Numbers Don't Lie: 2017 vs 2018 MotoGP Tests Prove You're Better Off On A Ducati

Normally, when comparing times from a test, it makes the most sense to stick to a single year. But sometimes, there are good reasons to look back at past years, in search of a larger and more universal pattern. Comparing the best laps of riders who were in the championship last year and this year proves to be a highly instructive exercise.

Doing that, there is one thing that immediately leaps out at you. The two riders who improved the most between the two seasons are the two who switched between a Honda and a Ducati. Honda riders will freely tell you that the RC213V is very physical to ride, and the fate of rookies who have come into the championship on a Honda has not been great. Tito Rabat came to MotoGP as Moto2 champion, but struggled to make an impression on the Honda. On a Ducati, he finished the test ahead of factory riders Aleix Espargaro and Andrea Iannone, and just seven tenths behind Lorenzo on the Ducati.

Jack Miller's improvement is not quite as impressive as Rabat's but he too took over a second off his time from last year. The Pramac Ducati GP17 really suits him, which is reflected in his results. At Sepang in 2017, Miller finished seventeenth overall. This year, he left as fifth fastest.

The two KTMs are also among the most improved, but that is to be expected given that the RC16 was an entirely new project in 2017. More interesting is the fact that the most improved riders also include two men on a GP18. Jorge Lorenzo made huge steps forward, but that was to be expected, given the difficulty he had at first in adapting to the Ducati. But Danilo Petrucci also made a big step forward, going nearly eight tenths faster this year than he went last year.

Petrucci's 2018 time was set on a GP17, which is also a testament to his attitude this year. The Italian has lost a lot of weight - he told us 4kg, but other journalists say he told them as much as 8kg - but he has also been working on his riding style, to try to be smoother with the throttle and not slide the tires so much. That probably gained him a couple of tenths as well.

At the other end of the table, the names of Marc Marquez and Maverick Viñales are worth noting. Marquez never really went all out for a quick time this year, finishing seventh on all three days. But Viñales is in a more difficult place: the 2018 Yamaha is much better in terms of race pace, but neither Rossi nor Viñales managed to set a quick lap time on the final day, when most riders were chasing a fast lap.

Worthy of note are the contrasting fortunes of Alex Rins and Andrea Iannone. Rins improved his best time from last year by over seven tenths, while Iannone was over a tenth slower than last year. It is hard to draw conclusions about the Suzuki GSX-RR from those numbers: Rins was a rookie in 2017, and so should be expected to have made a big step forward. Iannone, on the other hand, was exceptionally quick in 2017, but failed to impress at the test this year.

This anomaly could also be explained by the fact that Suzuki focused on testing the engine in Sepang, rather than chasing a time. The Japanese factory learned their lessons last year, when their new riders chose an engine which turned out to be wrong for the bike, and hampered their campaign. Both Rins and Iannone are convinced that the 2018 bike is better, so we may have to wait until Qatar to find out the reality of the situation.

Alvaro Bautista lost the most time between the two tests, despite going from a bike that is supposed to be a clear improvement. One explanation for that could be due to his weight: Bautista is one of the lightest riders on the grid, and was complaining that he was struggling with rear grip on the Ducati GP17. If Bautista can't get heat into the rear tire in Sepang, it could be a difficult year, though the Spaniard was confident his team would solve the problem with setup. He will only really be able to tell how bad the problem is once the paddock arrives in Qatar. The next test is in Buriram in Thailand, where the tropical heat will warm the tires. In Qatar, a colder track awaits.

Best laps 2017 vs 2018:

