(Updated for the 2020 season on 11th February 2020 regarding the new slick tyre)
You’ve decided MotoGP is the sport for you. You’ve watched a few races, you’ve picked a rider or two you like but now it’s time to take it to the next level and increase your knowledge.
So where to start? Qualifying, the points system or electronics? All good but you will come to see that, above all, a lot of time is spent on tyre choice.
It will be mentioned by the commentators on just about every issue. It can literally be a deal breaker.
For the most part, it seems a complicated thing to follow and the rules have changed a great deal in the last few years since Michelin took over supply at the end of 2015 and have the contract until 2023.
This extension for Michelin to be the provider for Motogp tyres was announced at the 2018 Michelin Australian Grand Prix on Phillip Island.
In a statement by Carmelo Ezpeleta, CEO of Dorna Sports, he expressed his satisfaction with Michelin’s tyre provisions since their return in 2016:
“I am delighted that MotoGP and Michelin will continue their collaboration for a further five years. MotoGP has only continued to grow, excite and thrill fans since Michelin came on board as sole tyre supplier in 2016, and we are proud that our partnership will once again form the foundations of a further five years of stunning racing. This is fantastic news for the Championship, teams and riders as we look to the future.”
Now I understand for a new fan, the discussion of tyre choices can seem like a foreign language. But it is actually quite simple if you know just a few key things.
So where to start? Let’s begin with the overall tyre itself in MotoGP.
Every rider is provided with harder tyres and softer tyres as well as tyres suitable for the wet and dry. The dry condition tyres are referred to as slicks.
What does that mean? Harder tyres are those that take longer to wear out but longer to warm up so better for longevity but won’t get you to the front in the first lap generally.
Softer tyres will get you to the front of the pack quicker but will run the risk of falling apart by the end of the race. If you are unskilled at finding this balance it can be the end of your chances for a podium that day.
Within these hard and soft options it is broken down again into symmetrical and asymmetrical or in some parts ‘Dual Compound’.
Symmetrical are the same ‘compound’ (remember this word for later) across the whole tyre. Asymmetrical (or dual compound) are a combination joined together in order to accommodate tracks with more left or right turns for example. This allows more wear on one side, the harder side.
Compounds are hard, medium or soft – for interest’s sake should you be close enough to see the tyres they do have a colour code:
- Black or no marking is the medium,
- yellow is the harder option
- and white is soft.
What about in the wet though?
It works basically the same.
A selection of tyre compounds are developed to suit wet conditions, usually in a soft and medium option for the grip required in wet conditions.
Depending on the track in question they will be offered in both symmetrical and asymmetrical just the same as dry weather tyres.
Michelin did attempt to resolve the issue by developing an intermediate tyre for drying out or damp conditions which sounds great but for several reasons they have been scrapped as unnecessary.
Instead, the tyre allowance has been increased and 3 tyre compounds or spec choices are offered to counteract this issue.
What’s the compound?
The compound is the make-up of soft, medium and hard – but for fun it is worded like this for example:
- slicks 10 for front and 12 for rear
- each with a choice of spec A, B or C which are the hard, medium and soft ‘compounds’
- Since 3 are offered they have no need for the intermediate.
Easy right? Yes it would be if that was the end of it. But this is a championship and it would be no fun without some rules.
In 2018 Michelin decided to take things to whole new height and gave teams the tyres available for every track for the entire season when they announced tyres for Qatar.
This added a never before seen ability for teams to really plan in advance with minor adjustments made on race weekend to accommodate weather or track conditions where there was a need.
At each event riders are allocated a certain number of each tyre made up of a certain combination of ‘compounds’ or specifications provided by the manufacturer for each race weekend.
When they talk tyre allocation keep in mind it must see them through practice, qualifying and race day.
So allocation is as follows:
- 22 slicks (remember that’s dry); 10 front and 12 rear
- 11 wet; 5 front and 6 rear options.
There are 3 different types of front ‘compounds’ plus as options and the same for each rear tyre that can be chosen from.
Within the 22 slicks and 11 wets, they must make a certain amount of selections between compounds for both front and rear – I know it seems like it is becoming more complicated but we are almost done!
Once a tyre selection is made it must be lodged with race direction.
New for 2020
For the upcoming season Michelin have developed a new construction rear power slick tyre set to debut at the season opener in Qatar on the 8th of March 2020. This is the first major change in two years by the MotoGP tyre provider Michelin, who anticipate the new compound and construction will bring faster lap times, performance and stability especially on tracks known for being difficult on tyres.
In 2019 Michelin tested the new tyre extensively including a special session during the 2019 Australian MotoGP at Phillip island in which an extra 20-minute session was completed by riders. This allowed riders to test compounds suitable to the track with the new construction. Testing was also completed at Brno, Misano and Barcelona.
So how do the teams go about making tyre selections?
- Weather conditions both apparent and forecast – which if you have ever been to Phillip Island you will know these are not often one and the same (join the club re the UK! – Ed)
- Track conditions either incidental to the day or common to the track. For example, does the track have a predominate direction requiring the asymmetrical tyre? Is it a track that is known for destroying tyres (yep Phillip Island again)?
- Having issues with the bike such as electronics; creating performance issues that affect tyre wear
- Being one of the 2 riders going from Q2 to Q1 – they now have the option of swapping one of their tyres not yet used for a softer option for the extra qualifying they will be doing. Remember this is not an extra tyre they must SWAP. Sometimes this is not the best option.
- And last crashing etc.
All of these factors play a part in making the final tyre choice for race day. If a wrong choice is made or the tyres supplied do not withstand the conditions then a rider may eat through many more tyres trying to get it ‘right’ leaving a shortage of options if you like.
For 2018, Andrea Dovizioso at the Austrian GP and Marc Marquez at Valencia immediately come to mind.
Already one could feel a little stressed right!
Now to make you feel better…minus the extra rules for events like storms that require a special decision from race direction, that’s pretty much it. That’s tyre allocation and selection under the new rules.
To make you feel even better – we now only have one class in MotoGP. Prior to 2016 there was the open class –that’s been done away with so now there is only one set of rules to learn and they don’t impact tyres outside of testing anymore,
This does not mean everyone is just lumped together regardless of financial position of the factory. There is simply a less complicated way of dealing with the concessions made. But we won’t go into this here.
The only other issue is how does one tell what tyres a rider is using without a commentator to tell you?
Not to worry FIM have got that sorted. Fans now have the benefit of electronic documenting of tyre selection – the information will be displayed on screen for viewers.
Give it a go next time you are watching a race to follow along with the discussions on tyre selection and its effect on the outcome.
Understanding this element of MotoGP adds an extra level to watching the race. Not to mention you’ll be able to impress your MotoGP loving friends with your new knowledge on tyre selection!