With less than a week to go to the inaugural race on the 2019 MotoGP calendar, the Grand Prix of Qatar, this is a good time to quickly get yourself up to speed (literally) with all that's new this season. Overall, the changes being implemented for this season mirror the common sentiment across motorsport formats, levelling the playing field and bring competition closer through a mix of standardisation and regulation.
Specifically in MotoGP, Dorna seems to have decided (with success) that closer racing is better than technical dominance from a few teams, whether in 2016 when nine different riders won races for four manufactures or 2018 where the field remained close despite Marc Marquez's runaway championship success.
Here is a quick roundup of the key changes in regulations that will impact your visual experience of a MotoGP Grand Prix:
Greater regulation of aero
Since the application of fairing extensions in 2016 and the ban on winglets at the end of the 2016 season, manufacturers have gradually implemented more evolved solutions to replicate downforce-enhancing effects. As per the existing rules, teams can have two different fairing designs in a season " the standard version with which they start the season, and an evolution version that is introduced subsequently. However, this system has been used to their advantage by manufacturers (with Ducati leading the pack) as they developed designs with multiple modular sections that could be added on or removed depending on the aero requirements of each track. In order to regulate this, the new 2019 regulations state that fairing extensions will not be allowed to be modified from one race to another after they have been approved. It remains to be seen how this impacts especially Ducati, since they have consistently excelled on the aero front and yet successive new regulation every season has inhibited them.
The 2019 #MotoGP season is about to kick off 🚀
" MotoGP¢🏁 (@MotoGP) March 3, 2019
In addition, aero fairings are now restricted to sizing and must fit within set dimensions. Until last season, every project was subject to its own assessment standards, but going forward, the bike must fit into the aluminium "magic box" to meet aero standards. Paddock insiders are comparing the 'magic box' to the contraption used at airports to check the size of cabin baggage.
Moving towards standardisation
Dorna has been moving towards standardising certain components, realising that it benefits the sport by narrowing the gap in the field while allowing the differences in riding styles between drivers to co-exist. In this context, Dorna will be supplying a standard model of the Inertial Measuring Unit (IMU) to all teams. This is in addition to the standardised Electronics Control Unit (ECU) that has been in supply since 2016. The benefits of this are twofold " firstly, it will especially benefit the smaller manufactures by keeping costs down and levelling out budgets across the grid. Secondly, it also negates the possibility of teams gaining and using different telemetrics about the bike and using it to gain an on-track advantage. Hence, bringing the competitive field closer together. The biggest loser in this is possibly Honda (and to a lesser extent Yamaha and Ducati), who will lose their electronics advantage.
Speaking of standardisation, it is interesting to see how Dorna has managed to have its way and navigate through teams with varied interests, something that Formula 1 definitely can learn from. In particular, there has been interest in standardising components which are less visible to fans (as in the case of MotoGP's electronic systems).
Race classification changes
Due to crashes at the finish line, there have been instances where the rider and the bike crossed the finish line separately (e.g. Moto3 rider Bo Bendsneyder at the 2017 Dutch TT). However, previous regulation stated that in order to be qualified as a finisher, the rider had to be in contact with his machine when crossing the finish line, and hence, the rider would not be classified as a finisher. As per the changes being enforced for 2019, the finish time will be determined by the first part of the rider or his motorcycle, whichever crosses the finish line last. This means that riders can be classified as finishers even if their machine crosses the line separately.
Assistance to restart from marshals
New regulation also clarifies a previous 'grey area' with regards to whether riders may use external assistance from marshalls to restart an interrupted race. It is now clear that riders may obtain assistance from marshalls to restart the machine or to move the machine on track, trackside or in the service road. The implementation of this rule will depend on the FIM MotoGP Stewards and their classification of a rider as 'active' or 'retired' and their ruling in this matter would not be subject to appeal.
In the case of a race restart (after a red flag interruption) where the rider is a lap down, he/she would be permitted to start from the pit-lane. However, if a rider is two or more laps down, he/she wouldn't be permitted to restart the race.
New official titles
There are two new official titles up for grabs starting from the 2019 season. These are "All Time Lap Record" " for the fastest lap time in history including all Grand Prix sessions and "Best Race Lap" " for the fastest lap time in history made during a race. Several riders will be eyeing these mighty titles with a great deal of interest and aspiration even though there are no championship implications.
Last season, there were several incidents when MotoGP riders had to curtail wet-weather running in the practice sessions to save wet-tyres as a precaution for a wet race. From 2019, the standard allocation of rain tyres is up to 13, from the previous allocation of 11. This will include six front and seven rear tyres.
The 2019 MotoGP season also brings a slew of rider and team changes on the grid. Notably, Tech 3 are to switch to KTM machines, ending their twenty-year relationship with Yamaha. In our next column, we will review these changes and also highlight the teams and riders to look out for.
With inputs from Kunal Ghate