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The Wild West, Maverick Viñales and Andrea Iannone: Thoughts on the 2016 MotoGP Championship

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Andrea Iannone aboard his 2015 Ducati MotoGP bike.

A number of things are critically important when it comes to developing a MotoGP bike. At, or near, the top of that list would be tires and electronics. For 2016, all of the teams must deal with new tires (Michelin replaces Bridgestone as the MotoGP supplier) and a “spec ECU” at the center of an electronics package.

While it is simple to comprehend a change in tire manufacturer, this whole “spec ECU” thing for 2016 is quite a bit more complicated … and mysterious. As we understand it, the central ECU hardware on each MotoGP bike next year will be identical (provided by Magneti Marelli). This ECU gathers information from sensors (such as gyroscopes and accelerometers), processes that information and outputs instructions to motorcycle components, such as fuel injectors and ignition units. Also common to each bike will be “unified software” written by Magneti Marelli, with input provided by the various manufacturers.

So, on either side of the ECU hardware unit, teams are free to use their own sensors for the input side (provided they are homologated and made available to other teams at equal cost) and, of course, receptors on the output side, such as engine components, may be unique to each team. Somehow, the unified software can work with all engine configurations, and can be “tuned” by the different teams to suit their needs.

Confused, yet? If you really want to dig into the details, there is an excellent analysis by David Emmett over on motomatters.com, and some nuances are explained by Sport Rider here. One upshot is that the new system is “torque based”, and a step forward from the common hardware/software package used by the Open class teams last year.

Early testing indicates that the two dominant teams, Factory Honda and Factory Yamaha, are having great difficulty working with the new, common hardware/software, and consider it a significant step backward from their unique, factory systems used in 2015. Together with new tires next year, the MotoGP series could be the “wild west.” Which brings us to the subject of Maverick Viñales and Andrea Iannone. Just as the spec ECU scenario poses great difficulties for the top factory teams, Viñales and Iannone show signs of emerging as future “aliens” running at or near the front.

Viñales, for instance, has been very quick in testing the new tires and hardware/software despite the fact that his Suzuki team still lacks a sequential gearbox. Iannone has rather suddenly emerged as the quicker of the two Factory Ducati riders even though his teammate is the very capable, and experienced, Andrea Dovizioso. Iannone finished 5th in the 2015 championship … immediately behind the Factory Yamaha and Factory Honda riders.

Viñales, a former Moto3 champion, is considered by many close observers to be a future star in MotoGP. 2016 could be a break out year for him. Suzuki will get a sequential gearbox early next year, and the new rules are likely to make Viñales’ bike more competitive.

Similarly, Iannone’s Ducati has a bit of a head start, and an advantage, when it comes to Magneti Marelli. The Factory Ducati team has worked closely with the Magneti Marelli hardware, as well as the Magneti Marelli engineers in recent years, so the learning curve of Yamaha and Honda will be missing for it. An indicator of this might be the performance of Scott Redding in recent testing aboard his new Ducati, which has been impressive.

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Maverick Viñales aboard his 2015 Suzuki MotoGP bike.


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44 Comments

  1. TimC says:

    Siiigh. BRING BACK THE CAN-AM. Before they de-sacked and illegalized the Chapparral.

  2. Neil says:

    The point of these changes is to get us something new to watch, how teams adapt. I like it. We don’t know what is going to happen next. It takes away from electronics R&D to some extent, but they are still developing it in World Superbike which filters down to us mortal men and women. I don’t think it needs to be philosophized endlessly. Just watch and see what happens. We are observers and our opinions are for nought.

    • TexinOhio says:

      So if they’re still developing electronics in WSBK (with production models), why are they lowering the bar for the prototype class? MotoGP is the class where the R&D departments should be unrestrained. This is where the R1M came from and other countless improvements that have eventually come to the track and street for the common person.

  3. MGNorge says:

    I’ve long been a proponent of letting things be in MotoGP, F1 or Grand Prix or whatever one calls it. It’s the premier class where top riders and engineers show their stuff. I’ve never cared for the “throttling back” on engines or chassis just to even the playing field. It’s what drives innovation. But the point about viewership is taken. If the masses want most to watch a parade of bikes just so that the racing is close then that’s what pays the bills.

    But for myself, I don’t care if one manufacturer seems to find the key to yearly success more than the others. Let the others put their engineers to the task to up the ante. For the same reason I never cared for all being on the same rubber. Isn’t choosing the best tire for a specific bike and rider part of development? Doesn’t that then put the tire companies to task to develop better tires, to compete against one another?

    There is an obvious balance here but I hope we don’t lose sight of unfettered competition.

    • TF says:

      “If the masses want most to watch a parade of bikes just so that the racing is close then that’s what pays the bills.”

