2022 MotoGP Testing Review: Ducati - Are They Really The Threat We Think They Are?

Leaving the Sepang MotoGP test, all eyes were on Ducati. In part, perhaps, because they had brought yet another technical innovation which is set to upset rival manufacturers, and captured the imagination of fans and media. We were all talking about Ducati's front ride-height device.

That enthusiasm was supported by the fact that there were two Ducatis in the top three after Sepang, and three Ducatis in the top six. Take away the Aprilias (who had had the benefit of extra days riding and testing during the shakedown test), and there were three Ducatis in the top four. Things were looking ominous.

Heading into the Mandalika test, we were expecting that Ducati dominance to continue. Luca Marini setting the fastest time on the second day on the Mooney VR46 Desmosedici GP22 reinforced that idea. And yet by the end of the three-day test, the idea that 2022 would be the year of the Ducati was far less obvious than it had been a week prior.

The Ducatis were still competitive. But digging into the pace, the bikes looked a fraction off the pace of the Hondas, of Fabio Quartararo, of the Suzukis. Pecco Bagnaia put that down to doing race runs on the medium rather than the soft rear, making it hard to compare times.

"Today is difficult to say something about who was the fastest, because today the worst tire was the medium, but they will not take the soft for the race weekend," the factory Ducati rider said. "So just me, [Luca] Marini, and [Marco] Bezzecchi were trying the race simulation with the medium. And it was really difficult to do more laps, because it was slippery and I was sliding a lot. The soft was for sure better, and all the others were using soft. So looking at my pace when I was using the soft, it's very close to the fastest riders."

It is hard to verify Bagnaia's claims that only he, Bezzecchi, and Marini used the medium rear. The tires used are not published on the official timesheets, in contrast to regular race weekends. And the tires at the test lack the color coding used on race weekends. It is customary that the Michelin technicians will tell riders what other riders are using. But outside of the garages, that information is widely shared.

Truth or dare?

Bagnaia says that he was one of only three riders to do a long run on the medium tire. But then Fabio Quartararo told us, "today, we decided with the team to go with the medium for the race simulation, because they said the soft will not be here for the race. But actually it was a nightmare of a race simulation, I never had such a bad feeling with the rear tire."

It may have been a nightmare, but Quartararo did 7 laps under 1'33, and 3 more 1'33.0s. Bagnaia, by contrast, could not lap under the 1'33.2s, and his pace was closer to 1'33.5.

It is not uncommon for riders to not be entirely accurate in their comments to the media, and it seems that either Pecco Bagnaia or Fabio Quartararo are misleading us, or Bagnaia is genuinely unaware of what tire Quartararo used for his race simulation. But what is apparent is that, though the Ducati is fast, it is not as dominant as we thought at Sepang.

The feedback from the Ducati riders was positive, but they were also hedging their bets. "Ready? No, but when are we ever ready?" Jack Miller said. "The race is the race, it's completely different. I feel as ready as we can be there."

Pecco Bagnaia's perspective ran along similar lines. "We did an incredible job in this test. We have prepared the bike to race well in Qatar. Our pace and consistency was OK. We decided to do the race simulation with a medium tire, that was not the best option but we were very constant in terms of pace, so this is good. We are working a lot and still we need to work more. But with only five days of test you need to try everything in less laps than normal. But it's OK like this. Finally we found a compromise that I like, so that I think that in Qatar we will start well."

The Desmosedici GP22 clearly has potential. The chassis is relatively unchanged, but the bike has a new engine, with more power and different power delivery. The engine note of the bike is changed compared to last year, suggesting the firing intervals have been revised, which would tie in with the change to the engine character.

The other big change is to the fairing and the aerodynamics package. Though visually similar, the wings are larger and the side pods have been reshaped. The fairing is much slimmer, sharper, and flatter, something which changes both the frontal area of the bike and the effect on downforce, but also the degree to which it resists changes of direction. It is now more agile, and easier to turn from side to side, something which is a major improvement.

Lower = faster

Then there's the front ride-height device. First explained here, the system uses a pneumatic cylinder to compress the front forks on corner exit. That lowers the front along with the rear, dropping the bike's center of mass. Significantly, it also leaves the bike in the same attitude, rather than tail down/nose up, so the aero package is more effective.

On bikes without a front ride-height device, dropping the rear changes the angle of attack of the wings, reducing the downforce generated. This is especially a disadvantage on corner exit, where the benefit of wings – more downforce to reduce wheelie – is most important.

The problem is, of course, that this is another can of worms which Ducati has opened. Although the implementation is relatively trivial, it will once again require all of the factories to spend a lot of money designing, testing, and perfecting their version of a front ride-height device, only to end up at the same point. That is something the other five factories have very little appetite to do, and so the possibility of a ban is being examined.

Legal niceties

That is not as simple as it looks, however. All changes to the technical regulations can only be passed by unanimous agreement of the MSMA. In other words, all six MotoGP manufacturers have to agree to this. Unanimity is, for obvious reason, impossible to reach.

The other path to a ban is the one used to ban free-standing wings, rather than closed aero appendages. The Grand Prix Commission can ban a technology if it is deemed a safety risk. They would have to make a case that the front ride-height device is more dangerous than the rear ride-height devices, however. That looks to be a tough ask.

Still, whether Ducati will have the front ride-height device at their disposal at Qatar, or at any of the races this year, is open to question. If they do not, then that will complicate bike setup, all of it having been done using the front device so far this year.

If there is a weakness for Ducati, this is it. The bike is fast, powerful, it turns, and it is better than last year. But it is also still rough around the edges: big changes need more time to sort out. Here is where Ducati having five GP22s on the grid can help, of course, with more data meaning it is easier to sort out what works and what doesn't. But it still feels like Ducati has work to do.

