You Can’t Beat a Bit O Bully

Well there race fans, October comes and goes quickly in the Motorsport world as the remaining races in European series are squeezed in alongside the showdowns in most championships in far flung locations. Most of the victors of the past 12 months have been confirmed with few series left to complete:

Lewis Hamilton is the 2015 F1 Champion, while Stoffel Vandoorne wrapped up an impressive GP2 season and will likely race for McLaren in 2017. In GP3 the title is still open with 2 round (4 races) left to go with the steady Frenchman Estebhan Ocon trailing the Itailian Luca Ghiotto by only 2 points. Ocon is setting the junior categories on fire at the moment with both pace and consistancey after winning the Euro F3 title last year at the first time of asking and is lining himself up to do the same in GP3. While Ghiotto is recovering after a dissapointing 2014 in FR 3.5 (which looks like it could of been a step up too early) he too has a stellar Junior career and it could well be witnessing the too bang wheels time and time again over the next few seasons.

Looking outside of F1 Scott Dixon took the Indy Car title, Sebastian Ogier the World Rally Championship and Jose Maria Lopez (of fleeting USF1 fame) took the WTCC crown. Pascal Wherlein wrapped up the DTM title putting him on the path to F1 and Gordon Sheddon took another BTCC series win. The World Endurance Championship has still one round left to go with the Porsche Team of Bernhard/Webber/Hartley in the prime seat to take the title in Bahrain but endurance racing is a cruel mistress.

On two wheels Johnathan Rea dominated the Superbike championship while Danny Kent should wrap up the Moto 3 title at the last round after Johan Zarco polished up Moto 2 earlier this year.

That all leaves us with one very big motorsport championship hole to fill in the shape of Moto GP and with the title to be deicded at the traditional season finale in Valencia this weekend the last round in Malaysia certainly ramped up the drama. Rossi and Marquez (whos out of the title race) got into a ding dong during the Thursday press conference and then qualifying and then during the race there was an almighty battle until Rossi lost patience and force Marquez outwide and sat him up (and made him crash/kicked up/ whatever). The result has been Rossi leads the standings going into the last race looking for that 10th World Title (and 8th Premier Class title) 7 points clear in the standings but looks likey to start from the back of the grid. It should make for good viewing thats for sure!

F1 still has two more events to go after the refreshing visit to the Mexician GP last weekend, while the racing was poor due to the new tarmac (as is often the case for new races) visiting an historic track with a passionate full house of fans brought a smile to many a face. The classic track has been upgraded well and the loss of the Peraltada is great (and lets face it unavoidable for a corner that was too dangerous in 1992 and is now completly blind thanks to the stadium) it has been ofset by that stadium section which worked incredibly well. Next up is Brazil which rarely surves a dud with its gritty old schoolness unlike the glitz and glamour of Tilkdrome Island (or Yas Marina if you prefer), which will finish the season off.

The off season is likely to be dominated by Red Bull and their search for an engine, the team have 4 cars on the grid as they operate STR as a junior team and have used Renault engines in the hybrid era which have been woefulyl underpowered and un-reliable. It appears that there is no other option availble for the main team while STR could well be running 2015 Ferrari units which could lead to STR out performing the “main” Red Bull team if they end up running re-badged Renault PUs. Meanwhile it looks 100% certain that Renault will take over Lotus once more – although they may not immediatly re-brand the team and the big rumour on the street is that Vijay Mallya’s finally come undone and Diago are backing a buy out of the team to run it as a Johnnie Walker sponsored Aston Martin Mercedes team, now that could well be a potent mix!

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Why the Big F1 Teams Must Embrace Cost Cutting to Preserve their Dominace

The political storm of 2014 is brewing and its not to do with rear suspension, turbo fan covers or double points; its a war that has been brewing since 2008 when the financial crash happened in the US and Europe and sent car manufacturers and sponsors running to the hills. This came shortly after the forced withdrawal of Tobacco sponsorship due to pan European health legislation, the exception being Philip Morris who still fund Ducati and Ferrari, mostly for Corporate hospitality and point of sale advertising in countries where it is still permitted (I remember seeing prominent Valentino Rossi posters advertising Marlboro in shops in Bulgaria in 2012).

