There have only been two races with last-lap overtakes for MotoGP victory this season, when Enea Bastianini overtook Francesco Bagnaia on the final lap of MotorLand Aragon and when Alex Rins snatched the advantage from Bagnaia at Philip Island.
While four drivers remained in contention for the mathematical title until the penultimate round, the quality of the races was sometimes questioned by fans, the media and the drivers themselves.
Marc Marquez was particularly outspoken, with the eight-time world champion pointing out that the latest technology in the sport is taking control away from riders, meaning it’s harder to tell the difference.
These include aerodynamics, which create a kind of ‘dirty air’ situation more often associated with Formula 1, and ‘ride height devices’, which reduce the extent to which the bike ‘wants’ » coast out of corners, and also provide some braking advantage, allowing riders to brake harder at the start.
« If you’re not a fan [of Formula 1] then you can’t be a MotoGP fan either, » said 13-time Grand Prix winner Randy Mamola, « because what we were hearing from Formula 1 three, four or five years ago was ‘I can’t keep up with the car in front of me, and we have what we call ‘Formula 1’. [problem of riders struggling to follow] in bike racing? »
The solution, however, is less simple. Formula 1 reached the point of huge wings and significant turbulence decades ago. Reducing their effect has been part of F1’s ambitions for at least the last 10 or 12 years.
As in F1, aerodynamics in MotoGP opened up a new, untapped performance avenue, where greater gains were possible over more familiar areas like suspension geometry, chassis flex or engine character.
« It’s a question of the times, » says Mamola, « it’s a question of regulation and position. »
While it should come as no surprise that MotoGP followed the same path as F1, the identity of the first manufacturer to actually exploit aerodynamics – along with other non-traditional technologies – should come as no surprise. .
« I believe one manufacturer has a pretty big grip on this right now, more than one rider can win on the bike, that’s Ducati, » Mamola said.
Ducati has appointed Gigi Dall’Igna as head of its Desmosedici project. Mamola describes Dall’Igna as the Adrian Newey ‘for two wheels’, with Newey being the lead designer on a number of successful F1 cars, most recently with Red Bull, who won all of their world titles with machines designed by Newey.
More than that, when Dall’Igna arrived at Ducati in 2014, they were in the middle of their nadir in MotoGP. After losing Casey Stoner and failing Valentino Rossi, Ducati bet on Dall’Igna to get them back to the top of motorcycle racing, which they finally achieved this year.
Dall’Igna was the first to make the most of aerodynamics, with fenders appearing on the Desmosedici GP15, Ducati’s first MotoGP motorcycle to truly feel the influence of Dall’Igna. Then it brought ‘holeshot devices’ in 2019, and by the end of the year the ‘holeshot device’ had become the ‘ride height device’.
Ducati was also one of the first factories to use software to help predict, before the start of the race weekend, which tire would be optimal for racing. All this while maintaining the Desmosedici as the fastest bike in MotoGP.
« So, for me, putting on a gel, » Mamola said. » You are [frozen] to do those specific things so other manufacturers can catch up, so Ducati can’t level up, or anybody else.
« How they do that, I don’t know, I’m not a regulations or rules guy or anything, but I think something has to happen – concessions for other manufacturers. »
While one solution might be to remove this technology and bring MotoGP back to the state it was in, say, 2014, although with unified electronics, MotoGP is also meant to be a prototype class where innovation in technology engineering is theoretically encouraged.
However, the unified electronics of 2016 mentioned above, the single tire manufacturer introduced in 2009, the limits of engine capacity, all of which diminish the extent to which MotoGP bikes are true prototypes.
More pictures in BSB and WorldSBK
« Some of the best racing I’ve seen [were] with World Superbike and BSB,” said Mamola.
“One of the best was Thruxton BSB – I mean that’s probably the highlight, those three races.
« I watched all three, then I linked it and sent it to people saying ‘this is racing.’
« So Thruxton, it’s great for the visual aspect, which is you see that action and they really control the bike and make it drift and so on.
“But if you really want to set a time, you have to straighten it out and be perfect. You have to brake hard, but not too much, because it goes to the side. »
« BSB and WorldSBK, » says Mamola, « is just a different style of racing, it’s just a different platform that it’s on, and we need to understand those platforms better. »
On the other hand, in MotoGP, « Unfortunately we don’t see what we would like to see aesthetically, » says Mamola.
He continues, “You try to get from A to B as fast as you can, the engineer types in the program, and that’s what you do.
“Before you were playing with the throttle, the thing would start to coast, even with a certain amount of electronics, but now you can get out and in second gear just… [open the throttle]and the wing will help drive it downhill.
“The bikes are incredibly fast when accelerating and stopping. »
“Now we have the same problems as Formula 1,” Mamola said, “so if you have a problem with Formula 1, you have a problem with…”. [MotoGP]. »
By Alex Whitworth