Sepang MotoGP Subscriber Notes, Part 2: Aprilia's Dream Ends, Morbidelli vs Espargaro, Arm Pump For Mir, And Spinning KTMs

While most of the focus from Sunday's race at Sepang was on the battle at the front – understandably, as the championship (nearly) got settled – there was plenty to learn from events further down the field as well.

The battle at the front left only Pecco Bagnaia and Fabio Quartararo standing in the battle for the championship. Enea Bastianini may have finished second, but Bagnaia's victory put the Gresini Ducati rider out of contention.

Sepang also saw the end of the dream for Aleix Espargaro and Aprilia as well. A tenth place finish (eleventh crossing the line, but given a place after his clash with Franco Morbidelli, more of which anon) put him 46 points behind Bagnaia, and out of reach of the MotoGP championship.

End of a dream

"I'm very disappointed today. I'm very sad," Espargaro said after the race. But he was proud of everything he and Aprilia have achieved this year. "I'm very proud of everybody in Aprilia, of myself, of my teammate of everybody in Noale. What we did this year is amazing, historic, it will be forever. It will last for ever."

Espargaro was left frustrated, however. Leaving Aragon, the Spaniard was just 17 points behind the leader, at that time Fabio Quartararo. But in the four overseas races since Aragon, he had scored just 18 points, including a disastrous no score at Motegi when he started the warm up lap with the wrong engine map loaded in his Aprilia RS-GP.

That had cost him a shot at the title, Espargaro said. "At the same time, the way we end the season, it's a bit sad, because if we were able to maintain our level on the last four races, we will arrive in in Valencia still with some chances. But we really lose it. Looks like the dream was too big for us yet. So hopefully we can learn about it and be more ready for the future."

Espargaro did not have a ready answer for the problems he faced. "We were very slow, the bike was very, very slow today in the straight and no traction at all. Zero grip from the beginning," the Spaniard said. "Believe me I tried everything I could, I really pushed like hell until the last lap, knowing that every single point is important for the third place of the championship. But it was not enough. I was very slow. All race and all the last four races were a nightmare."

The issue was clearly a problem with the bike, Espargaro insisted. "We are trying to discover this, actually. It's a technical issue, 100%. I mean, both riders had the same problem." The contrast with the races in Europe, where both Espargaro and Maverick Viñales were consistently strong, was stark. "If I was not on the podium, Maverick was on the podium. I think except Barcelona in every race one or the other Aprilia was on the podium. And now we were not even close to top 10. So it's crazy."

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Is Mir one of the few riders on the grid who have had arm surgery, or NOT had it?

That’s what I thought based on the context but DE left out that critical word, so I thought I’d ask. 

as Binder described. I would love to hear how they attempt to solve this issue. It seems if they need to resolve it over the winter then they must have exhuasted all of their setup options this year. I am curious if they will attempt to modify the engine character or will focus on chassis characteristics. I am also curious in what way their existing data informs that decision. 

The idea of adjustment window seems critical as well. How does a factory arrive at bike with a large adjustment range without upsetting the overall character of the bike? Does an adjustment window need to expand in range or become more precise with smaller adjustment increments? Art as well as science, surely.

I don't think the engine would fix it. What he is saying is that the bike doesn't turn. I think he would like to get the turning done mid corner then start to pick the bike up onto more rubber and roll in the power. Instead, to have any speed through the turn they have to take a very sweeping line. He's leant over screaming 'turn you b******' and trying to pick up the throttle because the other bikes are busy firing it at the next turn. Lot of problems putting any power down when on the side of the tyre and swing arm.

Is both a blessing and a curse, the more things you can adjust the more complex the exploration for a solution becomes.  So what influences are at play during that first tap of the gas?

  • KTM are running WP vs the prevalent Ohlins, how does their fork extension modelling compare to Ohlins with sooo much more data?
  • As weight transfers rearwards, how does the shock modelling compare to Ohlins?
  • Swingarm pivot height/angle affects chain pull reaction and traction
  • Swingarm length affects traction and turning
  • Flywheel mass and centrifugal forces: Too light = spin, too heavy = a bike that doesn't want to turn and parasitic losses. I'm assuming all flywheels are external these days so they aren't locked in for a season?
  • As per D16 pre-Gigi, crank height and CoG is critical
  • Etc

Any one, or combination of the above(or something completely different) could be the silver bullet...or cubic time and dollars spent exploring a dead end.  Remembering here that everything is relative, these things are incredible machines with incredible riders, nothing is bad per se, it's just fractionally less incredible than the competition. And you can't just throw the thing on a machine and measure "turning", there are no units for it, you are purely reliant on the rider's interpretation.

