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Does GP racing need Dorna?

The following is an extract from my introduction to the 2010 season, which may or may not be modified before publication, depending on how events unfold. Does anybody strongly agree or disagree with the views I have expressed? Please let me know your feedback.


`……However, the best illustration of the folly of allowing series promoters to determine technical regulations was Dorna itself, where Chief Executive Carmelo Ezpeleta ran the Grand Prix motorcycle world championships from the perspective of planning a television entertainment show. Regulations were altered almost randomly as Ezpeleta went round in circles seeking solutions to problems of his own making while MotoGP grids continued to fall. The point had been reached where Dorna was now the problem and could not be part of the solution, and dissent from within the paddock became more open. Valentino Rossi`s crew chief Jeremy Burgess was quoted; “Carmelo Ezpeleta and Dorna have never built anything that has improved the sport or the numbers on the grid.” BMW discounted the possibility of entering the MotoGP series with more stinging words of rebuke. Chief Executive Officer Hendrik von Künheim was quoted; “…And if BMW Motorrad did officially enter MotoGP in the future, it would require a massive u-turn in management strategy…..They have manoeuvred the championship into the wrong corner and now they are trying to get out of it.”

The most immediate consequence of Ezpeleta`s control of the MotoGP series was the introduction of the new Moto2 class, in which all competitors were required to use a Honda CBR600 control engine. When asked to explain how such machines could be described as prototypes Ezpeleta`s answer could have graced the pages of `Alice in Wonderland`; he managed to redefine the meaning of a prototype so that it contradicted the commonly understood meaning of the word. If the entire field in a prototype racing class was now to be required to use a near standard roadster engine it raised the question as to why the Harris-WCM had been banned from the grid when it first appeared in 2003. As far as Ezpeleta and Dorna were concerned allowing unrestricted chassis development was sufficient to make it a prototype class and to stave off the risk of legal action from the Flammini brothers; Moto2 machines racing in the 2009 Spanish championships had matched the lap times achieved by the now redundant 250cc two-strokes, entries to the new class were over-subscribed and the use of a control engine guaranteed close racing, the most vital ingredient in a championship created purely for television audiences and run as if it were nothing more than a game show. The creation of a single engine GP class had the desired effect of reducing costs, but at the unacceptable price of sacrificing the principles behind a century of Grand Prix racing. It raised the question as to whether Ezpeleta and Dorna thought they held the commercial rights to the most important road racing championships in the world or the rights to a meaningless series for novices.

The best that could be said about the new Moto2 class is that it was ready to replace the 250cc world championship in 2010 and that full grids were assured. The original plan was to run a combined class in which Moto2 machines raced alongside the outgoing 250cc machines for one season, but there were more than enough Moto2 entries to dispense with the 250cc machines immediately. The fate of twin cylinder 250cc two-stroke racing engine had mirrored that of its larger cousin, the four cylinder 500cc two-stroke; the optimal engine configuration was long established, and subsequent development was limited to a long series of minor refinements until there was little scope for further improvement. When Honda announced that it would cease production of racing two-stroke engines it became clear that the 250cc class would disappear sooner rather than later. The logical solution of replacing it with a 600cc four-stroke prototype class was discounted because of the high cost of developing new machines, and the alternative solution of relaxing the prototype only regulations and introducing an open 600cc class was not considered because of the risk of attracting legal action from the Flammini brothers. In the absence of any firm leadership from the F.I.M. a new class of `pantomime horse` machines was created, featuring near stock engines housed in the latest chassis technology, creating a new breed of machine irrelevant to any other aspect of motorcycling, built for no other reason than to feature in Dorna`s televised `game show`. Dorna also showed great disrespect to the Aprilia factory, the most consistent supporter of GP racing in the smaller capacity classes over the last 20 years; their machines had won the 250cc world championship nine times since 1994, but the factory could only continue racing in the replacement Moto2 class if it fitted its machines with engines produced by a rival manufacturer. After briefly considering the idea the factory wisely announced that it would not be involved in Moto2.

