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GP Week : Issue 17
GPWEEK OPINION >> NONE of the old hands much like the new Assen circuit, first used in 2006, but there was one reason to be glad that the modern lap has been cut back from more than six kilometres to around 4.5 – the bikes come round that much more often. And when there are only 13 of them out there, that really makes a difference. For the past couple of years, MotoGP has generally been turning a blind eye to the small grids, just 18 full-time starters. The quality is high, and modern tracks tend to be shorter, and therefore easier to fill. Press on regardless. Assen showed that the weakness has not gone away just by being ignored. The starting list was, as usual, 18-strong. It dropped to 17 on the first day, when Capirossi took a nasty flesh wound to add to his fractured hand. To the surprise of all, Ben Spies declined Suzuki’s instant offer to take over his bike. He didn’t fancy playing catch-up on a hard circuit in bad weather, with the other guys already two sessions ahead of him. He should have stayed. He could hardly have missed earning points for a second weekend in succession. Then there were 16, after John Hopkins had a big one at the fastest point on the track, and one of the few sections hardly changed from the old days. He smashed his leg, and will be out for a while. The first lap of the race then accounted for two more. De Puniet was knocked out by Rossi; de Angelis fell off on his own account. Soon afterwards, West crashed the other Kawasaki. Just 13 left. And, to be honest, it was a rather sorry parade. The even older hands remembered another time like this. In 1990 a dearth of 500-class privateer machinery meant grids of 16 or 17. At the Yugoslav GP, only nine of them finished; and only five were on the same lap as the winner Wayne Rainey. This crisis prompted urgent action. There was no Dorna back then, but the Federation played the same role. Given events of today, their proposal for a radically revised premier class was rather uncanny: 600cc four-strokes based on production engines, in full racing chassis. Just like the current 250 replacement class. This was avoided when Yamaha nobly pledged to build a dozen or so factory-bike replicas to supply to privateers. They contracted the chassis work out to European firms, and two-stroke 500s were saved! This will not be possible now. A four-stroke MotoGP bike is far more sophisticated and many times more expensive than those old two-strokes. Honda does make replicas for satellite teams, but these need a budget not far off those of the factory teams. Privateers need not apply. Suzuki might eventually be persuaded to supply more than two riders; likewise Kawasaki, though so far it has proved a slow business. But with BMW, KTM and Aprilia all pledged to World Superbikes, there’s no rescuing fleet of new MotoGP bikes on the horizon. In the absence of wild card riders – a real rarity nowadays – we will all have to reconcile ourselves to the distinct possibility of more austerity as the season wears on. But there is one action that could be taken as soon as next year – an abandonment of the points system that pays all the way down to 15th. This was introduced in 1993, and with grids growing again at that time it had some validity. What’s the point (so to speak) now, when you can’t even guarantee 15 finishers? Better to copy F1 yet again, and have points only for the first eight. That’d make eighth a lot more worth fighting for than it is now. Numbers game an issue for MotoGP Michael Scott MotoGP editor o p in io n 23