What MotoGP’s 2027 rules overhaul could mean for the series

By the time the 2027 MotoGP season rolls around, 10 years will have passed since the series’ last major regulations shake-up was introduced in 2016. That year saw the culmination of Dorna Sports’ masterplan to boost grid numbers and the competitive health of a championship battered by the fallout of the 2008 economic crisis.

What started with the radical introduction of a production-based set of rules with the CRT (Claiming Rules Team) class in 2012 to run alongside the current prototypes, ended with the finalising of MotoGP’s spec-electronics regulations.

FULL DETAILS: MotoGP’s 2027 technical regulation changes

Proving to the dominant Japanese manufacturers that there was more value in a championship that was fine with shedding its ‘true prototypes’ ethos to boost the on-track spectacle remains arguably Dorna CEO Carmelo Ezpeleta’s greatest achievement.

In anticipation of those rules, Suzuki and Aprilia rejoined the series in 2015. In 2016, Suzuki was a grand prix winner again. Ducati ended a barren run that year also, winning for the first time since 2010. In 2017, KTM joined the fray. By round three of the 2022 campaign, all six present manufacturers could count themselves as grand prix winners.

To boot, financial help for satellite teams coupled with the greater choice in machine strength meant non-factory outfits started becoming legitimate threats. Since 2020, a satellite rider has finished inside the top three in the standings three out of the last four years (Franco Morbidelli in 2020, Enea Bastianini in 2022, Jorge Martin in 2023). Satellite teams are such a good option now that Marc Marquez felt a year-old Ducati with Gresini Racing was a better bet than a factory Honda for 2024.

What started in 2016 has now seen the European manufacturers rule the roost, while Honda and Yamaha struggled to get back on terms and Suzuki left the series at the end of 2022. Concession regulations have been brought back to help them, but 2027’s rules reset – headlined by the switch to 850cc engines down from 1000cc – will be seen as the biggest opportunity for them.

If that’s the gameplan for Honda and Yamaha management, however, it may be folly.

Honda nailed it with the 2002 regulation changes

Honda nailed it with the 2002 regulation changes

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Honda nailed the first big change of the MotoGP era in 2002, when the series ditched two-stroke 500cc rules for four-stroke 990cc bikes, with its RC211V. A contender for the greatest racing motorcycle ever, Honda dominated 2002 and 2003, while a third and final title for the bike came in 2006.

The switch to 800cc engines in 2007, however, caught Honda out in a big way. Its engine wasn’t powerful enough, while its riders struggled with the front end of the machine. It took until July of that year for the marque to win a race. Yamaha faired a little better, but was no match for the Casey Stoner/Ducati juggernaut. Things improved slightly for Honda in 2008 and 2009, but not enough, while injury for main star Dani Pedrosa curtailed his 2010 title hopes. Honda won the title in 2011, but Stoner made the biggest difference.

When MotoGP shifted to 1000cc bikes in 2012, Honda struggled hugely with changes to the weight rules and Bridgestone’s front tyre which led to chatter problems. Stoner and Pedrosa were strong on the bike still, but not match for Yamaha’s consistency with Jorge Lorenzo.

History has already proved Honda has struggled during major rule changes

Honda then welcomed Marquez to its fold for 2013 and he, like Stoner, was able to surmount a lot of the RC213V’s issues, with the bike increasingly becoming more challenging beyond 2016’s regulation changes. As of 2024, Honda is at rock bottom.

Culture changes at Yamaha are likely to see it benefit more from the 2027 regulation change, though it will have to do a lot of groundwork leading up to that to convince Fabio Quartararo to commit more of his career to the project. Honda, so far in 2024, isn’t going anywhere and nothing behind the scenes suggests it is shedding the Japanese mentality that ultimately put it in this mess in the first place.

History has already proved Honda has struggled during major rule changes. And given how different the competitive landscape is now, a sudden shake-up is unlikely. Even 2016’s playfield levelling was a gradual process for the likes of Ducati to become championship contenders.

