We may have dubbed this section a "Beginner's Guide" but even a seasoned paddock member like myself can get a little confused around the rules and regulations of what is a highly technical and often rapidly evolving sport. So we’re going to try and give you an overview of some of the need-to-know basics around this thrilling sport.
Starting at the beginning, the FIM MotoGP World Championship is the catch-all name for the pinnacle of motorcycle road-racing. Sanctioned by the Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme, the governing body for all motorcycling activities around the world (FIM), the series’ history began on the Isle of Man in June 1949 as the first motorsport world championship in any discipline – on two or four wheels.
Back then it was known as the FIM Road-racing World Championship Grand Prix, and featured several world championships, including what became the blue-riband 500cc class. (500cc refers to the size of engine displacement - 500 cubic centimetres). Over the years, classes such as 350cc, 80cc, 50cc and Sidecar fell by the wayside, which left three main world championship categories - 500cc, 250cc and 125cc.
However, the simple two-stroke technology that was being used had begun to fade in relevance for the manufacturers, so in order to keep the championship’s interest for the likes of Honda, Yamaha or Ducati, the series-organisers Dorna gradually replaced the two-stroke machines with modern four-stroke engine classes.
MotoGP replaced 500cc as the premier grand prix class in 2002, 250cc became the four-stroke Moto2 class in 2010 and the 125s were replaced by Moto3 bikes in 2012.
Moto3 is the junior class of the sport, an entry-level for youngsters hoping to take their first steps in the world championships. Often riders progress as race-winners or champions from national level, and there is a minimum age of 16 and an upper limit of 28. Bikes are based around 250cc single-cylinder engines producing roughly 70hp, with a variety of manufacturers including KTM, Honda and Mahindra. New rules for this season mean that engines are randomly given out to riders to ensure parity.
Moto2 is the next rung of the championship ladder, and the stepping-stone into MotoGP, with the aim of preparing riders for the rigours of competing at the highest level. To prove this, champions from the past three years Stefan Bradl, Marc Marquez and Pol Espargaro have all moved directly up to the elite class of MotoGP with success. It is a one-make series; all bikes are fitted with race-tuned Honda CBR600RR engines that produce about 140hp, and extremely limited electronics. Teams are free to develop their own frames, however, through specialist constructors such as Kalex, Suter and SpeedUp.
MotoGP is at the top of the tree, and is the premier class of motorcycle racing in the world. 24 of the best riders from across the globe (including four Brits this year) do battle on board 1000cc four-stroke bikes. The top motorcycle manufacturers take part too, with the likes of Honda, Yamaha and Ducati displaying their prowess with one-off prototype machines. There are certain technical limitations however, such as a maximum of four cylinders, six-speed gearboxes and a maximum bore (cylinder diameter) of 81mm.
FACTORY OR OPEN?
Additionally in 2014, a series of new regulations have been brought in with the aim of bringing a touch more parity between the rich factories and the cash-strapped independent teams in the MotoGP class. Bikes can be entered as either ‘Factory’ or ‘Open’ entries, with a separate set of rules for each.
All bikes will feature a standard Electronic Control Unit (ECU), however ‘Factory’ bikes are allowed to use their own proprietary software. As this means they will have much more control over fuel consumption and power delivery, they are penalised by 20-litre fuel tank limit and are allowed just five engines all year with no updates throughout the year.
The top teams like Repsol Honda and Movistar Yamaha will be ‘Factory’ entries, as they consider electronics advances as crucial to their research and development programmes for street bikes. Other teams such as Monster Yamaha Tech3 or LCR Honda are also ‘Factory’ entries, but you may hear them referred to as ‘satellite’ teams because whilst running to the tighter restrictions they are still independent outfits.
Meanwhile, some teams are choosing to race under the ‘Open’ regulations and are able to use a more comfortable 24 litres of fuel and 12 engines per year, with as many technical advances as they like. The downside is that they are restricted to using the championship-supplied software, which has limited parameters. Teams such as Forward Racing will run full prototypes, whilst the likes of Paul Bird Motorsport race a highly-tuned production engine inside a prototype chassis - but both are subject to the same ‘Open’ regulations.
Blurring the lines somewhat is the last-minute choice by Ducati to enter their four riders under the ‘Open’ regulations this season. Although these are official entries from the manufacturer, because they have struggled over the past few seasons they needed the ability to update their machinery throughout the year to become more competitive. They will run the standard software package, but there is talk that if this skews the rules too far in the favour of the Italian team, then the rules may be tweaked slightly to ensure they don’t have too much of an advantage over the smaller independent teams. Nonetheless, they start the season as ‘Open’ and only some positive results would see these modifications enforced.
Whilst these new rules may sound complicated, ultimately there remains one race winner and one final classification whether Factory or Open, and it should see many more teams able to compete towards the front of races. The endgame for the championship’s organisers Dorna is to see all teams running identical electronics systems so that costs are reduced across the board and the playing field is levelled somewhat, meaning better action for fans at the track or back at home.