The meeting of the Grand Prix Commission, held on Tuesday in Madrid, made a number of minor changes to the rules for all three Grand Prix classes, as well as a couple of more significant revisions. The biggest changes concerned the setting of the maximum fuel allocation from 2016 at 22 litres, and the adoption of the SCAT3 test for concussion for riders after a crash. But perhaps the most significant outcome of the meeting of the GPC is not what was decided, but what was not.
Of the various minor rule changes, a few are worthy of comment. The first is the reduction of the time penalty at the start for a rider exceeding the engine allocation in any given year. From 2015, anyone using an extra engine will start the race from pit lane 5 seconds after the green light is displayed after the official start (once all riders on the grid have passed pit lane exit), rather than 10 seconds.
This will have little direct impact on the outcome of any races, but should make it easier for riders using an extra engine to get close to the backmarkers, and perhaps score a point or two. In the Moto2 class, tire pressure sensors will now be compulsory, to ensure that tire pressures are kept within the range set by the single tire supplier. This is to enforce a rule brought in at the end of last year, when various Moto2 teams were found to be running dangerously low rear tire pressures in an attempt to improve rear edge grip and feel from the tire. Making tire pressure sensors compulsory suggests that some teams had been flouting the mandatory tire pressure ranges, banking on not being caught.
In Moto GP, a maximum price has been set for a brake package, with €70,000 now the maximum brake suppliers can charge for a full season of dry weather racing (or €60,000 without brake calipers). Unfortunately, the decision appears to leave some worrying loopholes open, with prices being set for dry weather packages only, and offering the possibility of ordering a package without calipers. The last set of rules published in November mention that components will be subject to homologation and price controls. It is not clear whether this is still the case or not, and only once the full 2015 rule set is published will we find out.
The two most significant changes were the adoption of the SCAT3 concussion testand setting the fuel limit from 2016 at 22 liters. The adoption of a formal test for concussion is an important step forward for both rider safety, and for consistency of medical rulings. There is a common complaint among riders that the decisions on whether a rider is fit to race can vary greatly between medical officers at race tracks, with some proving exceptionally lenient, while others are far stricter. The issue of concussion is a particularly difficult one in motorcycle racing.
If decision making is impaired due to a concussion which has gone undiagnosed, it could have very serious, and possibly even fatal consequences for both the rider concerned and others on the track in their vicinity. The SCAT3 test is a start, though it is far from perfect. Some types of injury are particularly prevalent in motorcycle racing, and can create extra problems in assessing concussion via SCAT tests.
The regulations make no mention of baseline testing – a test performed prior to the season to establish the typical responses to SCAT assessment questions from each individual rider – which could be of assistance in ascertaining the extent of concussion. However, baseline testing may not be needed, as the aim of using SCAT3 is to rule a rider unfit, not to test whether they are fit to race again after having been forced to sit out events.
Setting the fuel limit at 22 litres for 2016, when Moto GP becomes a single class again and spec electronics are adopted for all Moto GP machines, is just about expected. The current Open bikes, as well as Ducati, all run between 21 and 23 litres, depending on the track concerned. Honda had been pushing for a lower limit, but the other factories were keen to keep more fuel. With spec electronics, 22 litres is a realistic amount to use.
More significant than agreement on the fuel limit is the lack of agreement elsewhere. Agreement on the number of engines per season, and the minimum weights for Moto GP bikes have both been pushed back to February. It was widely feared in Dorna and IRTA that such a move could happen, as the longer such decisions are delayed, the less time there is to make the changes needed to prepare for next season. That, in turn, could be used by some factories to make a case for making no changes to the rules, leaving the maximum engines at five per season. Though that may save costs for existing factories, it would make it virtually impossible for new factories to join MotoGP, and to be competitive.
A significant omission from the proposed rules is the lack of a rev limit. This now looks unlikely to happen until the next full overhaul of the regulations in 2021. A rev limit would be a significant tool in reducing top speeds, but the factories – especially Honda and Ducati – were vehemently opposed.
The new regulations also provide evidence that Dorna feel they are fighting a rearguard action against the factories. The banning of “additional devices” between the ECU and actuators is one loophole which has been actively pursued with spec electronics packages in Moto2 and Moto3, and could have caused major problems in Moto GP. The best-known example was the special quickshifter strategy adopted by several Moto2 teams in 2012, most notably by Marc Marquez. That required adding an extra component in the quickshifter circuit, to improve acceleration and shorten the duration of the ignition cut.
Adding extra components between ECU and actuators such as throttle butterflies, injectors or ignition could offer better control than the spec electronics allow, and undermine the push to standard electronics. It is, however, typical of the arms race which continues between rule makers and teams. Factories and teams are always on the lookout for an advantage, and seeking the gaps left by the rulebook.
As the rulebook expands, so the opportunity to exploit such loopholes expands with it. Like tax law, the thicker the rulebook, the more opportunities there are to work around it, to which the usual response is to add yet more rules.