Friday, September 14, 2007

Are electronics ruining MotoGP? Riders speak out

One of the greatest motorcycle racers of all time, Valentino Rossi says he isn't enjoying MotoGP anymore. At least not as much as he used to...

Speaking to MCN, Valentino Rossi has made it clear that he thinks MotoGP is getting a bit boring and that tyres and electronics are to blame. Says Rossi, ‘Before, the races were more fun, but now it is a little bit boring and this is the worst thing for me. The two big problems are tyres and electronics. If we want a good show, we have to make some changes because now there is a lot less overtaking.’

Rossi admits that for the first time in his career, he’s finding it difficult to keep his motivation going. ‘It’s a difficult situation for me – it’s difficult to fight when you know it’s not possible to fight for the victory. But I will try,’ he says.

Alex Barros was Kevin Schwantz's teammate at Suzuki in 1993. And he's still getting podium finishes in 2007...!

Alex Barros was racing in 500cc GPs in 1990, and is still finishing on the podium in 2007, taking third place in this year’s Italian MotoGP. The old-timer also seems to agree with The Doctor and says that electronics are taking something away from MotoGP. Speaking to MCN, Barros says, ‘In the past, with less electronics, the rider was able to make the difference. But right now, it neutralises it a little bit. Maybe Ducati, Yamaha and Honda have to talk about this for the future.’

No.34 Kevin Schwantz. 500cc world champ in 1993. Used to crash hard, and often. One of the most charismatic bike racers of the 1980s and 90s...

Another perspective comes from Kevin Schwantz, 500cc world champ in 1993. When Superbike Planet recently interviewed him, Schwantz said, ‘I think it's a pretty general consensus across the board amongst the riders that electronics are making it very difficult to find the opportunity to pass somebody. Everybody gets on the gas at about the same time, the electronics all work just about the same. I think the racing would be better without electronics.

My opinion is, electronics have really made the average guy be able to go out and go fast, and everybody qualifies really, really well, and I think that we're paying too much attention to that. Seeing everybody, all 20 bikes, within less than a second or a second and a half in qualifying, hasn't made the racing any better. We need to go back to letting these guys really ride these things, and wrestle these things around.’

Kenny Roberts, the hard man of motorcycle GP racing grew up honing his skills on American dirttracks

Three-time 500cc world champ, Kenny Roberts has, at various times in the past, spoken openly against the excessive use of electronics in MotoGP. Speaking to Speed TV, Roberts says, 'At this point in MotoGP, the guys that are winning would be winning anyway. But then there are a lot of guys farther back that can ride the bikes in a different way – like 250s – but still go fast because they have traction control. It’s easier to ride with all these power devices, not just traction control. The whole package of electronic rider aids makes it easier for these 250 guys.'

Roberts won three successive 500cc world titles - in 1978, 79 and 80

'I gave my opinion a long time ago. I said ban traction control, ban fly-by-wire and get us all on the same control tyres. You want some guy to go out there and ride the bike loose and on the limit, so you can see that this guy is winning because of something you can see – his riding – not some electronics package that decides how much throttle to open,' says Roberts.

Randy Mamola raced in the 500s throughout the 1980s

Randy Mamola, who also raced 500s at the top level in the 1980s, adds his opinion. ‘The electronics have made the racing kind of neat and tidy. Earlier, you could see the rider controlling the spinning rear tyre, scrubbing off speed with the bike sideways on the brakes… The 990cc MotoGP bikes did everything the old 500s did, but with a big, forgiving powerband that meant that the bikes were safer to ride.

These things don’t high-side and that’s not because this bunch of riders is better than the 500 riders. The bikes are just so good, so easy to ride and safe, that the bike’s smart electronics just don’t let a guy with a quick fist hurt himself. Now, it is easy to get into a rhythm and run a race with consistent lap times. Before, when you had a hair-trigger 500 engine with too much power to let you use the side grip, you had to stay on top of it all the time, making sure you had the thing picked up before you got on the power. We all had to figure how to keep those 500s under us instead of on top of us. Some guys rode the rear brake to keep the things from spinning too much. Me, I just used my right wrist. That has changed now.’

Indeed, much has changed in top-flight motorcycle racing. Some things haven't, thank god!

What about Valentino Rossi? How would he have done on the old 500s? Says Mamola, ‘Valentino would be smoking these guys on 500s. He’s the best rider out there, but with these bikes that mask errors and let riders of lesser ability run in the same second, Rossi wins by being the foxiest, the smartest – the guy who paces himself and knows when to go. You don’t see him go early because he knows that he can’t get away and he doesn’t what to give away his lines and his braking points.’

Indeed, and Rossi himself misses the 500cc era. He says, ‘I miss the 500 still. The electronics is so important now and this makes the rider less important. I would like that the rider controlled the motorcycle, but maybe with so powerful bikes now it would not be possible to ride these bikes without the electronics. When I came from 250s to 500s, I had to learn to control the 500’s throttle and to slide. It was more fun, more exciting. I don’t know what can be done to give control back to the rider…’

And that’s pretty much how it stands now – nobody knows what’s the best course of action, what needs to be done next. Compared with the last few years, MotoGP has been a bit dull this year. There is talk of changing or modifying the tyre rule for 2008, but nobody seems to be talking about restricting electronics. And in any case, while riders like Rossi and Capirossi may be in MotoGP for only another year or two, there’s now an entire generation of MotoGP riders who can, perhaps, only go fast with electronics, not without them…


Peter said...

That's Mike Baldwin, not Randy Mamola :)

Anonymous said...

Yessssss, Peter is right! On the pic with No. 4 is Mike Baldwin on Roberts-Yamaha!

Best wishes

Wolfgang Bock, Bonn GER

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