      Sponsors like close racing…..more camera time for the logos.

  4. mickey says:

    Personally, I’m hoping this is the year Pedrosa finally pulls it altogether, and gets the Championship he truly deserves.

    • Jeremy in TX says:

      I’d love to see that happen. Pedrosa is certainly capable of winning. There are so many new variables this coming season; the anticipation is killing me. I hope it’s a good one!

  5. WJF says:

    Sounds like F1

  6. Jeremy in TX says:

    I find it unlikely that Honda and Yamaha won’t get the ECU sorted by the start of the season. The Ducati may be closer, but Factory Honda and Yamaha will still be the ones to beat. I think Suzuki is going to need another year at least.

  7. Roland says:

    Forcing the MM ECU and software was supposed to level the field. But, it doesn’t look like that goal will be reached.
    The Factory teams, esp. Honda and Yamaha, are struggling to figure out how to make the spec software to work optimally.
    They were able to make full use of the MM ECU with thier own code but, the common software keeps showing erratic behavior. Good luck figuiring it out without access to the source code.
    If the software sucks that bad, it must be impossible for the smaller teams to tweak the darn thing. The current divide will just further grow.
    To me it is starting to look like the real intention was to help Ducati for the sake of the $how. As somehow they don’t seem to be much affected by the software change. If they can figuire out the nasty Michelin front, they’ll rule next year.

    If I were in charge, I’d say abolish location-awareness, throttle-by-wire and lift the ban on dual-clutch-trannies instead of forcing spec electronics.
    Not that’ll change the situation of usual suspects being at the front though.

  8. Provologna says:

    Great article, very interesting, all news to me.

    Generally great grammar here. I thought punctuation marks go within quotes, not after, e.g. “…’torque based’,…” should be “…’torque based,’…”

  9. Dave says:

    Re: What it will also do is stifle innovation. I don’t think that’s a good trade-off.”
    Innovation only helps in racing when all teams benefit equally. Otherwise we wind up with the wallet race of years past and nobody wants to play anymore.

    • Roland says:

      “Innovation only helps in racing when all teams benefit equally.”

      umm… What kind of racing is that? That’s even beneath NASCAR.

      • Dave says:

        It’s the kind of racing where we get to see who the best rider really is. MotoGP knows it. 4-5 years ago there were barely a dozen bikes in the grid and 9 of them had no chance to win. Now there’s more bikes on the grid and still only 4 have a real shot at winning. Without rule reform were watching fixed racing. That’s beneath NASCAR. That’s WWE.

        • Roland says:

          So you want to see everyone competing on the exact same hardware.
          That’s called “Spec Series”. GP racing was never that.
          In the top tier racing, there never was equality engineering-wise ever. Cometition between engineers were always part of the scene. And allure.

          As for only few having a real chance for winning, it always has been like that. It is TALENT that makes them better than the rest. If it looks fixed, I don’t know what you’ve been watching.
          Why do you bother watching MotoGP when it clearly doesn’t float your boat?

          • Dave says:

            I never said I wanted to see everyone on the same equipment, just equal equipment. I watch it because I like racing and motorcycle racing in particular. I’d like it to be better. So would Dorna, that’s why they’re changing it.

          • Roland says:

            Seriously, Dave, how do you suppose you could make it equal with diverse equipment having varying strength and weakness?

          • Dave says:

            There is a lot that can be done and they are doing a lot already. A big step would be to make a rule that the factory must supply EXACTLY the same thing to the satellite teams that they run. If you’re Tech 3,, NCR or Gresini or any of the satellite teams, how can you justify racing long term when you *know* the bike the factory supplies you will never beat the bike they’re campaigning themselves, no matter who your rider is, or how hard your team works..

            Moto2 has multiple chassis suppliers and their racing/equipment is closer. Same with Moto2.

            It’s closer now than I can ever remember it being. The leaders used to lap riders up into 5th place. Just a little more to go.

          • Roland says:

            Dave, I don’t see supplying the exact same bike to the satellite teams would make the racing any closer. Case in point: Aoyama riding Dani’s factory bike didn’t make him any faster at all. I doubt the likes of Cal, Dovi and the rest suddenly becoming able to challenge the 4 Aliens just by given the top gear.

            The top4 rides with more speed and higher precision. They rarely make mistakes and that further separates them from the rest. Would giving factory spec to the rest make them ride faster? May be. But, with fewer mistakes and more consistency? No it won’t. The gap will remain.
            And your idea still won’t address the unequity between the MFGs. Aprilia, and may be Suzuki, still won’t have any hope of winning on their own merit.

            Do you remember that guy from down under who managed to score multiple wins on a hopeless dog of a bike no one else was even remotely able to ride properly? He won fair and square on an inferior equipment. How do you think that happend? Gear is important but, gear in itself is not always the decisive factor. IMO watching talent prevail is way more exciting than farcical artificial closeness.

