In the Paddock | Column

Michael Scott | February 13, 2019

Unification – That’s the Name of the Game


The more things change, the more they stay the same. So the saying goes. But is the opposite also true: the more things stay the same (or are made to be the same), the more they change?

That has been the case with Dorna at the helm of MotoGP, directing technical regulations that are effectively stagnant, but for minor refinements year on year.

The dumbing down—or more accurately saming-down – for 2019 is the introduction of a control inertia platform. This is yet another one-size-fits-all electronic component designed to deny any advantage to the bigger spenders. An approach that has been very effective by the example of the control ECU and software, at least in making the racer closer—though not in stopping Honda from winning.

By Dorna trying to keep the playing field on equal footing when it comes to electronics, it’s clear that the show is more important than the go.
By Dorna trying to keep the playing field on equal footing when it comes to electronics, it’s clear that the show is more important than the go.

Electronics is a topic both abstruse and tedious. Suffice it to say (as far as my own understanding and interest goes), an inertial platform (IMU) is one of a range of sensors feeding information to the ECU. But the IMU does more than measure acceleration, deceleration and attitude. By its nature, it goes beyond the role of a straightforward sensor. It is itself programmable, adding another layer of sophistication to its information. And increasingly as development goes ahead, it can be customized, thus opening the way to the bigger spenders to take a step ahead.

Which, of course, they must do to circumvent the restrictions of the unified software. And until now could do so, apparently, without hindrance, for at this level the electronics are complicated, and difficult to police, requiring more time and expert man-power than is reasonable, thus the ban on free IMUs, and the introduction of another item of “unified” hardware.

This approach has in the past stuck in the throat. Shouldn’t the highest level of racing also be the highest level of research and development? But this argument has lost considerable force in the last couple of years, with record close racing the direct consequence of doing the opposite.

The show is more important than the go. And it’s certainly been a lot of fun for all involved.

Last year’s Assen race was a shining example. The MotoGP guys were all over one another like manic Moto3 mobsters. At half distance, though Zarco had dropped out of the gang, there were still half a dozen bikes across the line within one second. Just to illustrate the opening point, however, Marquez was better than two second ahead at the finish.

The start of the 2019 testing season suggested more of the same, with different leaders over the first couple of days, and close times. At least until the Ducati’s smashed it on day three. Although tests are a notoriously unreliable way of predicting the outcome at the far end of a 19-race season. Last year’s Sepang tests saw a dominant Jorge Lorenzo set a new all-time record, but it took a lot longer before the Ducati rider became a real threat.

If the fans have taken the benefit of the saming-down, so too have some of the teams. Honda has managed to stay more or less where they were all along, at or near the very top, with their greatest weakness being their own enthusiasm for experiment in such matters as firing intervals, vee-angle and crank direction and inertia—an approach that shows tremendous confidence and daring.

Yamaha has shown a similar willfulness in relying on their own resources for the electronics, instead of shopping in to the Magneti Marelli hierarchy, but it didn’t work out the same. Their own deviations have cost them dear over the past couple of years, leaving them on the back foot.

Aprilia and KTM are in any case still playing catch-up, so this fresh restriction, along with all the others, is just a step to make that task a fraction easier.

The biggest beneficiary of all the restrictions has been Suzuki. This is not to cast aspersions, for the GSX-RR is a machine of delicate strength and character that can teach the M1 Yamaha a few lessons. But it is without doubt that the enterprise has been helped by the rules. And not only because of the concessionary status that they regained after losing race-winner Vinales, and have now managed to lose again by strong progress in 2018.

Now we wait and see if their two young riders Mir and Rins can take the next step. Another appetite-wetter, among so many: Will Zarco be competitive on the KTM? Will a change of management up Yamaha’s prospects? Will Lorenzo take Marquez to pieces?

And will the further electronic restrictions help any of these things to happen?

And what would MotoGP be like if Dorna hadn’t applied these curbs?

Intriguing. That’s why we keep coming back for more. CN


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Michael Scott | MotoGP Editor Scott has been covering MotoGP since long before it was MotoGP. Remember two-strokes? Scott does. He’s also a best-selling author of biographies on the lives of legendary racers such as Wayne Rainey and Barry Sheene.