MotoGP engine allocations a hand-brake on Yamaha speed
The need for riders to stay healthy, mechanics to stay sharp and have a reliable supply chain of spare parts, will be crucial as the MotoGP paddock is faced with an unprecedented nine rounds staged over the coming ten weeks.
Yamaha will be more nervous than most due to their ongoing and well publicised engine reliability problems, which will likely see some of their riders starting Grands Prix from pit-lane having exceeded their allocation of five engines before the season is complete.
The original limit of seven engines for the non-concession teams, and nine for the concession teams, was reduced to five and seven respectively when the MotoGP calendar was constrained due to the pandemic. When that lower limit was set it seemed likely that MotoGP would be unable to make up even a 12-race calendar in 2020, down from the originally scheduled 20 rounds, but it now seems likely that we will see 14 rounds run this year. Moto2 and Moto3 are scheduled to complete 15 rounds as they raced at Losail back in March but the premier category only kicked off on July 19 at Jerez. The manufacturers unanimously voted to approve this reduced engine allocation but Yamaha would now be ruing that choice.
Suzuki were the last of the major manufacturers to be in this perilous position in regards to engine reliability when they had major issues in 2010. Back in 2010 the penalty for exceeding an engine allowance was that the rider in question would have to start from pit-lane a full ten-seconds after all the regular starters had passed the pit-lane exit. That penalty was reduced to five-seconds in 2015, but it is still a very serious handicap in an era where MotoGP is closer than it has ever been.
Of further concern is another decision, also made when the pandemic was really smashing Europe, a development freeze on engines. Manufacturers voted to halt engine development, and run the same specification of engine in 2021.
If the rumours that Yamaha’s problems are due to a manufacturing problem in the valves fitted to the their 2020 cylinder head are true, a simple change when producing the next batch for season 2021 will cure those ills. This year though, they are stuck with what they have, and we are realistically faced with the prospect that the 2020 MotoGP World Championship could be decided as a result of penalties applied for exceeding engine allocations.
At the second of the Jerez double-header rounds which started the season it was a Yamaha 1-2-3 and quite possibly would have been a 1-2-3-4 if not for Morbidelli’s engine failure while battling up front during the race.
We do believe championship leader Fabio Quartararo is better placed in regards to engines used than the other three Yamaha riders, and if he is able to snag a maiden MotoGP world championship crown, Yamaha will be glad he is the one with some hope of making it through the season using just his original five engines.
It is obvious that Yamaha have switched to a more conservative tune and reduced engine rpm limits, a rumoured 500 rpm, since those costly failures at Jerez and that largely seems to have put a big enough band-aid on those issues. Reducing RPM is almost always a successful way to ease load on the entire valve train of an engine, however it costs power. And it can create issues around selecting optimal gearing for each circuit, as with less revs available at the top end, there is a narrower window of engine performance. Also of note at Jerez was astonishingly high ambient temperatures, definitely not a help if you have a weak engine. Perhaps cooler weather will play a role in the Yamaha riders finding better reliability over the second half of the 2020 season?.
With the tuning and RPM changes made in-season by Yamaha, this has seen the results of their riders negatively impacted, struggling with the reduced performance offered by their machines. During the recent events in Austria at the Red Bull Ring circuit, all four Yamaha riders were clearly on the back foot along that circuits’ long straights. Quartararo came out so strong when the season got underway, however the past couple of rounds have seen the Frenchman struggle for speed. It would be very cruel indeed for his early season promise not to be realised and his potential blunted.
Tonight though we have the Yamaha quartet filling the top four places on the grid for the first of the two rounds to be held at Misano. This is a happy hunting ground for Yamaha, their sublime chassis compliance helping over the bumps in the circuit and the flow of the turns suiting the YZR-M1.
Ahead of tonights 27-lap encounter Dorna released the latest engine allocation data and it does not paint a pretty picture for Yamaha.
Vinales has already had one engine withdrawn from his allocation, as has Rossi and Morbidelli. Thus that trio only have four engines to rotate through for the rest of the championship. Rossi though does have one engine that has not been used, as does Fabio Quartararo, who is the only Yamaha rider to still have his full allocation of five engines to cycle through.
As you can see the championship leader is by far the best placed Yamaha rider in regards to engine availability to see him through to season end. Here is hoping that the measures taken by Yamaha prevent the 2020 MotoGP World Championship being decided by reliability.
2020 MotoGP Calendar
|7||13 September||Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli|
|8||20 September||Misano World Circuit Marco Simoncelli|
|9||27 September||Barcelona – Catalunya|
|10||11 October||Le Mans|
|11||18 October||MotorLand Aragón|
|12||25 October||MotorLand Aragón|
|13||08 November||Comunitat Valenciana-Ricardo Tormo|
|14||15 November||Comunitat Valenciana-Ricardo Tormo|
|15||22 November||Autodromo Internacional do Algarve|
MotoGP World Championship Points