30 Jul 2012

How we would fix MotoGP

Motorcycle Grand Prix should be the pinnacle of motorcycle racing.  It should feature full grids of top riders on the best machinery racing on the best tracks in the world, have mass appeal and produce the most exciting racing.

Unfortunately only three out of those six statements are currently true.  Let's analyse those statements:
  • Full grids - 2011 saw up to 17 bikes and riders and as few as 15.  2012 sees 24 bikes but only 11 are proper MotoGP bikes whereas 13 are CRT and they are much slower.  Indeed several were lapped at Laguna Seca.
  • Top riders - Rossi, Lorenzo, Stoner, Crutchlow, Hayden, Pedrosa, Hayden, Dovizioso.  All names who  deserve to be in the top level of motorcycle racing.  But Stoner and Spies have announced they are off. Stoner is retiring and we know not what Spies is doing next year.  There are a few riders in WSBK who could cut it in MotoGP but generally the best riders are in MotoGP
  • The best machinery - no question about this.  At 240bhp and 150kg MotoGP bikes are the best in the world.  But they are all restricted to 4 cylinders.  And the cost to produce these machines is astronomical.  Top teams development budgets run into tens of millions of euros and each bike costs roughly €2million to manufacture.
  • The best tracks in the world - Largely true.  MotoGP races at 18 tracks but several are questionable.  Losail in Qatar is a money related anomaly and Spain hosts four races.  The Istanbul Park circuit is a world class facility that produces excellent racing but MotoGP chooses to miss it.
  • Mass appeal - definitely untrue.  MotoGP is a shadow of what it once was.
  • The most exciting racing - The racing in MotoGP is dire.  With so few MotoGP bikes and a definite pecking order the racing is poor.  Whilst F1 has changed it's rules to produce better racing MotoGP seems to have gone in the opposite direction.

So how can MotoGP be fixed?

To be able to answer that question one must analyse the reasons for it's failure.  This is how we see it:

  • Attempt to emulate Formula 1.  Motorcycle racing is an inherently friendly sport.  The fans broadly fall into two camps - 1) Bikers who form the core of the audience.  They live and breathe bikes and watch MotoGP because it is the pinnacle.  They follow certain riders and teams but overall appreciate the sport rather than any one element, 2) The casual fans who will come and go according to the quality of the racing, personalities and whether or not the race is on prime time TV on free to view.  MotoGP will always be able to rely on the bikers but the casual fans will come and go.  DORNA have recently tried to emulate F1 by introducing closed paddocks, paddock clubs, allowing the factory teams to behave like prima-donnas and generally making MotoGP a closed shop that excludes the fans and prevents new teams from entering.  This pushes the hardcore bikers away and doesn't bring in any new casual fans.  Bikers are a community outside of MotoGP.  They congregate in clubs and ride outs and watch BSB and other domestic series in their thousands.  MotoGP should be bringing them onside rather than making them feel outside.  Formula 1 does not have this advantage yet they provide mass appeal with big personalities, big teams, international appeal and acres of TV, internet and newsprint coverage.
  • High costs.  MotoGP has not recognised that the rest of the world is in recession.  It continues down the path of high spending in order to follow their F1 dream and to pander to the factory teams.  Suzuki and Kawasaki have left, BMW have no intention of joining and where are Aprilia, Triumph, Moto Guzzi, MV Augusta and the emerging Chinese manufacturers?  They won't join if the cost to develop a competitive bike are too high.
  • DORNA's Spanish influence and grip.  Four races in Spain!  Out of 24 riders this year six are Spanish and six are Italian.  There are other nationalities out there but to make it in MotoGP a rider must generally be schooled in the Spanish dominated lower classes and with Spanish money.  MotoGP is a worldwide sport, not a central European one.  Formula 1 has recognised this and is doing it's best to race in every corner of the globe.  MotoGP's worldwide excursions seem like a nod to the world rather than a welcoming embrace.
  • Need to placate the top manufacturers.  Much of DORNA's energies and actions are expended in order to stop Yamaha, Honda and Ducati throwing their toys out of the pram and leaving MotoGP.  All that for three manufacturers.  Formula 1 has twelve teams and only three are fully aligned to a mass producing car manufacturer.  Of the current top three Red Bull and McLaren are first and second - both independent teams.  There are many more bike manufacturers than Yamaha, Honda and Ducati and many, many independent teams who would step up to the plate if the costs were low enough, and welcome warm enough, for them to compete.
  • Attempts to produce full grids have resulted in a two tier MotoGP.  The inclusion of CRT is a ridiculous attempt to fill the grid with poorly performing machinery.  The bikes are slow, the rules overly complicated for the fans and some excellent racers are resigned to riding around at the back with no hope of TV coverage, fan support or enjoyment.  Colin Edwards who really should be at the head of the field has recently called his CRT BMW-Suter a "piece of shit."
  • Lack of vision and bravery.  Not by the riders but by the organisers and manufacturers.  Instead of visionary, populist changes they are kowtowing to the big manufacturers and tinkering at the edges with CRT and suchlike.  Broad, sweeping change is required.
  • Lack of decent TV coverage.  Whilst MotoGP can be seen in most countries too much of it is pay-to-view, highlights and poorly timed.  The race from Laguna Seca was shown in the UK on both the BBC and Eurosport which should be a good thing.  However the BBC coverage started 2 minutes before the race start and ended shortly afterwards.  On Eurosport we saw a little more but it was delayed by an hour and the picture quality was poor compared to the BBC.  To be populist MotoGP must be seen on prime-time TV and with a few hours coverage per race.  To be fair Eurosport often do this but the BBC coverage was lamentable.  ITV4 is free to view and provide excellent coverage of BTCC and Isle of Man TT.  One can't help but think MotoGP would be better served by ITV.
Having analysed the problems we now try to provide solutions.  Speedmonkey is a website that doesn't claim to understand the technical side to MotoGP but we do know what makes a sport popular and successful and what makes it whither away.  Here's how we would fix MotoGP:

  • LOOK AT OTHER SERIES AND COPY WHAT MAKES IT POPULAR.  As mentioned above MotoGP has taken the worst parts of F1 and copied it whilst not building on those parts of F1 that give it mass appeal - big teams and personalities, media coverage and behind the scenes access.  And overtaking!
  • REDUCE THE RELIANCE ON YAMAHA, DUCATI AND HONDA by making the sport more open to other factory teams, to manufacturers and to world-wide brands.
  • GET ON YOUR KNEES AND BEG the likes of Coca-Cola, Virgin, Facebook, Vodafone, Google and Sony to join in.  Hook them up with manufacturers and teams who can supply bikes and riders to a set price.
  • BEG SUZUKI AND KAWASAKI to come back to the table and tell DORNA what it would take them to re-enter MotoGP.
  • EMBRACE CHANGE.  Cut costs.  Make it a rule that any factory who produces a MotoGP bike must be able to supply engines to an independent team for half a million euros per season.
  • STANDARDISE PARTS.  Who cares where the forks, pegs, brakes, wheels, ECU, airbox and countless other  parts come from.  Impose standard regulations for each component and demand that teams must buy off the shelf products from Ohlins, Brembo and the like and for a set price.
  • REDUCE THE RELIANCE ON ELECTRONICS.  Electronics cost an absolute fortune.  Either standardise or get rid of unseen electronic gizmos.  Who cares if Honda have better engine mapping software than Yamaha?  Not the fans.  BSB has removed traction control without increasing danger or reducing the show.  
  • STANDARDISE MATERIALS.  Frame, engine, wheels, foot pegs, brakes.  All should have a list of standard materials.  No vastly expensive and exotic metal which we can't see but increases lap times by 0.001 of a second.
  • INCREASE THE LIFE OF EXPENSIVE PARTS by making gearboxes and engines last longer.  Three per season is plenty.
  • RETAIN INDIVIDUALITY by allowing teams to create their own engine (or buy one for a set price), frame, fairing, seat unit etc.
  • RELAX THE RULES a little by allowing twins and triple engines (to a set budget), increasing the weight of the bikes slightly and encouraging guest riders.
  • OPEN THINGS UP by forcing teams to sell their old bikes to independents instead of crushing them. 
  • DROP SILLY RULES AND REGULATIONS such as the rookie rule and CRT bikes.
  • BECOME MORE POPULIST.  Get better TV slots, open up the paddock, encourage more nationalities, reduce the reliance on Spanish and Italian riders.
  • ENCOURAGE DEMONSTRATION RUNS.  F1 regularly take to the streets to show off their cars and drivers.  When was the last time the streets of Moscow or New York were closed to allow Casey Stoner to pull wheelies and Valentino Rossi to spin up the back wheel to thousands of adoring fans?
  • ENCOURAGE TALENT.  Right now the wider public can name one MotoGP rider - Valentino Rossi.  Maybe Casey Stoner, Colin Edwards, Cal Crutchlow and Ben Spies are known to a few of those outside the fan base.  More international talent is required.  More help should be given to those big names in domestic series and WSBK who want to get to MotoGP.  They will bring their fan base with them.
  • ENCOURAGE OVERTAKING.  This cannot be achieved by F1 style trickery with DRS and KERS.  It can only be achieved by having larger fields of more equal bikes and good riders and by increasing braking distances and standardising electronics.

Not all of the above may be feasible.  Not all may improve matters.  We don't claim to have the answer to everything but right now DORNA seem to retain a blinkered attitude to MotoGP.  It's a shame for the fans and for the riders.

Casey Stoner, Valentino Rossi, Colin Edwards and Ben Spies are all disillusioned.  We are seeing dire racing between unheard of riders, on poor TV in locations few people care about.  MotoGP is dying on it's feet and DORNA seem to be doing nothing to fix the problem.  

They need to.  And fast.  They need to get out more, listen to what people have to say and they need to be more open.

Note - This article was retweeted by Carl Fogarty on twitter.  At least some people in the sport agree with us