This has lead to teams in Motorsport facing a significant cash flow problem, one that is yet to be solved. Moto GP had to take the radical approach of creating a new sub class of bikes called CRT, which allowed for modified super bike engines to be run in prototype frames allowing sub 1 million euro places to appear on the grid (compared to the 20 million upwards it takes to run full factory teams). After two seasons however they faced an issue, the CRT teams were catching the satellite bikes as they were permitted more fuel and engines, this season will see the creation of open class bikes and factory option bikes. The factory teams will get only 20 litres of fuel and 5 engines to last a season, in return they get to write their own software for the new spec ECU. Choose open class and you will get 24 litres of fuel and 12 engines for the season but will have to run the complete spec ECU.

These rules have been pushed forward by Honda, the longest serving manufacturer in Moto GP and Yamaha have by in large gone along with it arguing that they use the sport for R&D for their road bikes and need to be set engineering challenges. The problem however is that it has prevented new manufactures from coming into the sport with Suzuki and Aprilla both readying challenges to the two grand old teams of the sport, both have put plans on hold as the new rules create a strange artificial difficulty. But there has been a defector.

This all out cost war on bikes further and further from road relevance has worn out the patience of Ducati who look set to switch their entire entry to the open class format. One would then assume that Aprilla would not spend the incredible amount of money to create a Factory bike when there is Ducati to take on with their battle ready CRT bike from last year. Suzuki have admitted the new format is difficult and are working on porting their software but the defection of Ducati could spell the end for the “Factory option”. Furthermore Aleix Espargaro has been in the top 6 in testing on his open Yamaha engine running in a FTR chassis. If Suzuki and Aprilla go open with their entries, all it would take is for Yamaha to switch to the open format and it would render the Factory option all but irrelevant. All this because Honda refused to reduce costs in a sensible manner to preserve their dominance of the premier class.

Formula 1 has gotten a lot more expensive this year, the new power trains are hugely more expensive than the previously frozen V8 engines, thus there are several teams who are in serious financial trouble. There are three options for the sport to go in, two of which Moto GP tried which have lead to the only available option:

1. Don’t reduce costs but introduce customer cars / 3 car teams

One idea that has been floated a few times by the top teams has been allowing customer cars (selling cars to other teams) or running 3 car teams. This is what happened over the last few seasons in Moto GP prior to the CRT revolution. The rising costs and falling revenues lead to the withdrawal of Kawasaki, Aprilla, Suzuki, Blata, Proton, Moriwaki, Harris WCM and Kenny Roberts (in the space of 8 years) leaving only 3 manufactures left in the sport, this lead them to all create “junior” or “satellite” teams which helps fund the development and fill the grid. However while it gives the smaller teams more competitive machinery it creates a glass ceiling where they can’t have the latest developments and thus can’t really ever compete with the top teams.

Furthermore these customer teams are forced to run riders they don’t want as part of the deal and still having to pay large sums to the top teams for bikes. However they don’t gain anything in return as they never own the bikes so they gain no assets other than a livery space for the year, meaning Dorna (the commercial rights holder) had to financially support these customer teams to maintain the grid size.

By 2011 the problem had reached critical levels with Suzuki down to one bike and about to pull out it left Moto GP with too few manufactures to fill the grid. They were faced with a possible grid size of only 14 riders for the following year so the sport had to act fast, therefore they went to option 2:

2. Create a cheaper second tier class for the small/independent teams

In 2012 Dorna launched a new cut price formula called “Claiming Rule Teams”, they would race in the top class but allowed to run prototype chassis’s alongside a modified superbike engine. The teams would gain more fuel and more engines but their engines could be “claimed” for a price of 30,000 Euro to prevent any expensive development. The claiming rule was there to protect the class and there was a gentleman’s agreement between the 3 factories that they wouldn’t ever use it unless requested to.

This lead to a swelling of the grid, despite each factory limited to running only 4 of their own bikes. It also saw the return of Aprilla, Suter, FTR, Ioda and the appearance of BMW to the sport as independent teams took up the challenge of entering the sport and creating their own bikes. The teams pretty much fought amongst themselves but thanks mostly to the efforts of Aprilla and Aleix Espargaro started picking off satellite riders and regularly qualifying in the top 10.

Dorna then moved to remove the claiming rule and forced the factory teams to contribute to the independent teams, with Yamaha leasing M1 engines for use in the newly christened open class and Honda producing a complete bike. Those specifications while being more expensive than some of the previous efforts will go head to head with a heavily updated Aprilla ART bike (the previous champions of the CRT’s) however as the rules are now joined Ducati are looking to move down. This option of two classes will lead to people who are struggling for budget or for victories to move down into the cheaper set of rules to compete properly.

