The future of MotoGP?

Here's an article I wrote for the 'OD-Racing' website a couple of years ago. Of course some small things have changed since, but in the new racing climate it makes for interesting reading:

The top class in the World Championship has successfully changed from 500cc 2 strokes to 990cc 4 strokes, without too many problems, but now a few little problems are starting to surface. The two main problems are bikes and money.

The money issue is affecting motor racing in general, not just bikes, with many car racing teams at various levels, going bust. The main problem is that major companies are no longer so willing to spend large sums of money advertising on the side of a car or bike, when there are so many other forms of cheaper advertising. This isn’t helped by the withdrawal of tobacco advertising due to legislation.

Previously if a non tobacco company wanted to sponsor a team, they had to pay tobacco money to get the deal. Now that same company can seal the deal for a lot less. In the meantime, racing continues to get more expensive as the top teams try to beat each other.

With the top works teams getting huge budgets from their manufacturing side, and having top name sponsors paying top money to be on the winning bike, how can the smaller teams hope to compete? One solution, which has proved to work in the car world, is to have the drivers bring money into the team.

Of course this is nothing new, but there are car racing teams out there now who rely solely on their drivers to bring in the money. A good example is GT racing, where two drivers share the driving in a 3 hour race, swapping over in the pit stop. One driver would be a "Gentleman Driver" (very wealthy amateur who likes the idea of winning races but doesn’t have the talent), with the second driver being a very fast professional who is paid by the "Gentleman Driver" to get him onto the rostrum.

The car would have sponsors on from the "Gentleman Driver’s" companies, and the car would be owned by a collector who has lent it to the team to give it some racing heritage. All the team has to do is run the whole operation, and make sure all the rich people funding it are kept very happy indeed.

Now of course you couldn’t have some rich amateur racing at GP level, but if the teams and riders can charm these people, help them to feel involved in the team, offer track days etc, they could be happy enough to fund it as a hobby. Any up and coming GP stars would have to find these wealthy enthusiasts, and charm them into being a personal sponsor to go with them to the top. Unfortunately these days you can’t succeed with talent alone, you need money as well. If the racing could be made cheaper as well, it would help, but how could that be done successfully?

If the top teams have £20 million to spend, they will spend £20 million to try and win. The manufacturers and sponsors want results, and if they don’t get them, they want to know why. Any cost cutting limits in one area, will just mean more spending in another area. There’s been talk recently of a one bike per rider rule, rather than two. But how will this reduce the costs? The top teams will just spend more money on data logging and engineers to set the bikes up quicker, rather than trying different set ups on two bikes.

We need ways to reduce the costs for the smaller teams, but still letting the top teams spend all their money in their usual way. One way is to reduce the costs of the bikes and the equipment for the smaller teams, without reducing the performance.

I don’t know how often GP engines need to be rebuilt, but if the engines are sealed, and have to do so many race weekends between rebuilds, the running costs will be reduced, without giving away any advantage to the works teams. If an engine does have to be changed before its time is up, that rider has to start from the back of the grid. How about having fixed prices for all the tyres, available to everyone? So if any team wants the same spec tyres as the works teams, the tyre companies have to sell them at the fixed price. No more tyre advantage to the top riders, who shouldn’t need it anyway if they are any good.

Rival tyre companies can stay involved by sponsoring teams with free tyres, but these tyres still have to be available to everyone else. Part of this happens already, but with this plan ALL the tyres are available to ALL the riders. Another area where organisers try to cut costs is with testing bans, but does this really work in helping the smaller teams.

A small team with leased bikes and generally available tyres won’t really have much to test, while the big works teams will always have a huge testing program. Any testing bans will just make things more difficult for the big teams, so that they spend their money in another area. How can anyone really stop the works teams from testing when the manufacturers have their own circuits? We need more bikes in the series, and the organisers can’t rely on works teams to fill the grids, because in all forms of racing, they tend to come and go together.

They see no reason to spend fortunes racing if they either can’t win, or have no rivals to race against. When one manufacturer pulls out, others tend to follow, and when they come back, they bring their rivals with them. Look at Formula 1, would BMW be racing if Mercedes hadn’t entered? Would Jaguar still be racing if they’d achieved more? Another series that suffers from this is Touring Cars, so we must learn from their misfortune.

One rule that has been used in Formula 1, in recent times, is all manufacturers must be able to supply engines to second teams. This could be expanded upon with rebuild and lease cost limits to help the smaller teams afford it. The teams can then put the engines in any frame they like, bringing back the independent frame manufacturers from the past. This would also help to promote alternative frame designs and technology like the racing at this level in the 1980’s.

This year Team Roberts have proved what is achievable from an independent team with a Honda engine. Everyone would want a Honda engine, but wouldn’t the other manufacturers like to prove how good their engines are in alternative teams. This then creates more competition between the manufacturers, which leads to better deals for the smaller teams. Other companies have looked at supplying customer engines, and this would be good except they always tend to be expensive. Developing an engine from scratch is very expensive, and the costs to the teams have to cover this as well as the rebuilds.

Providing last years engine is relatively cheap, as all the development costs have already been covered, and if it isn’t competitive enough, try a different manufacturer. If this all sounds too easy, well it isn’t, and it would take a couple of years to work smoothly, but it could guarantee the future of the sport. We could have a team with a very young talented rider with a large personal sponsor; partnered by a young Russian with a very wealthy father, whose company is the main sponsor (A large amount of money is coming from Russia these days, so let's not ignore them).

The bike has been bought by a collector for the team to use, could have a Harris or ROC frame, with a Kawasaki engine, and the tyres would be exactly the same spec as the Repsol Honda team. At the end of the season the collector would get his bike back, complete with a season's history. How does this sound to you, with 30 bikes on the grid again?

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