            As for Moto2 they all use the exact same motor. And that motor is a mild thing. That’s why the racing is closer. It’s a no brainer.

          • mickey says:

            For those that think WSBK and Moto 2 have closer racing than motoGP conside this..points gap first 5 places each class

            MotoGP
            2nd. 5 points from leader
            3rd 88 points back
            4th 124 pts back
            5 th 142 pts back

            Moto 2
            2nd 118 points behind leader
            3rd 121 points back
            4 th 166 pts back
            5 th 173 points back

            WSBK
            2 nd 132 points behind leader
            3rd 149 points behind leader
            4 th 216 points behind leader
            5 th 301 points behind leader

            Only the tidlers in Moto 3. Were tighter than MotoGP

            Moto 3
            2 nd 6 pts behind leader
            3rd 53 points back
            4 th 84 pts back
            5 th 86 points back

            But watching a bunch of talent limited kids on 250 singles wringing the snot out of their bikes does nothing for me. I want to see the pros wrestling 250 hp prototypes around a race track. Let em develop bikes and run them, like MotoGP was meant to be.

          • Jeremy in TX says:

            “For those that think WSBK and Moto 2 have closer racing than motoGP conside this.”

            I watched all of the Moto2 races. I can testify that they aren’t any closer for the most part.

  10. Gary says:

    I guess the rationale behind a “spec ECU” is to level the playing field between the high-buck factory engineers/programmers and the satellite teams. What it will also do is stifle innovation. I don’t think that’s a good trade-off.

    • Dino says:

      +1

      Would the Yamaha R1M be as sophisticated and bewildering (in a good way) if the Yamaha team had been running “SPEC” ECUs for the past few years?? I think not.

    • TexinOhio says:

      If you can’t afford to race then don’t race. If a factory can’t find the cash to race MotoGP, there is WSBK to work in. They’re going to retard individual manufacture R&D to bring the lower funded factories up?

      Soon they’ll just have all the racers on the podium after a race and there will be no finishing place just a participation ribbon or trophy handed to each racer. No points earned, just a pat on the back and each racer is told they’re a winner.

      I’m a Kawasaki guy since my first bike as a college freshman. Kawasaki couldn’t or wouldn’t invest in MotoGP, put more effort and money into WSBK and is beating everybody else day in day out.

      Don’t dumb down the whole field just for someone who can’t hang, but I guess that’s the way of the world now.

      • Dave says:

        Motorcycle is an unessential entertainment that only exists if enough people watch. If it’s not competitive, nobody watches, then it doesn’t matter which teams can afford to race or not, because the show doesn’t happen. MotoGP was getting perilously close to this pretty recently.

        It has nothing to do with dumbing down anything or handing out participation ribbons. It is about making the racing competitive so that the riders and teams who’ve earned their place on the grid have a reasonable opportunity to be successful and fans will be excited to watch them race.

        How is any team supposed to attract sponsorship with the promise of consistent 5th place finishes?

        • TexinOhio says:

          Dave the problem of non-factory teams not getting sponsorship is not the factory teams problem. That’s for the non-factory teams to work out.

          It’s not fixed racing because each team has the opportunity to spend money on what they need, it’s just up to them to spend the money if they have it or find it.

          MotoGP is supposed to be the race of the biggest baddest toys. So does Dorna need to make a class above MotoGP where the bike are actually pure prototypes? That class might just be 2 Hondas, 2 Yamahas and 2 Ducatis but that door would still be open to anyone else that wants to comply to “run what you brung” rules and not whine about it.

          • Dave says:

            Re: “Dave the problem of non-factory teams not getting sponsorship is not the factory teams problem.”

            It is absolutely the factory team’s problem, probably their biggest problem if they want to continue to race. The factories sell/lease the non-factory teams the bikes they race. If the non-factory teams can’t secure enough funding to race and be competitive, they quit and the full-factory teams have nobody to race and no reason to exist.

            Dorna doesn’t need to make any more classes, they just need to make MotoGP more compelling to watch. Nobody wants to watch 6 bikes race around at widely spaced intervals.

          • mickey says:

            Dave even if they gave the exact same bike to everyone on the grid they would still be racing around at widely spaced intervals because of individual talent. Identical equipment does not guarantee identical results.

            Last year the Ducati’s always had the fastest qualifying top speeds, but never the fastest laps. Rossi always had the slowest qualifying top speed of the 6 factory riders yet won 4 GP’s and nearly won the championship.

            Put 24 riders on the exact same bikes and they will not cross the finish line at the exact same time. Someone will always be first and someone will always be last and everyone else will be spaced out in the middle.

