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MotoGP announces control ECU from 2016

A control ECU will be introduced from the 2016 MotoGP season, while the Ducati 'Open' scenario is finally clarified.
Just days before the start of the 2014 season, MotoGP has finally revealed its solution to Ducati's planned move from the Factory to Open class.

The big news is that MotoGP will have a standard ECU - hardware and software - from the start of 2016.

This has been Dorna and the FIM's long-held goal and clears the way for greater control over electronic costs and potentially new limits on rider aids, such as traction control.

Until 2016 Honda and Yamaha will continue to develop their own bespoke software for use with the standard ECU hardware, mandatory for all from this season. Honda and Yamaha riders will face the previously stated 20 litres of race fuel, five engine changes for the year and a ban on in-season engine development.

Meanwhile Ducati - being "the only [factory] manufacturer without a win in the previous season" - is to stay as a Factory class entry, but be allowed all of the concessions of the Open class until it achieves a certain number of top three results.

By continuing to be listed in the Factory class, Ducati will not even need to use the Open class ECU software.

However if Ducati riders claim a race win, two second places or three podium places in dry conditions this season, they will have their race fuel reduced from 24 to 22 litres. Should Ducati win three races this season they will also lose the right to use the softer grade of rear tyre available to the Open class.

This Factory-Open scenario will also apply for any new manufacturer, meaning Suzuki in 2015.

The other Open class concessions - twelve engine changes for the season, no engine development ban and looser testing restrictions - will be unaffected regardless of results.

The full statement from the Grand Prix Commission can be seen below:

"1. The Championship ECU and software will be mandatory for all entries with effect from 2016.
All current and prospective participants in the MotoGP class will collaborate to assist with the design and development of the Championship ECU software. During the development of the software a closed user web site will be set up to enable participants to monitor software development and to input their suggested modifications.

"2. With immediate effect, a Manufacturer with entries under the factory option who has not achieved a win in dry conditions in the previous year, or new Manufacturer entering the Championship, is entitled to use 12 engines per rider per season (no design freezing), 24 litres of fuel and the same tyres allocation and testing opportunities as the Open category. This concession is valid until the start of the 2016 season.

"3. The above concessions will be reduced under the following circumstances:
Should any rider, or combination of riders nominated by the same Manufacturer, participating under the conditions of described in clause 2 above, achieve a race win, two second places or three podium places in dry conditions during the 2014 season then for that Manufacturer the fuel tank capacity will be reduced to 22 litres. Furthermore, should the same Manufacturer achieve three race wins in the 2014 season the manufacturer would also lose the right to use the soft tyres available to Open category entries.

"In each case the reduced concessions will apply to the remaining events of the 2014 season and the whole of the 2015 season."

Without a win since 2010 and without a podium since 2012, Ducati had applied to move from the Factory to Open class to avoid increasing restrictions on machine development - especially harmful for a manufacturer that isn't competitive.

The Open move was technically possible simply by running the standard ECU software.

Opposition came not just from remaining Factory participants Honda and Yamaha, but also from the other (independent) Open teams - which, unlike Ducati, do not have the expertise to use the latest software update.

The only performance disadvantage for the Open class is compulsory use of the standard ECU software. However the latest version is much closer to Factory level.

Last year the new Magneti Marelli-built Dorna electronics (then optional) were the least effective on the grid. Now, apparently due to Ducati-inspired modifications, they had taken a huge leap. For the other Open teams it was a case of 'be careful what you wish for': While the new electronics offer greater performance, in turn they are far more complicated. So complicated they can't use them.

It is probably for this reason that Ducati has been allowed to keep its own factory software, while the Open teams are now expected to remain on the previous, more basic version, of their shared software.

Ducati running Open-based rules but with a potential reduction in fuel and engines (which hasn't happened) was the predicted outcome for last week's original Grand Prix Commission meeting, although Ducati was expected to be moved into a separate 'Factory 2' class.

However the announcement of a standard ECU for 2016 is the biggest surprise, given the previous level of opposition from Honda, which had threatened to quit MotoGP if such a scenario arouse. Honda see their MotoGP software development as a crucial part of road bike R&D, along with tight fuel limits and long-life engines.

Although Ducati met the requirements for Open simply by switching to the Dorna software, Honda made its displeasure clear. Honda believes Open was intended for cheaper, less sophisticated machines, run by independent teams and highlighted the massive software upgrade that coincided with Ducati's planned class change.

It is not clear if Ducati's Open entry could have been blocked within the Grand Prix Commission - comprising Dorna, FIM, teams' association IRTA and manufacturers' association MSMA - but Ducati would not have made the application unless they had been advised it would succeed.

Since Ducati's Open move would bring the standard ECU one step closer, it was sure to have the support of at least Dorna and the FIM. Therefore, once Ducati had spotted the (probably intentional) loophole and applied for the Open class the writing was arguably on the wall for the present Factory rules.

Given the list of performance perks for Open vs Factory, the clock would already have been ticking in terms of how long Honda and Yamaha could hold out in the Factory class, or why any new MotoGP manufacturer would not join Ducati in seeking the Open option. Hence the 2016 ECU deadline and concessions for Ducati/new manufacturers announced today.

Those that will be most pleased with the revised - and unanimously approved - rules are thus Ducati (which has retained the 'Factory' moniker and almost all the benefits of the Open class) Dorna and the FIM (which have finally achieved their goal of a standard ECU for all) and also the Open class teams (which will continue to enjoy some extra perks relative to Ducati).

By contrast it is difficult to see what Honda and Yamaha have gained from the renegotiation, other than technically keeping Ducati out of the Open class and ensuring some performance penalties are in place should Ducati become too successful.

Meanwhile, one of the biggest unanswered questions is whether the satellite Honda and Yamaha teams will be prepared to wait until 2016 to race under the same Open-style rules as Ducati (and Suzuki). Presumably there is nothing to prevent the satellite teams fitting the control ECU to their factory machines and entering them under the Open class rules for next year, roughly as Forward Racing are doing this year.

Either way, Honda is justified in feeling frustrated at having gone to the effort and expense of building a new Production Racer for the Open class - only to find it is danger of being made obsolete by Factory machinery entering the category from Ducati and Yamaha.

Unlike the Pramac Ducati and Forward Yamaha bikes, the Honda RCV1000R is sold rather than leased. This means the most expensive and secretive technology from the title-winning RC213V is not included, making the bike far closer in spirit (and performance) to the previous privateer Claiming Rule Team machines.

However Ducati recently revealed that it is also planning to make an Open machine available for sale from 2015. In order for such 'for sale' machines to be competitive, there will always be a need for some 'balancing' concessions, even in a single ECU championship.

The use of factory ECU software was due to remain in place until at least the end of 2016.

The new MotoGP season starts in Qatar this weekend.

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