The Future of MotoGP with no Kawasaki
Kawasaki have now pulled out of MotoGP for whatever reason you chose to believe. The reason for pulling out is not important, what is important is how the championship can continue with out them.
Since MotoGP became four stroke, the rules have been written to favour works machines and make it very difficult for non-works supported privateers, for the sake of the championship. All bikes had to be purpose built with purpose built engines, modified road bikes were most definitely not allowed.
Dorna did not want various Superbike spec bikes on the grid, for what was supposed to be a championship for prototypes. In reality, a purpose built from scratch racing bike should always be quicker than a Superbike, and if it’s not, something has gone wrong in the design and development process. World Superbikes are good and quick, but they have a few compromises as they are based on mass produced road bikes.
Unfortunately Dorna became a bit too strict with these prototype rules at the beginning, and made it very difficult for Peter Clifford and the WCM team to construct their own MotoGP bike. They built a full on racing bike with an engine loosely based on a Yamaha R1. Dorna interpreted this as WCM racing a modified R1, and wouldn’t let them race until WCM had spent a lot of time and money protesting this decision.
The problem here was when is an R1 not an R1. WCM had been very open from the beginning, admitting their engine was based on an R1, but nearly all the components were now purpose built to convert it from the road engine it used to be. The rest of the bike was all purpose built, so this bike was far from being an R1. WCM never really recovered from this disagreement, and it certainly didn’t help with finding sponsors, so they are now just part of history.
Dorna could afford to let WCM go because of all the other manufacturers involved at the time, but since then they’ve lost Aprilia, KTM, Team Roberts, and BMW before they even started. Now with Kawasaki gone, this should be the wake up call they need to sort things out. I hope Dorna are doing all they can to get the Kawasakis to another team and engineering company, as this could turn out to be the saviour if all goes well. Any fine Kawasaki get for breach of contract, should then go to the engineering company who accept the task of servicing and developing the bikes throughout the year.
Ilmor are hot favourites to get the engineering contract, and should be able to do a very good job. If Kawasaki are worried about their technology getting out, they need to open their eyes and find out who Ilmor really are. If any company can be trusted with secrets it’s them, just ask Mercedes, but I think all the technology in the Kawasakis has probably been seen and used by Ilmor before in other projects. Companies like Ilmor are the innovators of technology that is then used by the manufacturers.
In the past it’s been said that Ilmor can’t develop the engine because they’re an F1 company and F1 technology doesn’t work on bikes. Technology is just maths and physics, and as Scotty used to say in ’Startrek’, “you cannot change the laws of physics”. There are many differences between bike and car racing, and the needs of the rider, but any decent engineer would be able to spot this and apply the technology differently. This F1 technology doesn’t seem to be doing Ducati any harm.
Ideally Kawasaki should hand over everything to whichever team succeeds in putting a rescue package together, and all the engines should go to Ilmor. Whether Kawasaki wants to keep it’s name on the bike or totally disown it is up to them. The team can develop the chassis and Ilmor can develop the engine throughout the year.
Come the end of the year this new team can carry on with what they’ve developed for the following year and become a successful private team. Dorna could implement a rule change to try and keep the costs down for the smaller teams, by insisting engines have to last four full race weekends without being stripped. If an engine is changed early, the rider has to start from the back of the grid.
This should not be a problem for any of the engine manufacturers, and would help them keep costs down as well. The prototype engine rules should also be relaxed, so if anyone wants to take a VFR800 or oversized 750 and convert it into a MotoGP engine, they can. This would still be a massive job to make it competitive, but not impossible, and could be a supply of engines for more privateer teams.
With Ilmor being a private company who have to make a profit to survive, what’s to stop them leasing their developed Kawasaki engines to more teams. Another manufacturer could also have their name put on the engine for a fee, or maybe Kawasaki would be impressed enough with the results to keep their own name on it.
The great thing about engine badging deals is the cheap, no-risk cost. The money is negotiated up front, and if the privateer teams do well, Kawasaki sit back and take the glory. If the teams don’t do so well, Kawasaki can just blame the rest of the package.
Could Ilmor be supplying competitive customer MotoGP engines for 2010? I hope so, and I’d imagine a few new teams would as well. Would we see the return of Team Roberts and WCM? Would alternative frame manufacturers get involved building alternatives to the works bikes?
Kawasaki’s withdrawal could be the shake up the class needs for a healthy survival.