Is the dominance which observers of the sport assign to Ducati warranted? My guess is that it is still a little early to say. The bike has the potential to be the best machine on the grid. But at the moment, the GP21 is better, because it has had all of its wrinkles ironed out. If Ducati can find a setup that works quickly, then it will be hard indeed for its rivals. And with Pecco Bagnaia have finished so strong last year, it would take a foolish gambler to lay bets against the Italian going one better in 2022.


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Comments

been closely following  GP racing since '85, earlier if you can include Bathurst! (OMG!!)

Really dont want it to go down that F1 rabbit hole

I am almost certain Mercedes F1's annual budget alone is bigger than Dorna's annual revenue

MotoGP team budgets are orderof magnitude smaller. The rabbit holes they can dig will be similarly more shallow. 

Personally I think the FIM should loosen the reins on some of their regulations. I agree they should keep things tight on aero, but the suspension thing is ridiculous- there are $20K bikes with active ride height control and semi-active damping control; all that would change if they allowed that in MotoGP is they'd move from Rube Goldberg mechanical devices to electronic devices with a few lines of code. 

People have to understand that even for these manual mechanical devices there are electronic data points attached to them, and obviously staff and $$$$ dedicated to analyzing and optimizing them. To me allowing the same ECU monitoring them to activate/deactivate them is no big deal

I find it funny how at the end of last year the Ducati was deemed the sure winner for 2022 and now the Honda is all of a sudden propelled to the front and a Honda 1-2 in the championship (!) is not even out of the question. The Yamahas and Suzukis are rubbished. And all of that after two meagre tests, one of them on a track where nobody has even been before. It will be interesting to see how much (or little) of this holds up when the flag drops (and the ... stops).

….are on tomorrow (Sunday) so I’ll be watching that to warm up.

All these predictions about how well various bikes will go before a wheel has been turned in anger are interesting but in the end, pure speculation. Can’t wait to see what really happens when the flag drops at Qatar.

Off season B.S. is at a close when Qatar FP3 goes green. Let's see! We always leave Qatar bedazzled and full of questions.

Round 2 is Mandalika. New track, odd conditions, high speed rider's balls track. Answers, and some questions about bikes and riders, perhaps skewed by the traction of the surface.

Round 3 Argentina which we haven't seen since 2019. Abrasive surface, high temps and humidity. Argentina has a long straight. The drag race and motors will be on display, and Ducati vs Honda may indeed make a strong showing. Offhand related note, preview of Argentina 2019 remember what we were talking about? Will the sneaky tech of a Ducati rear tire cooling/not aero "spoon" be legal, or not? Is Dovisioso going to beat Marquez? That was the previous Red bike. The clever bold NASA Red project has not stopped this rapid advancement of boundary pushing high tech innovation in the time since! (I see a swelling need for a response in the form of a rule change, and front end shapeshifter may well be it. At this point in every story, the Sheriff has to get the town settled back down again. I like aero and start devices. NO shapeshifters please).

Round 4 COTA and full attention on Marquez and how he is gelling with this bike. This track never seems to give a very satisfactory picture of much. The talk goes to "now we head to Europe and (things start for real)." Well, for some the B.S. stops around Round 6-7. For some it isn't until the 2022 Champ passes a checkered flag pocket full of points. For me it may never stop (or start), so hoping to compost it thoroughly for some fertile planting soil. It goes better some times than others.

This particular point in time is REALLY compelling! For MANY interdependent variables. It looks very safe to assume that the 2022 Duc is a step forward evolving the already amazing 2021. And is ironing out fine. There is a good bit of data confirming that this Honda revolution bike is real deal great, despite it being so early yet. I suggest disregarding Marc's recent comments "not the best Honda I've had" and "not my bike" "not feeling what I did" etc - they are all a convoluted odd representation of his return to racing. The rambling ends at "I am not the old Marc, but this Marc" can still do the business. (And, he may still end up the old Marc that can't sustain concussions). Instead, look at the other 3 HRC riders and listen, real smiles there. 

The whole Red program is a juggernaut on full boil. Turning over the compost pile several times per day! The 2022 crop will be SUPERB. Fine vintage. Wrapping up a global 100 yr pandemic, we deserve it. 

Now, about that economy poised for a Bear correction slightly more broad in base than the 2008...and biggest land war in Europe since WW2. Blergh. (Thank all things good for the beautiful thing we call MotoGP!)

I know MotoGP tracks are generally smooth but wonder how the ride height lowering works when there are bumps. Maybe we need some goat tracks to discourage their use during the lap.

Honda's new bike looks Doohanish in that it is more moderate and balanced with less bias to the front end. It is not surprising that M M might not regard it as his bike given that the move towards a front end focus happened with his feedback.

Very good point, Rick, and I wonder if the ground effect of the F1 cars and the way they're bouncing around this week might affect things for MotoGP at Barcelona.

The damn technology is out of the mad scientist's lab and on the streets already.

Now Ducati have the ride height device on the Multipasta V4. Making it easier for "normal people" to ride! Where will it end.

"New electronics: Introducing the Minimum Preload system ... Minimum Preload system is a semi-automatic electronic suspension function that allows the height of the bike to be reduced making it easier and safer to put your feet on the ground during city use or low-speed maneuvers." straight from the press release.

Isn't COTA bumpy enough rick650? Did they use the ride height lowering gimmick at Mandalika?

The titanium Digeridoo on the other hand is a thing of beauty & makes glorious music.

Maybe if Gigi and his elite engineering team have a day off they could work on making the Ducati bluetooth function actually pair with other devices.  ;-)