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MotoGP

New MotoGP rule will make riders ‘robots like in F1’

by Valentin Khorounzhiy, Simon Patterson
5 min read

until Abu Dhabi Autonomous Racing League

MotoGP risks “losing our show” by further complicating things for riders with the policing of tyre pressure limits, according to Pramac Ducati rider Johann Zarco.

Thanks to the introduction of a uniform monitoring system, the premier class of grand prix racing has sought to enforce tyre pressure limits starting from this year – although plans to begin policing it much earlier this season were pushed back amid scepticism from riders and teams.

But MotoGP announced in the summer break that the policing would begin after all, starting from the British Grand Prix at Silverstone this weekend.

Breaches will not be a matter for disqualification initially, but instead come with a gradual penalty scale – where falling foul in a single sprint or race is only a warning and time penalties only follow with repeat offences.

Riders’ tyres will have to be above a specific minimum pressure not for the full duration of the session in question, but only for a specific percentage of the distance.

Johann Zarco

Maintaining minimum pressures is intended to avoid potentially catastrophic tyre failures, but MotoGP riders’ pushback to the idea was based on the fact front tyre pressures in particular are so dependent on the race situation – ie whether a rider is running in clean air or in the pack – that regulatory limitations will only create more situations where riders end up running with a too-high front pressure and crash.

Zarco was of that school of thought – and said he believes any safety justification for applying these limits isn’t very convincing.

“Their thinking was for the safety,” he said. “But we have proved that with a low pressure in front it’s not dangerous for the bikes, for the tyres. We didn’t have any tyres burst.

“Making rules for safety, I agree. But this one is not for safety. And this will make us lose something in the race because we’ll have to manage one more thing.

“If you have to manage one more thing, you cannot be fully focused on what you have to do, so it’s going to be strange. And I’m scared to lose something in the race, that it’s going to be almost a race that we have to manage and not a race that we have to give it all and see who’s the best.”

The minimum pressures for slicks are set at 1.88-bar on the front tyre and 1.68 on the rear.

Logically, for both MotoGP and tyre supplier Michelin even one tyre delamination would be one too many given the speeds at play.

Johann Zarco

When asked by The Race what potential cause he saw for the measure if it wasn’t safety, Zarco said: “I don’t know. They will say it’s for safety. But almost it’s opposite – when it’s getting too hot and too high in pressure, we are crashing. I crashed also for this reason in Jerez this year.

“So… I don’t know. It’s maybe there are some bikes that work with higher pressures, so it’s maybe to have a bit less advantage for the Ducati bikes – I don’t know.”

The idea it will hinder Ducati is certainly not a novel one, and likewise on Thursday ex-Ducati rider Jack Miller, now at KTM, acknowledged that the Ducati was more of a pressure-critical bike and that it functioned better on low tyre pressures in his time there than his current KTM does.

“Maybe,” acknowledged Zarco when told of Miller’s take. “But now it’s four years that I’m on the Ducati, so I don’t know how the other bikes may react on it.”

Zarco said he largely ran in the legal range for the season but sometimes was “for some reason just a bit under”.

But he was seemingly at pains to indicate that his concern was more safety-based and even philosophical than competitive.

“There is only one rider or two that will be able to be in the slipstream when they need to warm the tyre, and [freely] get out when they have to cool down the tyre,” Zarco said, indicating one rider like that was points leader Pecco Bagnaia.

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“For me I know that sometimes if I am behind someone, if I don’t want to stay close to him, I have to slow down. I cannot overtake him when I want [to lower the pressure].”

Zarco’s concern is therefore that riders will be bailing out of battles just to find pockets of clean air to make sure they remain within the pressure margin for the race.

“We will have to become robots to make the race. As they are doing in Formula 1,” he said. “We will lose our show.”

“But if you are a good [trained] monkey and a good robot, maybe you can do a good season.”

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A similar viewpoint arose from outside the Ducati camp, from Aleix Espargaro – who said his Aprilia team was “one of the best” at adhering to that limit through the season.

“But this is not good in general,” he insisted. “I am not talking Aprilia, Ducati or Yamaha [benefitting or struggling]. It’s not good for the championship.

“I understand Michelin is looking for the safety. Perfect, us too.

“But the limit they put is… the first lap I did in Germany, I was 1.55 [-bar] on the front.

“It’s a very good idea to make the races more boring. Very, very good idea. Because you will see bikes [running] with one second between them. 100%.”

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