Mike Scott Column - Nov 2005

Unnatural Gas

Posted: 1 November 2005
by Mike Scott

Mike Scott - MotoGP - Unnatural Gas
HRC engineers ran out of juice, or did they?

We've all run out of petrol, and usually at the bottom of a long hill. But never while disputing the lead on the last lap of a Grand Prix, so we'll never understand how Sete Gibernau felt as he trudged back to the pits at Brno. He was probably the only one not amused by the tizzy the incident provoked within the usually smilingly confident ranks of the Honda Racing Corporation.

The bike hadn't run out of gas, came the official line, rather vehemently expressed. They were investigating an 'error message' in the fuel-management ECU, but there was petrol. No there wasn't, said the team. A wrong signal from a faulty sensor said the bike still had 1.9 litres. In fact, it was empty.

This developing story increased the almost visible miasma of embarrassment within HRC, and the level of amusement outside it. But there was more to it - this was a watershed event. The first race decided by on-board electronics out-thinking the rider. It is the function of the processors and programmes to save the rider from himself. This time, they'd ambushed him instead.

It was just a little electronic malfunction, unless one of the other teams had hacked in to HRC's computers and installed a virus on Sete's bike. Either way, it's an uncomfortable moment for a sport which prides itself in that human skill is ultimately more important than the machine.

The train of events reveals hitherto secret complexities within HRC's electronics; electronics that are the envy of all rival factories, who mutter darkly about the unfairness of HRC's direct links with F1. Being too clever by half can sometimes be self-defeating. Part of Honda's control software measures fuel consumption, to activate a programme that then makes sure there will be enough to get to the end of the race. Thus if the rider's being a little too throttle-happy, the Big H won't give him as much fuel as he's asking for. He probably won't even notice. It is this system that failed.

Gibernau laid on a proper hissy fit afterwards. Running out of gas, he said, was neither here nor there. What he wanted to know was why his pace was down in the race on a bike that was suddenly slower. For a rider whose luck this year has ranged between bad and rotten, whose sponsors Telefonica are about to pull out, and whose serial defeats by Rossi have tarnished him with a loser image, getting bamboozled by his own bike left an especially bitter taste.

Painful contractions

Contract time has taken on something of a new meaning. Instead of wondering where riders are going, the big who-goes-where is now about sponsors. Vaulting MotoGP costs and dwindling money supply are squeezing racing hard. Some of the pips have started to squeak.Telefonica MoviStar are definitely out next year - they sponsor Gibernau and Melandri in MotoGP, Pedrosa and Aoyama in 250s and a major junior series in Spain. Gauloises are feared ready to quit, if Rossi's plan to run in a separately sponsored so-called 'satellite' team come to fruition. At the same time, Team Roberts and KTM have come to blows, and will not complete this year, let alone start the next. And, to nobody's surprise, Blata's promised V6 didn't turn up at Brno after all.

Suzuki already run unsponsored; Kawasaki almost so. Red Bull may (or may not) be ready to rejoin MotoGP but, apart from that, money is a serious worry.

The only person smiling is, of course, Rossi. He's fighting the sponsors off. He's wanted to dump the fags ever since joining Gauloises Yamaha last year. Latest news is of a 12-million Euro offer from McDonalds. Into the frying pan, from the fire.

Latest news also is of yet another test with Ferrari after Brno, and growing rumours that he will jump from M1 to F1 in 2007. MotoGP will be bereft in more ways than one, since those juicy sponsors like McDonalds will undoubtedly also go Formula 1 with him.

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