In the MotoGP class itself there was much greater uncertainty, and the 2010 season began with the regulations for future seasons surrounded by Dorna generated confusion. The decision to reduce the capacity limit from 990cc to 800cc from the beginning of the 2007 season had proved unpopular with riders and spectators alike; races in the 800cc era tended to be much less of a spectacle, and with some notable exceptions most races had developed into dull processions at the front of the field. The reduction of the capacity limit had also imposed huge extra development costs on the manufacturers for the purpose of creating a racing class which did not exist anywhere else, with a capacity limit that did not correspond with that of any production models. MotoGP grids continued to shrink, to the extent that there were only 17 entries for the 2010 series, with the risk that the number might shrink further as teams struggled with financial issues during the course of the season. When the Grand Prix point scoring system was amended in 1988 to award points for the first 15 finishers the purpose was to evaluate more accurately the performances of midfield riders, but with only 17 riders on the grid the scoring of world championship points itself was greatly devalued; it only required two riders to collide at the first corner for every rider in the race to be guaranteed at least one point. Everybody agreed that something needed to be done to increase the number of machines on the MotoGP grid, but there was little agreement as to how to achieve this objective.

Ezpeleta`s initial proposal was to allow production engines of up to 1,000cc to fill the vacant spaces on the grid and to race against the current 800cc prototypes; the 1,000cc machines were to be subject to a number of restrictions to ensure that they could not beat the prototypes. This suggestion immediately attracted the interest of the Flammini brothers, who insisted that their contract with the F.I.M. gave them exclusive rights to run world championship events for production machines. There was a more fundamental reason why Ezpeleta`s proposal was outrageous; it amounted to a deliberate attempt to fix the result of races. It was common practice in the various Superbike series to impose different regulations concerning minimum weights, carburettor air intake size and engine cubic capacity for different types of engine with a view to achieving parity and giving each engine type an equal chance of winning races. Ezpeleta wanted to impose similar restrictions for the opposite reason, to ensure that one type of engine would always beat another type, a wholly different proposition which, if adopted, would lead the sport into dangerous new territory. He had already introduced the single tyre rule in an attempt to ensure closer racing, which in itself amounted to an attempt to interfere with the results for the benefit of Dorna`s television coverage, and now he wanted to take the interference a step further. No other individual in the history of the sport has ever sought to control every aspect of the races he promoted in the way Ezpeleta treated the MotoGP series.

The next suggestion from Ezpeleta and Dorna was that the 800cc limit should be scrapped altogether and the series should adopt a 1,000cc capacity limit; this would effectively have amounted to a return to the pre-2007 regulations (the precise capacity limit then was 990cc). This idea was popular with the riders, but it met with resistance from the factories, who did not wish to write off the costs of developing their 800cc models. A compromise plan was then put forward; the factory teams would still run 800cc prototypes, but the independent teams would be allowed to race tuned versions of 1,000cc production engines if they wished. Maximum weight limits would be imposed, set at 150 kg for 800cc machines and 153 kg for 1,000cc machines, and fuel tank capacity was to be limited to 21 litres. To discourage the independent teams from spending huge sums on engine development it was proposed that a claiming rule should be introduced which would allow any independent team to buy the engines of another team for a set fee; when a similar rule operated in the United States it caused considerable controversy and ill feeling, and there was no reason to suppose that it would be any less controversial when operated under Dorna control. The plan was to alter the regulations in time for the 2012 season, but when the 2010 season began nobody was sure exactly which direction Ezpeleta and Dorna would take. The most important rule change for 2010 was a requirement that each rider in the MotoGP class was to be limited to an allocation of six engines for the entire season; the engines were to be delivered with sealed crankcases, and when the seal was broken the rider was deemed to have received one of his allocated engines. If a rider used his full allocation and needed additional engines he would be required to start races from pit lane with a time penalty for the remainder of the season; this raised the prospect of even thinner grids towards the end of the season.

