In my last blog, I detailed the differences between the Open and Factory categories in the MotoGP class; at that time, Ducati had yet to decide which category it would field its team under. At the second Sepang test, the announcement was made that all four Ducatis would run under Open rules, which offer significant benefits with the trade-off being the required use of spec Magneti Marelli software in the spec ECU. But at about the same time, Magneti Marelli introduced an upgraded version of the software that was, essentially, Ducati's code. In effect, this gave Ducati all the advantages of the Open category but without the one disadvantage.
The media at last week's test for non-factory riders in Qatar reported that the other Open-class teams were, understandably, upset at this turn of events. The Ducati code is so far advanced from the current spec software that more staff, and more money, would be required for them to even utilize it properly - a huge conflict with the cost-reducing goal of having the Open category in the first place. Also understandably, Honda representatives expressed their objection to this blatant disregard for the "spirit" of the rules.
While the new Factory 2 rules have not been officially announced, reportedly they will include penalty clauses based on performance; if Ducati riders do too well under the Open rules using the updated software, the number of engines and amount of fuel allowed will be immediately reduced partway to the Factory numbers. While it may all be a moot point if the riders perform accordingly or if the penalties do not pose an issue, this new rule at the last minute has certainly added to the confusion already prevalent in the class structure, and the series is turning even more into a political quagmire - and this is even before the racing has begun!
I have always thought that the fewer rules in a particular class, the better. You don't have to worry about breaking a rule if it's not there, and if a rule is not there your competitors will not be able to find a loophole to worm through. Typically, as rules are added to reduce costs or level the playing field, or for whatever reason, even more rules must be added to account for all the potential ways around those rules. And the more prestigious the series is, the more entities have their fingers in the pie - manufacturers, tire companies and sponsors all want things in their favour and often have the means to exert pressure on the series organizer to make changes. Eventually, the rulebook is as thick as a telephone book and as tricky to navigate as a minefield - exactly the situation MotoGP finds itself in right now.
All the focus on the ECU, electronics and spec software in MotoGP can be traced back at least in part to the absurdly low fuel allowance mandated for the Factory machines. This rule was put in place to appease the manufacturers, who wanted the technical challenge that such a rule would force, justifying their involvement. This in turn brought electronics to the forefront, along with the resultant upward spiral in costs. More rules were added to keep those costs in check. Now, even more rules will be added to close the loophole found by Ducati.
When will it end? The MotoGP rules package is slated for a major revamp in 2017, when hopefully some rules will actually be dropped, resulting in a single category for everyone in the class rather than the current fragmented state.