paddock talking point at this weekend’s Aragon GP, there will be more important talk about regulations going on behind closed doors. I refer, of course, to the ongoing saga of MotoGP’s control ECU.

Dorna have announced that all CRT teams will be eligible to receive a free, state-of-the-art Magneti Marelli control ECU next year, designed to get them closer to the prototypes. The next step of Dorna’s plan is to force the entire grid to use that same ECU the following year, but the factories are digging in their heels on this one.

As revealed here a few weeks ago, HRC have threatened to defect to World Superbike if the control ECU does become mandatory in MotoGP. This is grand news for World Superbike, which is obviously enjoying MotoGPs’ discomfiture and hoping to profit from it. Only recently WSB chief Paolo Flammini taunted Dorna by announcing that he is entirely happy to have “advanced engine control electronics” in WSB.

HRC may or may not be serious in their threat to defect, but Valentino Rossi’s crew chief Jeremy Burgess believes that this quarrel may indeed have dire consequences for MotoGP.

“Carmelo [Ezpeleta, Dorna CEO] probably doesn’t understand how closely he may be pushing the manufacturers,” says JB. “If the factories want to circumvent the damage done by Dorna and swing behind World Superbike, then superbikes will become the world championship.”

The problem is that this clash between the two championships won’t end well. It is an internecine conflict, one that will almost certainly leave both series damaged and weakened. And anyway, it would obviously be ridiculous if motorcycling’s prototype series ends up with a control ECU while its production-based championship allows free electronics.

Dorna’s problem is that whatever they do to reduce costs and tighten up the racing, MotoGP lap times will get slower, bringing them into the realm of the World Superbike.

There is only one solution to this riddle. World Superbike and MotoGP aren’t only governed by the same body, they are also owned by the same company. It is therefore the duty of the FIM and private equity business Bridgepoint (which owns Dorna and InFront) to thrash out new regulations that will keep both championships healthy and maintain the reasons their existence: MotoGP, the Grand Prix, the Formula 1 of motorcycling; Superbike, the production-based series, bike racing’s version of touring cars.

The FIM and Bridgepoint need to act, and act fast. To do nothing isn’t just fiddling while Rome burns, it’s fiddling while both Rome and Venice go up in flames.

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