All this will eventually lead the sport to option 3:

3. Drastically reduce costs in the sport

Moto GP is looking likely to see teams only run in the open class and represents a victory for Dorna and the value of decent competition rather than a outright spending race. The big teams have not only lost a political battle, but they will have lost their influence over the rules as Dorna allowed them their changes in exchange for the creating of their class. Furthermore they will have lost ground on the other teams who will have more experience developing and running these bikes to their rivals who embraced the change.

This self preservation has lead to the complete opposite, self destruction – Formula 1 could do with taking heed.

Its June 2013 so 2014 anyone?

2013 might have only clocked through the halfway stage however preparations are well under way for big shake ups in 2014 for Grand Prix racing on two and four wheels. As discussed at length recently on the blog has been the shake up to the CRT rules that will see “privateer” teams getting more power under their custom frames in various forms, however F1 has laid out its plans for next season which see’s the introduction of 1.6 Litre V6 engines.

F1 – The Long Haul

Next season is likely to see 21 Grand Prix raced around the world alongside earlier testing to give time to weed out any issues with the new engines that see an introduction next year after seasons of an “engine freeze”. The majority of teams have nailed their colours to the mast regarding who will be powering their challenge next season however further changes are a foot for next year. There will 4 in-season two day tests completed throughout the season completed after selected European rounds (Barcelona and Silverstone have already been confirmed), this will see the dropping of the young drivers 3 day test and a reduction in straight line tests from 8 to 2. Additionally “promotional” days have also been cut from 8 to 2 to offset the cost of the testing (which according to journalists will need an extra engine at a cost of around 1 million Euro) . This will likely be a blessing for rookies and drivers attempting to break into F1 as its unlikely that race drivers will take part in much of the running after spending 3 days at the circuit competing (One assumes Kimi will do none of it). Another interesting dimension will be under pressure drivers will have to face reserve drivers hopping in the car in the middle of the season and lap times inevitably compared.

A 21 race calendar has also been proposed starting in Bahrain at the begining of March with Australia seemingly set to loose its status as the campaign opener. It also proposes the final test to take place at Bahrain before the Grand Prix to have a warm weather test that will also reduce costs.

This all seems like a dose of common sense in the paddock and a solution to Pirelli’s testing issues alongside giving young drivers regular mileage during the season to alleviate rookies struggles to break into the top category without huge cash support. My only gripe is Bahrain is set to be a rather dull affair with 3 or 4 days of testing prior to a full weekend the teams will have the measure of the place and a test possibly at Qatar should of been considered (which has the ability to run into the night for temperature variations)

Moto GP – The Grid Swells

With the removal of the “Claiming Rule” which will see Aprilla launch essentially a stealth factory bike proper alongside Honda offering a budget satellite bike and Yamaha engines for those who want them its been confirmed that Suzuki will now be allowed to enter the championship without having to purchase a team (as the numbers were many times above Dorna’s estimates of around 1 – 1.5 million Euros). Furthermore it would appear that some teams from Moto 2 are looking to make the jump up to the premier class next season with Marc VDS looking at the possibility of running Scott Redding in a Kalex frame / Yamaha leased engine combo to keep the British talent within the squad. Furthermore Sito Pons is looking at returning for the first time since 2006 to the top flight with the Honda production Moto GP machine with its current Moto 2 line up.

This could see Moto GP grids swell well beyond 26 riders towards 30 and Dorna has laid out plans for not financially supporting failing teams languishing at the back of the grid in an effort to keep everyone roughly competitive.

 

Exciting times indeed

Manufacturers Encroach on CRT format for 2014

Honda’s new production racer

From next year both Yamaha and Honda will offer assistance to Moto GP teams competing under the CRT rules in an effort to boost the competitiveness of the Privateer teams. This is in addition to a 2 bike Suzuki Factory team returning next season after 2 years away from the sport, bringing the grid numbers to 8 factory bikes, 6 satellite bikes and a number of CRT privateer entries.

Yamaha Takes the F1 Route

Yamaha is going to offer privateer teams an engine lease with a very similar spec to the Tech III bikes for around £675,000 a season leaving the cost of around £300,000+ for the 2 chassis’s required to fit the bike depending on how much development takes place. However this should see a dramatic improvement in speed as the CRT bikes this year have shown a real performance increase but are still lacking horsepower to compete with the main factory teams. Teams taking this option cannot have their engines “claimed” but will compete under CRT rules with the 24 litres of fuel and the standard ECU with the standard software (from next year all teams will be running a spec ECU but the factory teams will be allowed to write their own software for it). Thereotically this means you could take this engine and power your way into the mid field with a good frame. Interesting indeed. NGM Forward Racing, this year lead by veteran American Colin Edwards are actively chasing a Yamaha deal for next season to replace their current FTR Kawasaki.