    2017   2018    
No Rider Bike Time Bike Time Diff
53 Tito Rabat Honda RC213V 2:02.190 Ducati GP17 1:59.547 -2.643
43 Jack Miller Honda RC213V 2:00.439 Ducati GP17 1:59.346 -1.093
44 Pol Espargaro KTM RC16 2:01.338 KTM RC16 2:00.262 -1.076
99 Jorge Lorenzo Ducati GP17 1:59.766 Ducati GP18 1:58.830 -0.936
38 Bradley Smith KTM RC16 2:01.338 KTM RC16 2:00.520 -0.818
9 Danilo Petrucci Ducati GP17 2:00.310 Ducati GP18 1:59.528 -0.782
42 Alex Rins Suzuki GSX-RR 2:00.057 Suzuki GSX-RR 1:59.348 -0.709
35 Cal Crutchlow Honda RC213V 1:59.728 Honda RC213V 1:59.052 -0.676
26 Dani Pedrosa Honda RC213V 1:59.578 Honda RC213V 1:59.009 -0.569
4 Andrea Dovizioso Ducati GP17 1:59.553 Ducati GP18 1:59.169 -0.384
5 Johann Zarco Yamaha M1 1:59.772 Yamaha M1 1:59.511 -0.261
46 Valentino Rossi Yamaha M1 1:59.589 Yamaha M1 1:59.390 -0.199
41 Aleix Espargaro Aprilia RS-GP 2:00.108 Aprilia RS-GP 1:59.925 -0.183
93 Marc Marquez Honda RC213V 1:59.506 Honda RC213V 1:59.382 -0.124
25 Maverick Viñales Yamaha M1 1:59.368 Yamaha M1 1:59.355 -0.013
17 Karel Abraham Ducati GP15 2:00.445 Ducati GP16 2:00.574 +0.129
29 Andrea Iannone Suzuki GSX-RR 1:59.452 Suzuki GSX-RR 1:59.615 +0.163
45 Scott Redding Ducati GP16 2:00.645 Aprilia RS-GP 2:00.812 +0.167
19 Alvaro Bautista Ducati GP16 1:59.628 Ducati GP17 2:00.205 +0.577



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Nice work David. Miller's times on the Ducati sent me back to last years sheets for a quick comparo of what he did on the Honda. It just goes to show that a HRC contract on a 'C' spec bike, is not all it's cracked up to be. Those MVDS spec bikes must have been pigs to ride.

I must admit I did not look as hard at Tito's times, but as you point out he has taken a huge leap on the Ducati this year. Impressive effort from both, and after 2 tough years fighting the Honda, they have adapted much faster than I was expecting.

May I congratulate you on your use of the <TAB> button Sir. There is nothing worse than trying to read a table of such details that is not in columns. Cheers

An honorable contributor (that'd be me) described that C Spec Honda as a dog. Though I did get some mildly amusing and sarcastic replies at the time I consider myself ENTIRELY vindicated, at this point in time. Whether 'dog' or 'pig' is the more accurate metaphor, only time will tell. I do remind my fellow readers once again that Mr Rabat won the 2014 Moto Championship, thumping Mr Kallio in an outstandingly consistent and excellent year. Pretty sure he is a fast guy, Sully you are a scholar and a gentleman (or perhaps woman, not sure....).

ride the third tier Honda at any stage. He walked into a championship ready factory team, with the best bike and resources Honda could throw at him. If he had come to MotoGP on Millers machine, with customer level support he wouldn't have won a single race on his first year. Not denying he's a special talent, but there's also no denying that for about ten years being on a third tier Honda is career suicide

.. that a motorcycle infamous for understeer especially in tight corners is finding so much positiveness among a new bunch of riders. Of course, it is a much better racing motorcycle than it used to be, but the GP18 still hasn't eliminated the turning issue completely.

David, just for the sake of asking, if you have to credit one particular rider the most for all of the Ducati improvements, who would it be - (for example, Casey since he has been so much involved with the development of the bike)?

Riders don't change bikes. Engineers change bikes. What riders do is try to give their feedback on what is happening with the bike, what the bike is doing well and what it is doing badly, as clearly as possible. The engineers then take that data and try to find solutions to the problems, then give it back to a rider to test further.

Riders can have an influence on development direction. It really helps if their feedback is clear, and understandable, and consistent. Where it can go wrong is if riders are ambiguous, or can't express themselves clearly, or keep changing their minds. 

So to get to your question, who influenced the development of the bike most? You could argue that Valentino Rossi was the biggest influence: if he hadn't failed at Ducati, then Ducati wouldn't have made revolutionary changes to Ducati Corse, hired Gigi Dall'Igna, and given him the resources to make the changes he wanted. Ducati have know that the bike has understeer since 2007, but it was Rossi's failure that triggered the change.