The happiest bike on the grid would require next to no adjustment. Always worth noting that when riders are having good runs of results they change very little and that gives them the time and capacity to learn how to ride that bike, on those tyres, at that track with no need to worry about the rest. Especially important next year.

The concept of the happy bike. Opens up a potentially fascinating line of discussion, thanks Wavey (Joshua and Seven4nineR too) for the idea. If I were a racing bike I’d want to be exactly as you describe. Fast, always fast, understood, well liked by crew and sponsors, riders too, as you say, and tyre suppliers. Sleepless nights of worry at a minimum, pressure under control, errors and tiredness minimised, adjustments minor, crashes few and light - all night rebuilds a thing of the past - riders fit and healthy. Team fit and healthy too. It’s a race winning formula, but maybe it has limitations. Seems to me the happy bike is a Yamaha. Which begs the question how in human terms other bikes on the grid stack up. And what is the ultimate human state for a racing bike. 

It was Pecco who spoke about finding a good base around the time of Portimao and they have more or less kept the same 'bike' since. I guess (a guess) that the 'good base' concerns the geometry of the bike, the weight distribution, the springs, shocks, the general level of engine braking, the feel of the throttle and brakes etc...the overall character of the bike. I think if a team/rider are attempting to change the overall character of the bike in a race weekend then they are in big trouble. Tweak this, tweak that...yes.

Therefore, it doesn't make much sense to build in a large 'window of adjustability' for most of the bike. If you were in a position to need've lost already. It makes me think about wings on a plane. They figure out where the wings should be a long time before a 'concept' is even thought of as a design. There's a long history of building planes, they tend to know what they are doing. Same same with bikes, they have been at it a long time, they know what they do. Even if it was possible to build a huge level of adjustability into a bike without having a corresponding negative impact on performance, there is not enough time in a race weekend to navigate far from the island you call home. That would be work for a test team and they can try anything because they never score any points.

As for creating ever smaller setting increments, I think the question is: how small do they need to be ? What will make a noticeable or measurable difference to the performance of the bike ? At smaller scales it is a very cloudy and murky lake to swim in. Temperature changes, humidity changes, more rubber is laid down by other bikes, other classes of bike laying rubber, different rubber, the rider had some happy thoughts, the tyres have now done 10 laps instead of 5 laps, the rider is adjusting themselves and their riding to suit conditions, a bird did a plop on the apex of turn 10. Now tell me....did those 5 extra microns make any difference ?....Yes, obviously it was 0.52 apples better for sure. Impossible to see or feel anything above the background noise at such a small scale. You may as well not make any change and ask the same question. The rider may as well roll a dice for the answer.

Another issue with introducing such levels of adjustment is that no matter how pointless it might be, some people will use it and their focus will zoom in to that scale. Before you know it there will be discussions over whether 0.0001 is better than 0.0002 and are we moving in the right direction towards the goal which just happens to be found somewhere around 1. Nothing gets done...or maybe it's better to say that you may as well do nothing because the result is pretty much the same regardless.

If a rider's performance over the weekend responds well to having some stability in the setting of the bike then stability has to be one of the goals. If 100% is the goal but you can get the bike to 98% in double quick time before letting the rider get on with the rest of the weekend, then that is better than achieving 100% by warm up with a rider who isn't so confident with the bike. I still think that the big game is played between the rider and his crew chief. Good averages lead to good cricket averages which lead to 2019.

The happiest bike that requires next to no adjustment can be seen as a conundrum, because the teams with unhappy bikes are making changes in order to win. The game is to cross the finish line first, to bask in the ephemeral glory of being the winner, to celebrate the joy of winning as a team. The teams with unhappy bikes will come up with ideas for changes in order to beat the happy bike team. So if the happy bike team stands still, they will eventually get beaten and become unhappy. It's almost as if they traded places with an unhappy bike team. So the happy bike team will feel pushed to stay ahead of the pack of unhappy bike teams. They might reflect on their weak areas, make some changes, and venture into the unknown.