Ezpeleta was correct in identifying the need for cost reductions, but the way he went about it revealed a fundamental misunderstanding of, or disregard for, the basic principles under which the sport had operated successfully for more than a century of rapidly advancing technology. If a rider was regularly being beaten by a wide margin by rivals on equal machinery it was for him to improve his skills if he could so that he could compete more effectively; it was not for the promoter to interfere with the regulations to ensure that the racing was closer. Throughout the history of the sport some races had produced close results, while in other races the winner lapped the entire field; the closeness or otherwise of the racing was a natural reflection of how evenly matched or otherwise the various combinations of rider and machine were in any given race. Knowledgeable spectators understood this, and they did not need to be induced into watching the sport in a slickly marketed television package by the promise of artificially induced close racing. If a race or championship attracted a poor entry it was for the promoter to find ways of attracting a better entry if he wished to maintain public interest. Knowledgeable spectators would never be fooled by expanding the grid with what amounted to phantom entries, riders on machines which stood no chance of winning because the regulations had been drafted to make sure they could never be competitive. The equivalent conduct in horse racing, cricket or football would be regarded as race or match fixing, and the individuals involved could expect lengthy or possibly lifetime bans from their sports; on the other hand it is fair to say that Ezpeleta was a businessman with a duty to his shareholders rather than to the sport, and it would look better on Dorna`s television coverage if there were more machines on the circuit during a race, even if they were not competing in any meaningful sense. Dorna was willingly assisted in its manipulation of the world championships by the manufacturers` association, the M.S.M.A.; the manufacturers had considerable influence in the drafting of the regulations, and when the regulations were drafted they built machines to fit the regulations they had helped to draft. In business, politics or any sport that was properly regulated this would be prohibited as a clear conflict of interest. The F.I.M. urgently needed to step in and insist on taking full control of technical regulations in all road racing championships to save the sport from itself; unfortunately there was no indication that it was willing or able to do this….`


This is purely my personal view. If Signor Ezpeleta or a spokesman for Dorna wishes to contradict my opinion I will be happy to publish their response.

Laurence Hammond

15 May 2010

Update.

My provisional final draft for this passage in the book deleted the Alice in Wonderland reference as I felt this was unfair. But I stand by my opinion that GP racing needs to get rid of Dorna if it to survive as a credible spectacle in the long run.  I now wish to turn my fire on the book `MotoGP Results 1949-2010 Guide`, by Werner Haefliger and published by Dorna.

What a ridiculous publication this book is! According to the book there have only ever been 3 proper GP classes (125cc, Intermediate class and Premier class). Intermediate class equates to 250cc / Moto2 and Premier class equates to 500cc / MotoGP.  The other solo classes, 350cc and 50cc/80cc are reduced to a brief appendix at the back of the book, listing race winners and world champions but not the full results, and of course Sidecars are omitted altogether.

Instead of reporting the GP results fairly and objectively, as the races were seen at the time, Haefliger has conveniently distorted over 60 years of GP history to make it fit Dorna`s current three class marketing strategy.  The FIM were very weak in allowing Dorna to expel the Sidecar class from the GP series, but who the hell gave them the right to expunge from the record the results from the era before they were involved?  The 350cc class in particular was a very important GP class from the inception of the world championships until it was eventually discontinued after the 1982 season because it had become too similar to the 250cc class.  But it also produced some of the outstanding moments in GP history which will be remembered long after the Mickey Mouse Moto2 class has been forgotten about.

As far as it goes Haefliger`s results seem to be accurate and well researched, but he really ought to rewrite his book, adding in all the races he missed out and getting it published by someone other than Dorna.  In its present form it is certainly not a book to be recommended.

Laurence Hammond

10 September 2011


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2 comments

  1. Very well said, I’ve been a fan of GP racing since 1969, and what I see happening today is terrible. This is nothing but Bridgepoint Equity trying to manipulate TV ratings and increase investment returns at the expense of GP racing.
    Socialized racing, the dumbing-down of racing for the massess, or NASCAR style racing for the motorcycle massess, this is where Dorna has taken us, and it is not good.


  2. Totally agree. The fault lies with the FIM. Until FIM takes back control of the sport from the money grabbers nothing will change. Surely the contract the FIM agreed with Dorna requires them to run the sport properly. Just fourteen riders starting the Moto GP race at Phillip Island today makes a total mockery of the championship. Despite the skill and bravery of the competitors this is now just a closed shop travelling circus not a world championship.



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