Can an added 30bhp, or 200cc of displacement, rejuvenate MotoGP? And does the Claiming Rule Team concept represent the true future of motorcycling's top class, or will it prove an uncomfortable fit with the factory and satellite prototypes?
The series is about to find out as the opening round of 2012 approaches.
One thing not in doubt is that MotoGP is heading for seismic change, both this year and beyond. It was with general acclaim that the curtain fell on the 800cc era and the new 1000s arrived, fiercer beasts that should lead to a wider variety of lines and technique, and by extension, better racing.
The CRT concept has remained altogether more divisive but it's hard to argue with the underlying logic, particularly when faced with prohibitive, almost disastrously, high costs.
For evidence that the current regulations needed shaking up, one need only rewind as far as Australia last year when Casey Stoner capped a memorable 26th birthday by clinching his second world title on home soil. He was only the fifth man to win world titles with two or more manufacturers, and the headlines came easily.
The race itself, though? Stoner cruised it, aided in no small part by Jorge Lorenzo's absence - the Yamaha man ruled out of the race following his crash in the warm up. Marco Simoncelli and Andrea Dovizioso provided entertainment via their battle for second, but they were the only riders to get within 13s of Stoner. Nicky Hayden in seventh finished more than one minute down; Toni Elias in eighth more than a lap. Karel Abraham was the last to finish in 10th.
As a spectacle, the race was therefore distinctly wanting. And that was precisely the problem: not enough bikes, not enough decent racing. For all his panache, Stoner's victory could not mask the wider issues.
Arguably, MotoGP has struggled to match the glorious exhibition of earlier years ever since it moved into the 800cc era in 2007. The politics of such a move aside, the problem was that the engines - assisted by vast and extremely expensive electronics - knew just one way round a corner. A lack of torque meant maintaining high corner speed was key, and that meant trying to make each corner a long sweeping arc. It was a diktat every rider was forced to follow, and the racing risked becoming homogenised, even dreary.
Fast forward to Qatar, and the hope is that the new 1000s will mean there is suddenly more than one way to take a corner. The old-school method of braking late, flicking the bike and then powering out - a classic V rather than U shape - should be the dividend of all that extra horsepower and torque.
It follows that with more options there should be more action, more chances to overtake and in doing so a return to the more halcyon days of the 990s.
The prospect should also be aided by Bridgestone's new 2012 compounds. Early crashes were all too common on the old casings, as riders struggled to generate warmth in the opening laps. This year's versions should be easier to switch on, but by logical extension should also go off sooner. That pay off not only suits the riders, but makes a virtue of the swashbuckling style of using a degrading rear to get the bike turned through each corner.
On the racing front there are therefore reasons to be optimistic. But what of the wider picture and the need to have more bikes and more riders; the need to safeguard the series' future?
Colin Edwards's 'production' BMW-powered Suter © XPB
The most seismic change for 2012 is the arrival of Claiming Rule Team machines. The lower-cost concept is responsible for eight of the riders on this year's grid, and has been widely, and vociferously, touted by Dorna as the future of the series. Whether Dorna top man Carmelo Ezpeleta's carefully judged slip that he wants all bikes to be CRT within a few years becomes a reality is debatable, but the more immediate goal is to replace the existing satellite-team structure.
To start, we have to get down to the detail.
Even if the product itself remains strong, the bad news for MotoGP is the incessant beat of that tired old drum: finance. Simply put, the cost of running a satellite operation is not just inhibitive, it's disastrously high. Pramac and Suzuki both dropped down to one rider for 2011, while Interwetten Honda dropped out altogether. This season, Suzuki has followed suit.
The easiest way to lower costs is to go down the production-bike route, but that avenue is exclusively - and this is a contractual stipulation - the domain of World Superbikes. A production Honda would not be allowed to race in MotoGP as WSBK has a legal monopoly on the straight-off-the-shelf stuff.
CRT is an elegant solution to the fix MotoGP finds itself in - although it's also potentially far more than a simple fix.
While production bikes are not permitted in MotoGP, if someone were to take a production engine and fit it into a prototype frame, the bike becomes eligible to compete. Of course production engines lack the extreme and complex electronics that help make the modern-era bikes so fast, and modifications are allowed.
By added means of compensation, CRT teams also get an extra three litres of fuel per race and six extra engines over the course of the year.
The politics of CRT are sensitive, not just with World Superbikes but also the current factory teams, whose budgets run into the tens of millions and who, understandably, do not want to be beaten by teams spending a fraction of that. To that extent, it's worth pointing out that CRT bikes will never bridge the gap to the factory bikes; they will never be as fast.
In fact, the fear when they first ran was that they could be dangerously slow, liable to be lapped multiple times each race. Such fears have been assuaged however, and while the slowest CRT bike was almost four seconds off the ultimate pace in pre-season, the fastest was around 1.8s shy - putting it on the fringes of the satellite teams, the precise aim of the CRT concept.
The bike belonged to Randy de Puniet, and his Aspar team is perhaps the perfect case in point. One of the most influential non-factory men in the paddock, Jorge 'Aspar' Martinez runs teams in all three classes, and in the past two seasons ran Hector Barbera on a satellite Ducati. Unable to lease a bike from the Italian factory for 2012, Aspar opted to lease the RSV4 from Aprilia and run as a CRT entry.
Randy de Puniet was relatively fast on the Aspar CRT in testing © XPB
That was permitted because Aspar will be managing the bikes independently, only returning engines to Aprilia when it is time for repairs. Satellite squads, by way of comparison, simply prepare their bikes at each race. Each bike comes with two factory engineers who run the engines and electronics - and are the only people allowed to do so.
Aspar's early pace is perhaps the best vindication of the CRT concept, particularly as the bikes and teams can be expected to improve as the season progresses. There is also the fact that, after years of shrinking grids, 21 riders will line up at Qatar. Without CRT, that number could have been far lower.
In both CRT and the 1000cc machines, MotoGP therefore has the ingredients for a far healthier future. Only time will tell just how effective the changes are, but in these radical rethinks the series has given itself a blueprint to return to the days when grids were bustling and riders had to wrestle with their own machines even as they diced it out with those around them. Let's hope it proves as glorious as it sounds.
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