Honda Takes the Same Old Route

Honda have also stated they would help privateer teams but instead of giving them near factory spec engines like Yamaha to give them a real shot at upsetting the “full” Moto GP Prototypes (arguably with an M1 engine and a custom frame that WILL be a full Moto GP bike but anyways….) Honda are producing a new production racer for CRT teams next year. The bike will not have Pneumatic springs (which allows higher revs and increases horsepower – only the prototype bikes have this currently) or Honda’s quick shift gear system but it is likely to be fast out of the box. It also has been developed with Dorna’s original target costs for CRT bikes in mind with a price of £850,000 for two bikes along with engine rebuilds for a season. However unlike the Yamaha deal you will actually purchase the Honda and you wont have to give it back at the end of the season. This isn’t really a great solution from Honda as it essentially gives teams a slow the satellite bike to run around and pick up the minor points it misses the point of Moto GP unlike Yamaha who are only giving you a power plant and leaving the teams to develop the rest of the bike around it.

Aprilla Strike Back?

The best of the CRT bikes over the last 18 months (or so) of the Claiming Rules format has been the Aprilla bike which many have said is a thinly veiled factory effort. Although the FTR frames with the Kawasaki engine in the hands of Hector Barbera have left him snapping at the heels of the factory efforts so far this season it has been the heroics of Aleix Espargaro on the ART that have shone the brightest. The latest news is that Aprilla are readying a Pneumatic Valve update for their engine around September which should see a healthy boost to the engine power. All this comes at a cost for teams however and the ART machine is rumoured to cost around £1 million for the two bikes making it arguably the most expensive of the 3 options for next season but it is the tried and tested route.

Whats left?

The remaining bikes range in prices but the FTR and Ioda bikes are rumoured to cost around £700,000 a season (The Avintia Bluesens FTR-Kawasaki costs a mere £600,000 for a pair) but they have been off the pace of the Aprillas this year and would likely be thrashed by a CRT bike from HRC. However you have to weigh up how much support you will receive from Honda over the year as Yamaha and Aprilla are likely to bring any improvements to the bikes down the food chain. Furthermore if Suzuki get off to a solid start claiming points could be difficult as the Ducati seems to be improving its handling woes and it clearly has the legs over the privateer class, meaning 14 out of the 15 points scoring places could now be filled by prototypes. Furthermore with the option to run a “near Tech III” spec engine or the updated Aprilla could leave the rest in the dust, but whatever happens next year the CRT bikes are really going to be in the mix.

This Week: The 2012 season begins

This week sees the end of Janurary (today) and the start of 2012 international motorsport season. The first Moto GP test stasrted today in Sepang and Yamaha have hit the ground runniung with Lorenzo topping the time sheets with a lap of 2.01:657 on the new 1000cc Yamaha competitor. Honda have also launched strong with Pedrosa only .4 of a second behind. Whereas Casey Stoner had to sit the day out with back problems which are belived to be minor and he should start his campaign very soon. 3rd and 4th spots were taken by the Yamahas of Cal Crutchlow and Ben Spies respectively while Cals Tech III team-mate was in 6th.

The much anticipated GP12 from Ducati finally had to break cover (as it wasn’t shown at all at wrooom!) and Rossi revealed the bike early on over twitter:

https://twitter.com/#!/ValeYellow46/status/163911316661223424/photo/1/large

Its a rather prototype looking machine but the Italian still set the 5th fast time at the test with an encouraging 2.02:392.

The leading CRT was Colin Edwards (no surprise there) and the Forward Racing entrant could only manage a 2.08:240 on the new format of Moto GP bikes first head to head against the manufacturers. How much the gap will come down remains to be seen as testing can always be a little mis-leading and even if the bikes were full blooded Moto GP bikes, they are still new entrants so we expect them to pick up pace as the tests continue.

On four wheels there is movement too as McLaren, Force India, Ferrari, Lotus, Red Bull, Toro Rosso and Sauber will join Caterham in showing their new cars ahead of the first test in Jerez on the 7th of Feburary. While Merecedes and HRT (alledgedly) are waiting till the second test (21st Feb) and Marussia the final test (1st March) before running their 2012 cars, there is still no word from Williams as to when their new techincal team will show or run their cars.