If Ducati can transfer their Factory MotoGP software to the standard Open system it would remove one of the few disadvantages of joining the new category.
But is it possible?
The short answer appears to be yes - providing Ducati are willing to share their software secrets and show that any changes will benefit all Open class riders. But it would not simply be a case of 'drag and drop'.
Instead the requested features of the Factory Ducati software would need to be woven into the existing Open software. While Factory software serves the specific needs of each manufacturer, Open is being shared by six different types of machine.
Ducati, without a victory since 2010, has joined the Open category to avoid increasing restrictions on bike development, leaving a disgruntled Honda and Yamaha in the Factory class.
The only technical modification to change from Factory to Open is use of the standard ECU software, which then allows advantages in areas such as race fuel, engine changes, engine development and testing.
Meanwhile the Open drawbacks are limited to:
1) Performance of the standard ECU software.
2) Rear slick tyres one step softer than the Factory class.
The softer tyre is sure to be an advantage in qualifying and - since the harder Open tyre is usually the same as the softer Factory tyre - there will be no difference at circuits where that option performs best in the race. However Ducati will face a disadvantage if the hard Factory option, out of reach to the Open class, is superior over a grand prix distance.
But the biggest debate is over software. New rules for this year mean all MotoGP entries must use the same Dorna-supplied Magneti Marelli ECU hardware. The Factory class will continue to programme their own bespoke software, while Open riders must run standard Dorna software, being developed by a separate team at Magneti Marelli.
Cal Crutchlow and Andrea Dovizioso have confirmed that the existing Open system lags behind the Factory Ducati electronics. But if Ducati's Factory software could be transferred to the Open ECU, they would be at no relative disadvantage.
Many, including Honda, have been quick to point out the timing of a major new software upgrade to the Open ECU
, just days before Ducati's Open announcement.
spoke exclusively to MotoGP director of technology Corrado Cecchinelli shortly before Ducati's Open move was made official, and began by asking about the differences between the various Magneti Marelli ECU systems recently used in MotoGP.
Prior to this year, Magneti Marelli was already working with Ducati and Yamaha on their Factory MotoGP electronics. Honda's ECU was entirely in-house.
“Before this season they [Ducati and Yamaha] already had Magneti Marelli ECU hardware, but this was not the same as the hardware being used by everyone in MotoGP this year,” Cecchinelli confirmed.
“Although Marelli was the supplier and manufacturer of their ECUs before this year, Marelli made those ECUs based on the individual designs they were given by Ducati and Yamaha. Each covered by a confidentiality agreement.
“So last year's Ducati ECU was different to the Yamaha ECU and also different to the ECU being used by everyone under the new rules for 2014.
“This year, everyone has the same hardware but the manufacturers are still making their own software. They are involved with Marelli, with separate deals that have nothing to do with our [Open] deal with Marelli.
“If some of them, seemingly Ducati, will now choose to enter their riders as Open, they will have to leave their Factory software and use ours. Of course our software will be more or less close to theirs, depending on what they ask us to introduce.
“All the manufacturers involved in the Open class are already asking us for things.”
Regarding the potential migration of Ducati software from Factory to Open, a specific example was put to Cecchinelli: What if Ducati asks for its Factory wheelie control system to be incorporated in the Open ECU?
“In that scenario what they should do is tell us the logic of their [wheelie control] strategy and if we think it is better than ours, we - meaning the Marelli software engineers - will write the code lines so that everyone has it within the common [Open] software,” replied Cecchinelli.
“So it would be like any other performance request we receive.”
Ducati Corse general manager Gigi Dall'Igna gave little away in terms of how much of the Factory software Ducati hopes to transfer to the Open system.
“We will ask Dorna for some things, because I think we have to develop the software, but this is normal,” he said. “So I will ask and if it is reasonable I think that Magneti Marelli and Dorna will follow us in this direction.”
Having the complete focus of a MotoGP manufacturer will doubtless accelerate Open ECU development and Ducati were keen to point out that any of its 'Factory' input would be available to all Open class riders.
Cecchinelli was also eager to stress the shared nature of the Open software and how it will put previously unobtainable ECU technology in the hands of even the smallest MotoGP team.
But with six different engine/chassis combinations present in the Open class, prioritising software updates could be a contentious issue.
“I will be happy if everybody understands that we are more than willing to [accept] any contribution that anyone can give,” Cecchinelli said of ECU development. “I hope every team or manufacturer will understand that asking or suggesting things for the Open software will be an advantage for them in the first instance.
“Of course you are also giving the same advantage to your [Open class] competitors, but you should assume that it will be a bit better for you, because it is something you have asked for and that you are more familiar with than the rest.
“So, on the one hand, please ask. On the other hand I don't want to hear anybody complaining that we are doing something because someone else has asked for it - because everyone is given the same possibility to give us inputs.”
Asked to explain the ECU development process, Cecchinelli added: “Last season we made enquires at the end of each event to our final customers, if you like, which were the Claiming Rule Teams.
“Now it is bigger because we are dealing with manufacturers. So it a more or less a random process where they let us have their requirements, we put them in our 'to do' list and give each requirement a priority order.
“It is in our hands which one we want to make or not and which order. We try of course to prioritise things that are in the interest of all.
“To give an example, we are doing nothing at the moment about seamless gearbox management because the teams at the moment don't have it - probably tomorrow [when Ducati's Open class decision was to be made] we will have to do something!
“But for instance we did do something for pneumatic-valve timing systems because Yamaha and Kawasaki [Avintia] were doing something.
“I will be really happy if we all understand that the Open software is constantly 'moving' upon the customer requests. It is just a matter of resources and the time it takes to make things - but we will make things. It is not something that will remain steady.
“We are in the process of making it the best ECU possible with the available resources.”
The current ECU rules are set to stay until the start of 2017, when the aim is for all MotoGP entries to use the full Open ECU. However Honda is vehemently opposed to such a move.
Cecchinelli indicated that if the Open ECU can be shown to be a close rival for the Factory systems, it will help smooth the path to an agreement on the issue.
“Magneti Marelli are making a big effort with our ECU. Still our idea is, hopefully, to make [software] the same for everybody in MotoGP. So we are interested in making our ECU better so it is accepted more easily.”
As well as the Ducatis, Forward Yamaha's Aleix Espargaro is tipped to be a thorn in the side of the Factory class riders, having set a front-running pace in pre-season testing.
The first race for the new Open class will be the 2014 Qatar season-opener on March 23.