What if everyone involved could be happy regardless of results? Motivated to improve their bike, yet happy to just be a part of the game and to be able to recognize this same happiness, or joy, in others to be here. Now that would be an interesting game.  

By happy bike I just meant a bike with a wide 'working' window making the job to be done each weekend easier. An unhappy bike being one which each weekend requires more effort. Even if the unhappy bike had the greater potential, it still loses most of the time. The happy bike isn't necessarily slower either. Although it is common to associate hard work with great work it is usually the good enough easy work that wins when there is time pressure. The happy bike gives more with good enough than the unhappy bike which requires a lot of work to achieve its potential. I've seen them on ebay...wait out.

Thanks to everyone for sharing your thoughts. The "happy bike" idea is quite interesting. I build bicycle frames as a hobby. Mostly from steel, tig'd and brazed, occasionally lugged. There are certain frame geometries and tubing diameters/thicknesses that produce wonderfully happy road bikes. Other such combinations do the same for various dirt applications. However, changes in rider weight, size, power, and riding style could turn a happy bike into an unhappy one. I know what to do to correct for these difference but the variables and my adjustment window is finite. My precision within the window is limited by material availability and time. Adding many layers to the creation of a "happy bike" such as an engine and electronics package, aero and ride height devices, suspension and multiple compound tires seems to make the concept almost impossible.

Perhaps the "happy bike" is the bike that is surrounded by a supportive cast, crew, and rider who work with what they have each race weekend and produce solid results. The rc213v from 2019 might be an example, but only on the mm93 side of the garage. Of course if the happy bike is the one which produces the best results for the greatest number of pilots and teams then the current gp22 seems like a great example. 

Given the 2 examples I wonder which bike saw on average the most setup changes necessary across the season and how large those changes were.

"Remembering here that everything is relative, these things are incredible machines with incredible riders, nothing is bad per se, it's just fractionally less incredible than the competition."   .. an excellent point

@Seven4nineR I recall reading a while ago that KTM/WP had poached one of the head engineers from Ohlins to help develop their MotoGP suspension.

My thoughts exactly. For pecco to get 2 points more is practically a non issue. Absolutely no pressure on him so he isn't even going to be making mistakes. Which means he will ride well which means he will end up higher than 14th. 

I do hope there are more overtakes in general next year. And that fabio wins his title back.

As long as Pecco doesn't have an actual DNF, then it is almost completely impossible for him to not collect the required points.  There are 24 bikes and 8 of them are Ducatis, so even if Fabio disappears into the distance to win (highly unlikely) and Pecco's bike is running on two cylinders or he crashes and picks the bike up and is able to limp around with no footpegs or something, all that will be required is for all other seven Ducatis to drop down the order and ride behind him and he will finish 16th even if every single bike makes it to the finish.  If there are two retirements (not uncommon) he will get his 14th.

The other and more likely outcome is what one of the three Ducati stooges said in an interview recently.  Yes, there will be manufacturer orders - a Ducati must win, ANY Ducati!  As long as Fab does not go P1 the title is Pecco's even with a DNF.  It will however be tragically hilarious if Bagnaia, Bastianinni and Martin are all dicing for the podium spots with Fabio a distant 4th and they all take each other out and Fab wins the race and title.  I would just love watching the three stooges reactions.  Sad, but entertaining!

I wish that happened though.. the last time I wished something this ridiculous to happen in motogp was 2015 valencia. 



Pecco's engine goes pop, Martin skittles Miller, Zarco considers the race philosophically unwinnable in a calm abstract manner, a classic battle erupts between Bastianini and Fabio for the win but Suzuki take the flag first and finally.

Valencia 2021 GP, top quality 15 min Review video - shall we get ready?

There is much more going on than just Bagnaia putting a bow on the Championship. Don't you think? 

Goodbye Suzuki may have some tears as well as cheers. Bezzechi will tailgun masterfully and is blazingly fast now.  Bastianini wants to win, and can. Marquez is back. Yadda yadda yadda...

Go Bastianini!