While the most interesting parts of the KTM launch had to do with the personnel changes, and the shift of focus from the purely technical to the human (for a full review, see here), factory riders Brad Binder and Miguel Oliveira were still fascinating on the weakness of the 2021 KTM RC16 and what they wanted fixing for 2022.
What the riders were missing above all was some consistency, Miguel Oliveira said. "Through different key moments of the championship I wasn't able to finish the race. Two big examples; Austria race 2 and Misano race 2 where the result could have been quite good."
KTM paid for that lack of consistency down the stretch, leaving too many points on the table and making a championship campaign tough. "The other thing is the pure consistency of the results, finishing the races pays off a lot at the end of the championship. And of course that's of course the main reason why I think consistency must be improved," Oliveira pointed out.
The Portuguese rider's season felt like a rollercoaster. "I found that my season was too spiky, either the result was very very good or very bad. I could never do average, and that's the average that I'm looking for." Gaining consistency, smoothing out those results was key. "I would say this balance that I want to find more with the bike. When I felt good with the bike I was very fast and I could deliver very good results. But when I didn't feel so good with the bike I just couldn't do average and that's what really lacks during my season."
Brad Binder had used the winter break to think about what he felt had been lacking in the 2021 RC16, and in how he was riding it. "It’s always good once you’ve had an off season. Gives you time to understand where you need to improve. Not just bike side, more on my riding side."
For Binder, the problem was drive out of corners. "On the bike side I’d really like to see a bit more traction. That’d be great. If we spin a little less on the exit of corners that would go a long way for us." The South African also wanted to improve the braking. "Two areas we’d like to work on are the stopping and as soon as I crack the throttle to not spin straight away. To try and keep the traction better and get better drive out the corners."
He knew that some of the improvement could come from his riding style, Binder acknowledged.
"As a rider I can definitely improve in keeping my lines a bit tighter," he said. His problem was running lines which were too sweeping, not squaring corners off into a V. "Over a lap I’m making too many meters and am not tight enough on the inside of corners. That’s one thing I want to improve. There is a lot we still need to improve but that’s one thing that comes to mind straight away."
Binder's greatest frustration with the 2021 season was that progress seemed to stagnate at one point. "The second half of the season it got to the point when it felt like we were stuck, almost. We were almost searching for the same thing all second half of the year. We weren’t getting from corner to corner fast enough. In the low gears especially, it felt like I couldn’t accelerate well. It’s not because we didn’t have the power; it’s because we didn’t have the grip."
Having power was one thing, getting it to the ground was where KTM were struggling. "Our engine is incredible. We probably have one of the quickest engines on the grid." But that wasn't translating into speed and acceleration, Binder said. "When we come from low speed and a lot of torque is going into the rear tire, we weren’t hooking up like we needed to. Of course, once the spin starts, it doesn’t stop. We weren’t getting out the corners."
While Miguel Oliveira shared Binder's frustration, the Portuguese rider believed that it was not so much a case of KTM standing still as their rivals taking a great leap forward. "Ultimately I think especially in the second half of the season, our competitors raised up a step, especially Ducati. So that made it even harder to follow up to that." Addressing that did not require radical change, Oliveira asserted. "I believe there are a few little changes that can translate into much better results. I think that last year was one of the seasons where progress was not shown by the results. There was progress, but we couldn't really see in the results."
Brad Binder was optimistic that KTM had found some improvements for 2022, especially in traction. "From testing, from what I’ve heard from my crew chief, they’ve found some small things that help. We’re not looking for huge amounts of time. We’re looking for small things here and there. If we can get out of four corners a little bit better each lap it’s going to add up to a lot of time."
That wasn't the only area Binder was hoping for improvement. "Firstly, I would like to improve braking of our bikes. We had it better at one stage, then lost the way at one point when we tried to make the engine braking much more clean. It keeps the bike much more straight in the braking zones. I don’t think we were stopping as well at the end of the year. That’s one thing I’d like to work on and improve."
One of the biggest problems the KTM riders had was with the front Michelin. The switch to using the asymmetric front more often meant that bikes which demanded a lot from the front, like the KTM and the Honda, suffered more. "One thing that was clear was when we could run the hard front tire we wouldn’t struggle. We could brake as hard as we wanted and just throw it into the corner," Binder explained. "But when we had to run the softer one we had to be more gentle. That’s where our bike is really strong. We have to win all of the time in the brakes. It was challenging in the beginning but as time went on, we learned a bit more and we could manage it better. For sure we still have a long way to go."
Where Brad Binder faced his biggest challenge in 2021 was his poor qualifying positions. He would struggle to make a single fast lap during practice, and that would translate into poor qualifying and a grid position well down the order. "It’s given me a lot of sleepless nights in the past. You don’t sleep so good when you start at the back!" he joked.
It was something which he had worked on through the year, and an area he hoped he could continue to make progress. "I think when I look back at the second half of last season compared to the first half I’d say I made an improvement. Not much, but it was there." The improvement came in qualifying, rather than practice. "I think I improved Saturday. Friday wasn’t so good. but Saturday was a little better in the 2nd half of the year. The more laps I do on a MotoGP bike, the more I get comfortable. I’m hoping my third season will sort that out naturally. Let’s see."
This is one of the areas where the organizational change and the shift of focus by KTM will help. One of the tasks Francesco Guidotti faces is to separate testing and development from race weekends, so that riders can focus on pace from the start, rather than spending Fridays testing parts for KTM. If Binder can work on his single-lap pace, and have more time to do it, then he should get better at qualifying. And given how many positions he has shown he can gain during a race, that should make him a lot more competitive.
That same organizational change should help Oliveira become more consistent, alongside the development of the bike. "Technically the bike is going to suffer a few changes of course, a few evolutions in terms of the pure hardware of the bike and of course the main thing that we are looking for to improve is on the setup," the Portuguese rider said. "We believe there is still a lot of room to find speed, to find more consistency in the races with the current package and we know that five days, three on a new track, maybe it's not enough to find them and we just have to go throughout the races and deliver our best performance ever, both myself and my technical crew."
Oliveira also pointed out that for the past two seasons, MotoGP had been largely restricted to European tracks, and had missed some of the bigger, faster circuits. KTM needed to bear those in mind when developing the 2022 bike, he warned. "We should also be reminded again that we haven't raced with the full championship. We haven't been to Malaysia, Motegi, Australia. Many places where the track layouts are completely different, and so I think we should take that into account when designing a future direction or even think about a different philosophy for the construction of it."
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