If the maximum number of engines allowed per driver and season is exhausted, the MotoGP aces are threatened with a start from the pit lane. The reasons for the engine shortage vary.
What do Loris Capirossi, Valentino Rossi, Maverick Viñales and Pol Espargaró have in common, among others? That’s right, the quartet had to start out of the pit lane in their MotoGP career because too many engine changes had been made on their machines over the course of the season.
In 2021 they all made it to the 18 Grand Prix with a maximum of seven engines per driver (nine for the Aprilia concession team). Most recently Viñales had to leave the pit lane on his Yamaha at the 2020 European GP in Valencia. However, only five engines (seven for “concession teams”) were permitted for 14 Grand Prix in the shortened Corona season 2020.
Now we come to some price questions for experts: How long has the so-called “engine penalty” existed in the regulations? How often has a driver had to leave the pit lane as a punishment because of an exhausted engine contingent? And who was the first driver to burn too many engines in all these years?
1. These strict engine quotas were first introduced in the middle of the 2009 season in order to reduce costs after the global economic crisis.
2. Since then only four drivers have had to leave the pit lane because they could not get through the season with the permitted engine allocation.
3. Loris Capirossi (Suzuki) was the first driver to face the “engine penalty”. Because in the second half of the 2009 season, due to the economic crisis, the “engine limit” was introduced on a trial basis to reduce costs. Back then, the drivers had to fight their way through the last seven Grand Prix with five engines each. The punishment was also different: points were deducted from Suzuki in the brand world championship, and Loris had to march on the last place on the grid, not from the pit lane.
4. Valentino Rossi was the second MotoGP rider who couldn’t get through with his engine continent. He drove his Ducati out of the pit lane in Aragón in 2011.
2016: More engines because of a standard ECU
In 2020, seven engines should actually be allowed for the winning teams Honda, Yamaha, Ducati and Suzuki and nine for the “concession teams”, which were Aprilia and KTM before the season, for the originally 20 races. However, KTM has lost its newcomer status due to the two victories in Brno and Spielberg for 2021.
But because the 2020 season was first cut to 13 Grand Prix due to the pandemic, the plants agreed on five and seven engines. Portimão was then added as the 14th MotoGP event.
Aprilia has been able to avoid an engine penalty every year. But in 2017 Aleix Espargaró was already very worried at the Catalunya GP in June, because four engines flew in his ears within three Grand Prix. Back then, he was expecting the race to start from the pit lane soon. Espargaró feared in 2017 that with so much massive engine damage, his contingent could be used up at half-time in the World Cup.
Incidentally, even top teams such as Honda and Yamaha only allowed five engines for a while. It wasn’t until 2016 that the number was increased to seven again, because some manufacturers such as Suzuki and Ducati feared that the new standard electronics from Magneti-Marelli, which were introduced at the time, could affect the running time.
In fact, only two Yamaha engines died because of this ECU – in the warm-up of Mugello 2016 with Jorge Lorenzo, in the race of Mugello 2016 with Valentino Rossi.
2017: “Engine penalty” at KTM
The Red Bull KTM team with Bradley Smith and Pol Espargaró already suspected in May 2017 after the Jerez GP that the new engines could be scarce. Because the two KTM riders switched from Screamers to Big Bang engines at an early stage at the Jerez GP – and the Factory Team therefore had to shut down a few Screamer versions early despite the low number of kilometers. Because the Big Bang versions allowed better lap times and less tire wear.
In fact, Pol Espargaró had to accept an engine penalty at the 2017 finale in Valencia and start out of the pit lane.
Rossi & Ducati 2011: season written off
That leads us to the question, why did Rossi in the Ducati factory team run out of engines at the fourth last Grand Prix in Aragón in 2011?
Ing.Filippo Prezioso initially insisted in 2011 as Technical Director at Ducati on the unsuccessful experiment with the carbon monocoque chassis. In this concept, the 800 cc V4 engine acted as a supporting part. The swingarm and fork were literally bolted to the engine. So the points for the engine mounts formed important cornerstones for the handling of the racing motorcycle.
However, the Ducati GP11 experienced a number of modifications in the course of 2011. These culminated in a compromise solution at the Aragón GP, which initiated the switch from carbon monocoque to an aluminum chassis, as used at the time by Yamaha, Honda and Suzuki. Rossi said at the time that this new concept still followed the Ducati philosophy because the swing arm was directly against the engine housing.
We remember: Rossi had tried a 2012 prototype with the 1000 cc engine and the much more voluminous airbox during private tests in Mugello and found it very popular. It gave him a better feel for the front tire. That’s why he didn’t touch the bike with the carbon monocoque at the Aragón GP and preferred to have a second aluminum version finished. This model was called “GP12.minus-one” because it represented a hybrid between 2011 and 2012.
These non-stop adaptations were not compatible with the motors originally used. For this reason, new engines always had to be resealed with the appropriate engine mountings, even though the used Desmosedici engines were still a long way from reaching the end of their service life.
Rossi’s crew chiefs Jeremy Burgess carelessly took note of the engine penalty. “We said goodbye to the 2011 season long ago. We now regard the GP training sessions on Friday and Saturday as test drives and the races on Sunday as a long run, ”he said.
After starting position 13 in Aragón, Rossi and Ducati decided in Aragón to bring a seventh engine into the allocation and have it sealed. This engine was installed on the replacement Ducati. So there was a fresh engine for the upcoming races, and with 13th on the grid starting from the pit lane was not a major disadvantage.
Back then, Valentino was only allowed to drive 10 seconds after the green light, today a waiting time of 5 seconds is enough. “The new front of the chassis only worked with the engine we used in Misano,” Rossi explained at the time. Unfortunately, due to the chassis conversion, he was no longer able to use two almost new motors because they did not have a different motor mount and did not fit into the new chassis of the “GP12.minus-one” model.