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MotoGP: The Factory Team Problem

MotoGP is dominated by factory teams.  It’s not quite as bad as Indycar; as 3 teams (Marlboro Ducati, Fiat Yamaha, and Repsol Honda) are all capable of winning a World Title.  It’s similar to F1 was this season, with 3 teams contending for the title, and the other teams not really capable of podiums (Ben Spies is an exception).  It’s not even just about money; the way the factory teams work, they sell the equipment to the satellite teams, and thus control the level of equipment that they provide.  When you’re buying all of your equipment from the people you’re competing against, your chances of winning are similar to Front Row Motorsports or HRT.

The plan for fixing this is the Claims Rule Teams.  The CRT rules aren’t completely clear, but they’ll be allowed more engines per year and more fuel in the bike, and will use production based engines that have been modified.  There are a lot of different opinions on how successful this will be.  Firstly, they’ll have to be able to implement the production based engines; WSBK may try and prevent this.  David Emmet at Moto Matters went in-depth about this, and why the CRT’s may be successful.  His thoughts are that some of the top Moto2 teams will move up, and if that’s the case, maybe they will be somewhat competitive.

My stance is that the CRT team’s success and failure will be based on the riders they hire.  If the CRT’s can pick up strong riders, they may have a shot at success; but they’ll need riders who can compete at the same level of Valentino Rossi, Ben Spies, Jorge Lorenzo, Dani Pedrossa, and Casey Stoner, then they may pull out some surprises, but if it’s becomes ride buyer driven… well, it’ll be more of the same.  I’m not convinced, even if they hire decent riders that they’ll be able to win races; but they may be competitive.

Claims Rule Racing, like what James May Experienced in Finland.

The “CR” in CRT is Claims Rule; which fans of some low budget short track and club racing series will be familiar with.  It means that teams can “claim” an engine from another team for a set price.  This is an incredibly strange rule for any major racing series to use, and for the 2nd largest series in the world, this is borderline insanity!  The claims rules haven’t really been defined, so no one really knows what it will amount to.  Most of the expectation is that the Claims Rule won’t be used much, if ever, as an engine usefulness will vary depending on what your chassis, electronics, gearbox, ect.

Trying the Indycar method of preventing factory teams (writing rules to stop factories from sponsoring teams) won’t work; they’d just walk off and go WSBK racing.  Plus, factory funding is part of what makes Fiat Yamaha, Marlboro Ducati, and Repsol Honda what they are, they’d be in financial trouble without it.  The NASCAR model of having one factory support multiple teams would be a good solution, but factories probably wouldn’t want to have the extra costs associated with that.

The area to gain competitive teams is getting more factory involvement.  BMW, Aprillia, and Kawasaki all have racing programs in WSBK, and Suzuki still has a slight involvement in MotoGP.  The biggest obstacle for them is the high costs associated with making a factory team competitive.

BMW runs a WSBK team... if only they ran MotoGP

The best solution I can come up with is to use some of the CRT ideas, such as the option for production based motors, and ending the fuel limits for all teams, could motivate some more factory involvement, as well as stronger privateer teams.  Sadly, that’s almost impossible, the WSBK series would attempt to block that idea, as would the 3 factories that currently are winning in MotoGP, which is why the CRT rules are written in a way to keep factories from backing them.

Factory domination isn’t quite as bad in MotoGP as it is in many series, though.  In most series, all teams are one big happy family (Indycar, NASCAR) or, in F1, the teams tend to favor one driver.  But in MotoGP, teammates are often rivals with each other, and many teams run with a “wall” between the teammates, where each bike and crew with it are more or less independent from each other.  That is how Rossi and Lorenzo worked at Yamaha, how Spies and Lorenzo will work, and how the 3 bike factory team at Honda will likely work.  Because of this, instead of 3 factory teams, it often comes off like having 5-6 different teams racing against each other.  As long as the Hendrick Motorsports team model where the entire team works together as best friends, this system will continue to produce exciting racing, even if it’s not perfect.

MotoGP’s factory domination has been one of the reasons the bike count’s dropped so low; it’s expensive to buy equipment from the factories, and then you still don’t have a shot at winning.  The CRT might help… but it’s still unclear what impact they’ll have.  Getting more factories is the best way to get more completive teams, it’s just very expensive, and thus it’s hard to find factories willing to spend that much.  At least the teams aren’t all one big happy family as they are in most series; it keeps the racing exciting and the riders fighting hard with each other.  Even though factory teams win too much, at least it’s interesting.