Do technological advances affect the spectacle in MotoGP?

This is a recurring debate that, from time to time, shakes the foundations of MotoGP. It usually happens because this championship is not someth

This is a recurring debate that, from time to time, shakes the foundations of MotoGP. It usually happens because this championship is not something hieratic and immovable, as if it were carved in rock, it is a living competition that evolves to the rhythm of the technology, and therefore must be adapted to it. Although, sometimes, it is not easy to achieve the right balance.

The regulations with which the MotoGP World Championship has been endowed have been an effective response to ensure that the competition was as fair and balanced as possible. In the past, when the new category was launched in 2002, replacing the spectacular and complicated 500cc motorcycles, enjoyed an open regulation. There were all kinds of engine configurations: V5, V4, inline four, inline three… There were up to three different tire suppliers at the same time. But that diversity and that openness gave way to enormous inequalities.

For starters, not everyone had access to the same type of tyre, even among drivers working with the same supplier. Custom tires were made following the data collected by telemetry on the first day of training. This is what Michelin did for several seasons in European races on certain occasions, working against the clock at its factory in Clermont-Ferrand (France) to send a new batch of special tires for the race on Saturday night in a fast road service, destined for Valentino Rossi.

When in 2009 the system of single supplier these differences between the pilots were annulled, equalizing the race conditions and benefiting the show. Little by little, the lap and race time records were adjusted, and that increased the excitement on the track.

The next step was taken in 2015 with the introduction of the single switchboard. The electronics also made enormous differences, because their development involved a very high cost, and not all manufacturers were in a position to face such an expense, nor did all the MotoGP satellite teams have enough economic potential to address the necessary updates required to these complex systems.

All this has led us to competition conditions that are so even and balanced, with the riders performing at an extraordinary level, which means that we have the tightest championship in history, with hardly any differences between them. Races are no longer won by wide margins of seconds; now the victory or the podium is decided by a few tenths or a few thousandths of a second.

Technology vs show

This season the situation has worsened to the point that it is becoming more and more more complex to overtake. The implementation of new technologies, such as the massive use of aerodynamic elements, or systems that modify the height of the motorcycle to gain efficiency in acceleration, make overtaking increasingly difficult. You no longer depend only on the potential of your engine or your skills. You roll faster and brake in less time, and that makes it much more difficult to gain enough time and meters to safely overtake.

A few weeks ago, the Grand Prix Commission, the body in charge of regulating the championship, made up of representatives of the International Motorcycling Federation, the championship promoter, the manufacturers’ association and the teams’ association, has decided to ban from 2023 the use of devices that modify the height of the motorcycle in motion, the popularly known “holeshot”. They can no longer be used while moving and will only be activated for their original purpose: to vary the height of the bikes at the start. However, no consideration has been taken about the rear axle, whose use of a manual device to reduce the height of the motorcycle is also common. MotoGP Technical Director Corrado Cecchinelli will be responsible for determining what is considered a front height device.

These measures try to return part of the combativeness lost by MotoGP. In addition, all this technology has made the qualifying session of vital importance, because a position behind on the starting grid condemns the aspirations for the race. But, on the other hand, starting late forces us to be combative in order to recover ground, and we have been able to witness spectacular comebacks in quite a few races that have put the sauce on the competition.

There is a detail that cannot be overlooked in this technology, and it is its influence on the physique of the pilots. It is more and more common for muscle injuries to abound in the forearms of pilots, it is a common problem for most pilots. Much of the responsibility for these annoyances lies with aerodynamics. The spoilers and other devices that apply a great load on the motorcycle, make the motorcycles result physically tougher to pilot.

The aerodynamic improvements introduced in recent years in MotoGP are not a contemporary invention. When they began to become common in most manufacturers, Shuhei Nakamoto, vice president of HRC and visible head of the Repsol Honda team, revealed that the Japanese manufacturer had already worked on similar designs thirty years ago, with the 500 motorcycles, and had highly competitive result. Nakamoto assured that almost two seconds per lap were gained with respect to the conventional 500, but they were devastating for the arms of the pilots, who were unable to roll continuously at that pace.

Now, although the enormous forces generated by the new aerodynamics are still very demanding on the physique of the drivers, other technological elements such as better tires, the change seamlessthe control systems, and the regulation of the height of the motorcycle, makes the pilotage be more bearable. But we must not forget that MotoGP is handled in figures greater than 270 CV of power, for 157 kilos of weight, which gives a power/weight ratio of 1.7 CV/kilo.

Another detail that can also explain a certain lack of combativeness in the races is the championship extension. Riders must have the ability to perform for more than eight continuous months of competition, a very long time for high competition. The championship has become a test of regularity and it is almost more important not to make mistakes or accumulate zeros or bad scores than the slight advantage that a victory gives against a second or third place. That is why the riders are somewhat more conservative, because a bad result is sometimes very difficult to overcome, and the points system in MotoGP grants very little advantage for winning a race.

With this approach, it is easy to understand why we miss Marc Márquez, ambitious and far from conformist, who has always distinguished himself by his continuous fight for victory, trying until the last corner when he has the opportunity. With him in top form, combativeness and spectacle are guaranteed.