Since then? Michele Pirro has done an amazing job in developing the bike, working through the feedback. Davide Tardozzi told me Pirro's feedback is very precise and very consistent. Andrea Dovizioso had the patience to stick with the program, believing it would pay off in the long term. His explanations to me have always been very clear, so I presume it's the same for the engineers. Casey Stoner is an invaluable resource, his feedback is outstanding, and he can get to the actual limits of the bike quickly. 

The short answer is there isn't a single person who changed the Ducati. It was teamwork, and like a lot of teams, there were a few superstars who made a big difference along the way. 

Perhaps my comment came across a little casual with respect to how different people contribute in the evolution/development/improvements of a motorcycle than just one person. I didn't mean to overstate Stoner's inputs in particular, my intent was to understand who made the most impact as a rider.

And you have very well made me understand how critical Pirro's (I'm a bit surprised I skipped his name) and others' feedbacks have been. I believe since it is the riders who are mostly the only interface between us viewers and their teams as a whole, their involvement is usually most visible to us.

Thanks for the detailed response.

Stoner has been hired to test ride by two of the three manufacturers to win WC'c in the last several decades, for both of which he delivered WC's.  I suspect this is unique, though David is surely better placed to comment.

Since I think it may be rightfully assumed both manufacturers had intimate knowledge of what he could provide to the development matrix, could we draw the conclusion that both consider his input to be (at least) valuable?  To the point that they placed their money on it?

David your analysis is great, it certainly looks good for Ducati after this test. Having run data loggers on my race bike over the years I love to see what they are studying now to compare the corner performance. Even without the high speed corners where the '17 suffered, they must be seeing an improvement, and the riders can certainly feel it.

However if I was Ducati, after the Thailand test I'd be boxing up the '18 machine and sending it to Phillip Island for ride day or two with a certain C.Stoner onboard!

If I were Ducati I would be trying to sneak in a couple of days at Phillip Island without Stoner, he has always been magic there and the team has had significant struggles at the track.

I would pay good money to see Casey ride at PI again but I dont think it would help them much, he appears to have some kind of god mode password for that track.

My own guesstimation is that Stoner is too “instinctively” fast, using the throttle and rear brake in ways that almost defy phyisics but are inarguably effective. What use a freak when developing a bike for mere mortals?

Sorry, hard to explain, his input and exploration of the boundaries are obviously invaluable but I’d love to be a fly on the wall when he and Lorenzo compare notes: they’d just be talking different languages.

As supernatural as Stoner might be the data and tyre wear will not lie. He's the only test rider I can think of that can go possibly beyond what the two factory guys can do in testing. So they'd be some value there. Plus imagine being at a ride day when Ducati turn up with a CS and their bike!

David, I'd be grateful you could post more information regarding the Marc VDS Honda, What is the problem here - hardware, crew experience, crew number? There is plainly more than meets the eye when it comes to the performance of the VDS Honda riders.

Also, the Ducatis have certainly done well but what doesn't seem to get mentioned is that they are testing at a track which suits them. I imagine that the results would be very different at Philip Island and personally I'll reserve judgement until they go to a more representative track.

Could it be that the team was sandbagging (a bit) and didn't want to reveal "all of their cards" before the first race?

The field is so tight and there is so little testing that sandbagging is a literal waste of time. Last season they went from a pair of dominant 1-2s to struggling to finish on the podium. For ambicious perennial contenders as they are, Yamaha can't afford a poor start because they thought they could afford sandbagging while Honda and Ducati were lapping at ten tenths.

My guess is the M1 is still a terrific bike but much more sensible than desirable.

Hope so, it’d be so good to see a three or four way last round race for the title this year and in the current era I can easily imagine any of half a dozen riders lifting the trophy. Which i think is unusual, in so far that we usually see the year start with 2, 3 or at best 4 serious contenders, narrowing down to just 2 by the halfway mark, tribal loyalties come into play consolidating that picture, all of which might be very different in a multi-contender scenario. I’m generalising of course, but I’m sure you get the drift.

Tech 3 have been given the 2017 bikes that Rossi and Maverick rode last year, but they may pick and choose the parts.  Zarco has been trying the 2017, and was positive at first, but has since decided he preferred the 2016 chassis and will continue to test with it.  Whether he's using the 2017 engine in the 2016 chassis, or what other parts, I haven't seen.

