Most of the MotoGP paddock may have run tire pressures under the sport’s legal minimum during at least one race this season, according to journalist Mat Oxley by way of Motorsport Magazine. What’s weirder, Michelin, the teams’ association, and MotoGP’s commercial rights holder Dorna, don’t seem to care. In fact, they seem all too happy to leave things as they are.
Here’s the issue: riders can gain a competitive advantage if they run slightly lower pressures, in the interest of maximizing front grip. Of course there are dangers of going too low — namely blowouts — which is why there are rules forbidding pressures below a certain point. In MotoGP, that’s 27.6 psi for the front, and 24.6 for the rear. Other racing categories across two and four wheels have similar rules in place, although the consequences are obviously far more catastrophic on a motorcycle than in a car.
Teams are reportedly breaching those regulations and getting away with less than a slap on the wrist. Courtesy Motorsport Magazine:
Which begs the question: why weren’t Ducati and Pecco Bagnaia sanctioned for running an illegally low front-slick pressure during their ride to Spanish Grand Prix victory on May 1?
Because there is a so-called gentlemen’s agreement between the MSMA (the manufacturers association) and Michelin to not disclose any breach of this regulation or sanction any breaches.
This agreement has been in effect pretty much since Michelin became MotoGP’s spec tyre supplier in 2016, but at least two manufacturers have now had enough, claiming that they keep their tyres within the rules, while some rivals regularly send their riders out with illegally low tyre pressures, to gain better race-long performance, and suffer no punishment.
Even worse, it’s not just that factory Ducati of Francesco Bagnaia — “the majority of riders” have done the same over the course of this 2022 campaign that we’re just six races into, Oxley later added on Twitter.
The official post-race tire pressure sheet — which a senior engineer reportedly provided to Oxley and is included in his article — makes it clear which bikes are operating within the rules and which aren’t. Bagnaia, Pramac Ducati’s Jorge Martín, Suzuki’s Alex Rins and WithU Yamaha’s Andrea Dovizioso were all shown on this sheet to have run unauthorized pressures during at least part of the Spanish Grand Prix, with Bagnaia’s readings illegal for the entire 25 laps. It’s also important to note, as Oxley does, that this is likely all happening unbeknownst to the riders themselves.
Yet there have been no punishments due to the presence of a supposed “gentleman’s agreement” between Michelin and the MotoGP manufacturers’ association that forbids either party from disclosing “any breach of this regulation or sanction any breaches.”
If official documents show bikes cheating and nothing’s done about it, you could reasonably assume MotoGP is looking the other way, too. You’d think Michelin would never willingly agree to such an arrangement — if a tire fails and the results are dire, it’d likely be the first thrown under the bus by fans and the media, who wouldn’t have known any better. Shades of Pirelli’s tire failures at the 2020 Formula 1 British Grand Prix and the 2005 United States Grand Prix debacle come to mind.
The fix would seem to be pretty obvious: enforce the rules, ideally with random pre-session pressure checks. It shouldn’t even be that huge a deal given the prevalence of the cheating; if everyone’s doing it then nobody’s really getting an advantage, so the running order shouldn’t change much if they all choose to follow the rules. MotoGP’s next stop is Le Mans for the French Grand Prix this weekend — it’ll be interesting to see if officials take any action. Furthermore, we’ve reached out to Dorna for comment on this story, and will update this piece should we learn anything.