          • Dave says:

            Re: “Dave even if they gave the exact same bike to everyone on the grid they would still be racing around at widely spaced intervals because of individual talent. Identical equipment does not guarantee identical results.”

            I never proposed that they would finish at the same time, but I do propose that MotoGP races are decided by equipment 1st, rider talent 2nd.

            In the past 8 seasons, every motogp race except for one has been won by one of 5 riders, one of whom retired (Stoner) before the arrival of another (Marquez). There are riders languishing consistently outside of the top-5 who have beaten Marquez on a Moto2 bike.

            People want to watch riders compete, not factories and banks.

          • Jeremy in TX says:

            RE: mickey – “Someone will always be first and someone will always be last and everyone else will be spaced out in the middle.”

            That is true for the most part. Moto3 and Moto2 are pretty well equalized, and the front runners, midpackers and laggards tend to be the same guys every race. But you could potentially see a larger alien group up front as the bikes become closer performance-wise.

            RE: Dave – “If the non-factory teams can’t secure enough funding to race and be competitive, they quit and the full-factory teams have nobody to race and no reason to exist.”

            Factory Honda and Factory Yamaha have been racing each other in MotoGP for quite a while. They aren’t racing anyone else, and they seem fine with that existence. MotoGP viewers aren’t really watching anyone else either. How many MotoGP fans really care who won satellite honors or worse yet, the Open Class Championship (snicker! – the MotoGP equivalent of a participation trophy)? How excited do we really get about that epic battle for 10th place?

          • Dave says:

            In a healthy MotoGP championship, there would be no satellite or Open category. Those designations are simultaneously ways to fill the grid with enough bikes to make it look like a race and explain away their inability to be competitive.

          • Jeremy in TX says:

            RE: Dave – “but I do propose that MotoGP races are decided by equipment 1st, rider talent 2nd.”

            I completely agree with that statement. Honestly, that is what largely draws me to MotoGP. I like that the machine itself is such a force. The manufacturers approach the objective of winning differently, and their ideas of what makes a winning bike can be seen in the advantages and disadvantages of the various factories on the track. I love it, and I wouldn’t want to see that go away.

            The heavy, bike-centric aspect of MotoGP is what differentiates it from other series. If they lose too much of that, then it ceases to be MotoGP in anything other than name. I know they need to find a balance to draw in competitors and viewers, but at the same time they need to be careful not to move too far away from what MotoGP is supposed to represent. I don’t envy the people tasked with that objective.

          • mickey says:

            Re: Jeremy “ That is true for the most part. Moto3 and Moto2 are pretty well equalized, and the front runners, midpackers and laggards tend to be the same guys every race.”

            Same as in MotoGP every week we knew the aliens would be on top, they’d be followed by a second group consisting of Dovi, Iannone, Crutchlow, A Espargaro followed by the Redding, Smith P Espargaro, Petruuci, Hernandez group followed by Bautista, Baz, Miller, Hayden, and lastly the group of Aoyama, Takahashi, DeAngelis, etc. (might have forgot a few but you get my drift)There was sometimes different placings within those groups, or an aberration due to rain or something, but for the most part that’s how it went for 18 races in a row. Some of that isof course equipment and some of that is of course talent. The two combined determines who will be champion (plus some luck along the way)

            In Moto 3 the season came down to 3 riders (really only 2, but I’ll say 3) Same as when I checked in on WSBK, in reality at the end of the season there were 2 or 3 guys that can possibly win it.

            Do these guys win because they are on the best equipment. No doubt. They are the best riders, so they have earned the best equipment. The manufacturers rarely risk giving their bikes to second tier riders.

  11. Pigiron says:

    What’s “the Marquez effect?”

    • Dino says:

      At least twice, during testing, MM came up behind the Spec ECU and crashed into it…

      Dorna is looking to impose fines on the ECU.

      • Scott says:

        Can you blame him? The spec ECU was saying mean things about him! It deserved what it got!

        Okay, I’ll stop. 😋

      • Ricky Crue says:

        Oh SNAP!!!! Bahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!

  12. mickey says:

    If anyone thinks the bright engineers and electronic wizards at Honda and Yamaha won’t figure this out before next season, they are fooling themselves. Gameboys have been put away and Magnet Marelli ECU and software are the new play toys they get to take home and play with for a few months. Would not bet against the aliens.

    The good news is Ducati and Suzuki are getting more competitive, they’ve got some good one riders, and next season will be even more exciting that last season was, even though the last few races were embroiled in controversy.

    • mickey says:

      “they’ve got some good YOUNG riders,”

      geez even with editing I messed that up

      as an added note that picture of Vinales above is outstanding. What lean angles these guys are able to attain.

  13. Ron H. says:

    Sounds like a flatter playing field. It may be interesting, but after the Marquez effect this past year I’ll not subscribe to MotoGP.com