MotoGP technique: The haemorrhage at Ducati in Qatar has an explanation

What actually happened to Ducati in Qatar seemed at first to be a mystery, with much speculation swirling around that the GP22 was clearly not up to the expectations of engineers at Borgo Panigale. But the situation is far from this hasty conclusion and in fact, it may even be the opposite.

This season Ducati has engine problems, not power but choice: true to their reputation, the Bologna technical teams have found even more power for the 2022 engine, but managing that power and being able to use it in a race lasting 40 minutes is something easier said than done.

For 2022, the teams of the Italian wizard, Luigi Dall’Igna, have further worked on the 4-cylinder to improve its performance. The result was achieved, even if the power delivery became a little more difficult to manage. Indeed, the excess power and torque complicated the feeling on the bike.

This led to a situation where Ducati, which in recent years has been the benchmark to beat in terms of acceleration out of corners and top speed, was struggling to manage this power and was forced to reduce it.

The feeling with the accelerator was less natural than before: when opening the throttle, the engine response was aggressive and the excess power made the rear wheel slip. A problem reported by the pilots from the first tests in Malaysia and which the team tried to solve by working on the electronics. Especially on the first gasp, the V4 has a somewhat brutal nature, a feature that doesn’t satisfy everyone.

In particular Pecco Bagnaia, who prefer a smoother power delivery, and during testing at Mandalika had reverted to 2021 exhausts, which was no wonder at the time and presumably meant he was doing comparative testing .

But after these tests, he made a decision: to have a “hybrid” version of the engine homologated for the season. This means that it uses the 2022 engine but with some internal parts from the 2021 version, and in particular those famous exhausts.

He can therefore count on a less aggressive engine response that is more suited to his riding style. Since two different versions of the engine cannot be homologated in the same team, Jack Miller has the same hardware.

Interestingly, the Pramac Racing team decided to stick with the 2022 engine, but they have different exhaust configurations. During the winter tests, Ducati reused this long exhaust – nicknamed Didjeridoo by Jack Miller – which did not go unnoticed during the Jerez tests, and which reminds us of the one Yamaha tested in 2020 at Misano. Honda had also tested this solution in 2017. This does not seem to bring the expected improvements for the moment.

But the upper 2022 exhaust, visible in the photo above, is present on the machines of Johann Zarco and Luca Marini, while Jorge Martin has chosen to opt for the 2021 version exhaust, like the pilots of ‘plant.

Ducati uses the upper exhaust, which vents gases from the rear cylinders, to help improve braking performance by opening and closing the valve which can also be seen here, operated by this black box above the upper exhaust. With more back pressure, engine braking is increased. This upper exhaust has also changed, it is slightly shorted and has a larger diameter tip than the one fitted to the GP21.

The Pramac Racing team’s choice to continue with the 2022 engine is intriguing as it means they still believe the potential for it is greater than the 2021 engine, but as with everything in MotoGP, the riders and their must quickly understand how to extract this potential. Losing too many points at the start of the season as they try to tame the 2022 engine could see them lose valuable Championship points!

We know that riders with the 2022 engine have considered major electronics revisions to try to smooth out the engine feel when opening the throttle, and to use the traction control in other ways so they can regain their acceleration and feel. top speed. But they also looked at other settings, with riders putting more weight on the rear tire to give the bike more grip.

But changing the bike’s balance changes one of the GP21’s greatest strengths: its front end.

As part of the Gresini Racing team, Enea Bastianini is given a GP21 for the 2022 season. And while many wondered why he wasn’t getting a GP22, perhaps that’s a blessing in disguise.

Indeed, the winner of the Qatar Grand Prix is ​​one of the few riders on the grid to inherit a proven bike that has already won many times in the race. Also, the technical teams have the data from last year in order to anticipate how it will behave and they know the settings necessary to perform this season. Let’s not forget that even if it is a GP21, technically the evolutions are not necessarily a year old, Ducati has made updates throughout the last year and therefore in reality it is a prototype that is only half a development season behind the rest on the grid.

Knowing that the technical specifications of his machine will not change for the 2022 season, the test work was simple for Enea Bastianini: chain the laps until he felt comfortable with a winning machine. Meanwhile, riders equipped with a GP22 have been tasked with a very different job: testing different parts and assessing whether or not they work before riding what they hope will be the final technical definition and familiarizing themselves with. With these unknowns, they had to run an ever-changing prototype during pre-season testing and it’s hard to get good lap times when so many settings are constantly changing.

One of the strengths of the GP21 was its consistency and the feeling that the front end brought to the driver. In the second half of the 2021 season, Pecco Bagnaia was adamant: he had an extraordinary feeling with the front. During the Qatar Grand Prix weekend, the Italian rider mentioned that he had not used the same technical specification on his Ducati in two consecutive sessions until FP3 and FP4. In other words, it was still in the testing phase and not in race mode on the Friday of the first Grand Prix of the season. From FP4 he admitted he finally got that feeling he had last year, but with so many different variants tested over the weekend he added that it would take him some time to get used to his machine again. This is the real reason why Pecco Bagnaia and Ducati were off the mark for most of the weekend.

After an average start, Pecco Bagnaia was 16th on the first lap, then moved up to 9th place before crashing and taking Jorge Martin with him. In those first 11 laps, he recorded lap times between 1’54.6 and up to 1’55.3, despite the traffic. Comparing that to race leader Pol Espargaro, who was unhindered by traffic, the Spaniard posted lap times ranging from 1’54.5 to 1’54.9.

Pol Espargaro’s laps on the first 11 laps of the race are considerably faster, but Pecco Bagnia passed 7 drivers during this period, and on these laps without having to pass a driver slower than him, he rode in similar lap times to the leader. Pecco Bagnaia’s pace was therefore not far from the leading riders, but his race was hampered by poor qualifying and a poor start.

Interestingly, during the post-race debriefing, Pecco Bagnaia also gave his verdict on his Ducati’s hybrid engine, saying he thinks it’s better than the GP21’s. This means that the rider and his technical team transform their philosophy into race mode and start working on a single technical specification rather than constantly evolving it. It will have taken them some time to find a good base for tuning, but it looks like the Red Missiles could be back at the outposts sooner than expected.

Photos: Dorna Sports

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