As for what Yonny is riding, I assume it's the 2017 bike, but he doesn't seem to be getting much attention.

Go Jack Miller ! confession I'm one of Ducati's oldest fanboys. Gawd yeah Casey Stoner private test at Phillip island. As mentioned previously C.S. 27 is someone special. At P.I. Casey is very special! If my opionion counted for anything C.S.27 would be at P.I. testing. With exactly the same material that Dovisioso & Jorge Lorenzo have. Dovi & JLo will see where the Case is fast & learn stuff. Smart riders like Dovi, JLo & Petrux will do their best to emulate Mister Stoner. Heaven knows Ducati must perform better at Phillip island Gp this year than last.

Tech 3 What frame ?

Pigdog Casey Stoner is very special! Dovi, Lorenzo and Petrucci all have completely different riding styles to Casey Stoner. To emulate him they would have to completey change their riding style, Lorenzo tried changing his last year and it back fired.

Philip Island last year was more a case of the riders under performing than Ducati bike being terrible at the track. Lannone had finished third at Philip Island in 2015 when the bike was worse, Dovi only finished 13th Philip Island in 2015.

Lorenzo, Dovi need to perform better at Philip Island. Not favourite track for them both but every point counts.

Sully 27 has pretty much explained what was happening at MVDS.I have the pleasure each year of watching the Australian GP in the company of the family of a past MVDS rider and the conversations have enlightened me as to the food chain in regard to HRC parts that are used in their bikes.HRC Factory riders obviously get the latest updates,LCR get the first hand downs then MVDS riders get the LCR hand downs, HRC contracted rider included,so no wonder the non factory RCV`s were dogs of bikes to ride.Now for the Ducati for 2018.Go Jack.


Great work David.

This is the sort of thing we need more of.

How about digging into Mr Raines' data and getting the Pole Record, Lap Record and Race Record for each track now, so that as each race is completed, we can see (when weather conditions are favourable) how this years' times compare with the records.

If we get more dry races than in 2017, it should be very interesting.

Keep up the greaat work you are doing as this provides a very different perspective than other sites are offering.

Zarco rode the 2017 one during the two first days and switched back to the 2016 for the third day and probably all 2018 season. Question mark is what motor. This is unclear. Poncharal told he will use the same than in 2017 but it seems they had a new engine at Sepang.

i'd expect in Austria as well too for that matter.  But thats not to take anything away from them. 

Certainly was intresting was to see the Ducatis hangin on in the middle two sectors with the more adgile bikes.  In particular, Miller stood out and was quick in the curvy middle sectors 2&3, bettering his factory counterparts, and able to match the yamaha's in faster turns of sector 3 where they were quickest.

Lorenzo managed to match what Miller (and yamaha) were doing in sector 3 on the last day and combined with his faster sectors 1&4 (fast straights/hard braking) was able to blow the top off the field.  Lorenzo was still giving up chunks of time in sector 2 though to Miller, Dovi and others.

Defenetly somthing clicked with Miller on the Ducati that he wasn't feeling before.  Enough so to keep pace throught the turns and make the '17 do what the '18 was designed to take care of. 

Would it be better to compare Jacks times with Dovi's, Lorenzo's & Petrux times from the GP17 last year. Or is Jacks bike to different from how the bikes where at the start of last year. Also, would any one know who's bikes Jack has for this year? Is it Petrux or Dovi's or Lorenzo's?   

Slightly off topic. Anyone else have a strange the universe is upside down feeling about the fact that Ducati has rolled out a totally kick ass V4 road bike, and Honda wants to keep pushing a CBR1000 inline four! Honda were the definitive V4 company for nearly ever.

Sure the new Ducati is a 1100cc, but who cares it appears to be a Motogp bike with lights, and when it the 1000cc one comes out it will be!


And their streetbike is only 5 sec slower than the Valencia MotoGP lap record as well! Not taking anything away from their factory test rider pilot but imagine if Stoner was riding that Panigale I am sure a second would be lopped off that time. So that's super impressive what they have made for the street!!! God I want one bad!