And that leads to the second big question 2027 poses: is Ducati’s dominance under threat?

Could Ducati be dethroned from the top of the MotoGP table?

Could Ducati be dethroned from the top of the MotoGP table?

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

Enjoying a record year of wins and podiums for the Italian marque in 2023, it’s business as usual so far in 2024. Ducati riders have won three of the first four grands prix. Aprilia and KTM are strong but inconsistent, while Yamaha and Honda are in their own private battle to not be last on the grid.

Efforts have been made to peg back Ducati through the concession system this year, but so far they’ve had little effect. The 2027 rules banning ride height devices and restricting aerodynamic development will no doubt rankle Ducati, even if it has helped shape the new regulations alongside the other manufacturers. But Ducati has proven smarter than the rest in the aero department that it’s hard to imagine it losing its edge here.

The change to 850cc engines should in theory make them more road relevant, which will be something the European manufacturers in particular will be happy with.

With MotoGP down to five OEMs after Suzuki bailed, grid slots have been reserved for a sixth marque to join the field.

Unquestionably, all eyes are on BMW to fill this hole. The German manufacturer enjoys a lot of marketing through its partnership with MotoGP to provide event cars and such, so to actually spend the money on a factory grand prix effort is a big leap.

BMW in recent months hasn’t ruled out the idea of coming to MotoGP, though has had no influence in the drawing up of the regulations. The banning of ride height devices and restrictions on aero do kill an area of development BMW – and indeed any prospective manufacturer – would be well behind the curve on relative to MotoGP’s existing brands.

But it is also now enjoying success in World Superbikes with Toprak Razgatlioglu, spending much less on that project to do so. Thus, 2027’s ruleset won’t simply be enough – even with the added road relevance they bring — for BMW to punch its ticket into the premier class.

The announced changes will not be enough to tempt BMW into MotoGP

The announced changes will not be enough to tempt BMW into MotoGP

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

While MotoGP gaining a new manufacturer would be a boost to the profile of the championship, the key element of the 2027 regulations is that the already excellent racing remains intact.

The move to ban ride height devices and limit aerodynamic development has been pencilled into the rulebook to do just this. In recent years, a number of riders have spoken about how they make less of a difference on a modern bike than they used to.

This, coupled with the fact excessive aerodynamics leads to overtaking being made harder, has somewhat held back the show. While the racing is still good, at times it can be much better.

So, stripping back aero and banning ride height devices will definitely help in this regard, not to mention the fact that it will make MotoGP a bit safer. This is a key factor in the shift to the 850cc engine formula too.

The concern with the 850cc formula is that it could see a return of the one-line riding that poisoned MotoGP in the 800cc era

Now easily exceeding speeds of 220mph, MotoGP has quickly outgrown a lot of the venues it races on. Last year, for various reasons, not a single race was started by the entire full-time 2023 grid. Knocking some speed off bikes won’t have any noticeable impact on the visceral nature of MotoGP, much less so than classic tracks having to be butchered in order to accommodate those bikes would.

Last weekend’s incredible Spanish GP at Jerez is proof that venues like that must remain a part of the calendar and unblemished purely for the sake of a bigger engine capacity.

OPINION: Why it’s time to embrace Jerez as MotoGP’s Monaco

The concern with the 850cc formula is that it could see a return of the one-line riding that poisoned MotoGP in the 800cc era. Those 800cc engines had less torque than the 990s and revved much higher, so setting up corner-exit had to be done by carrying lots of mid-corner speed. This made overtaking much harder, while the 800s led to some vicious highside crashes. Ideally, some of the other tweaks to the engines and gearbox regulations will avoid this.

While some will undoubtedly deride the fact MotoGP is placing further restrictions on its machines, it’s clear that – while the racing is still good – the current bikes needed an overhaul for the sake of the championship.

Change is coming and, hopefully, for the better

Change is coming and, hopefully, for the better

Photo by: Gold and Goose / Motorsport Images

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