As you may know if you have been following me on Social Media, I rode my motorcycle down to the Austrian round of MotoGP at the Red Bull Ring. While this is something I would recommend to everyone - people should ride motorcycles as much as possible - it did make working a little more difficult, especially when holed up in hotels in small Bavarian villages, as charming as they were.
Our lives are defined by the choices we make and the choices which are made for us. On Monday evening, I made the choice to ignore the sell by date on a packet of nuts I found in a cupboard in my mother's house and give them a quick roast to put on a salad.
That turned out to be a mistake.
In the early hours of Tuesday morning, I was struck down by a severe bout of food poisoning. My wife followed a couple of hours later. Thankfully, my elderly mother had wisely chosen to forgo the mixed nuts, and was completely unaffected. Having eaten the most of the nuts, I suffered the worst and spent two days in bed recovering. My wife was already much better yesterday, for which I am eternally grateful. The good news is that we now both feel pretty much back to normal.
It has been such a great start to the WorldSBK championship in 2022 that even last year’s two-pronged fight to the last round flag has been obliterated by the early season action. In a championship with five competing manufacturers there is also a distinct top three machine fight in 2022; Yamaha, Kawasaki and Ducati.
The Honda is nearly there. And nearly is where it may stay, but, an early Iker Lecuona rookie podium is still a great achievement already. The BMW is behind the 8-ball every week it seems, as much for bad luck as anything else. A fit Michael van der Mark alongside an inline four rookie in Scott Redding would probably accelerate things, in all possible ways.
But, providing the entertainment as well as leading performance now we are three rounds and nine races in, are top three top factory riders. In fact, it is an unmistakeable ‘Big Three’ title race.
Suzuki’s 2022 GSX-RR is much quicker than its 2021 bike, so what’s the secret: more horsepower or less drag?
MotoGP is full of surprises. Even the riders hardly know what’s going on, because lap times are so tight that a two tenths difference can have them spraying prosecco one Sunday, then sobbing quietly on the toilet inside their luxury motorhome the next.
But the biggest surprise of 2022 is the new-found straight-line speed of Suzuki’s GSX-RR.
Inline-four MotoGP bikes – the Suzuki and Yamaha – tend to make less horsepower than the V4s – the Aprilia, Ducati, Honda and KTM – but this year the Suzuki has found so much speed that it can challenge and even beat the V4s on super-fast straights.
It is so much easier to design technical rules for a prototype class than it has ever been for production derived series. Argue all you want about that. But when you are racing the actual products that real motorcycle companies make, and however many racing modifications you allow or disbar, you have to get the scales out and make sure that you allow every potential investor in your racing business to be competitive. Then it is up to them to win or not.
So many things are controlled nowadays, in all forms of production racing, that the base model that you built has become even more important in its fundamental suitability for racing. Unlike prototype racing classes, you have to run what Mr Yamaguskawaduconda brung to a showroom near you.
We have been down the road of the bikes that are eligible in WorldSBK not mirroring real world sales trends in the past, of course. Think of the era when 750cc road bikes were going out of favour and everyone started building 1000cc or greater road-going race replicas. Paradoxically, they were road bikes first, WorldSBK race bikes only after a few argumentative seasons had brought forth new rules.
Most factories want to get rid of so-called shapeshifters, but the current system doesn’t allow a ban. Yet. Here’s the latest on MotoGP’s politics of technology
MotoGP rights-holder Dorna is running out of patience with the MSMA as it tries to get a grip on controversial technologies like shapeshifters.
Shapeshifters adjust the geometry of motorcycles exiting corners to improve traction and reduce wheelies, which limit acceleration. Ducati introduced this tech a few years ago, dropping the rear of its Desmosedici via a complex mechanical/hydraulic/pneumatic system (because electronic adjustments are banned). All the other factories followed. This year Ducati has a front-end shapeshifter that further reduces wheelies
Downforce aerodynamics is increasingly important in MotoGP but more downforce means more drag, which is a problem for the less powerful inline-four machines used by Suzuki and Yamaha
Eagle-eyed fans may have observed something strange afoot during pre-season testing at Sepang and Mandalika…
Aprilia, Ducati, Honda and KTM all had big aero on their bikes: large top wings, plus fairing sidepods, except the Aprilia which ran without sidepods. But Suzuki didn’t and when Yamaha tried a big wing and tiny sidepods at Sepang, its world champion Fabio Quartararo complained that the increased drag made the sluggish YZR-M1 even slower on top speed.
Why is this? And does it matter?
First it was rear-end shapeshifters, now it’s front-end shapeshifters too. Should MotoGP ban these devices? And is it possible to ban the technology?
I have a copy of MotoGP’s 1999 rulebook. It’s 43 pages long, of which six pages (SIX!) cover every single technical regulation relating to all three GP classes: 125cc, 250cc and 500cc. This year’s edition amounts to 371 pages, of which 179 [ONE HUNDRED AND SEVENTY NINE!) are dedicated to technical rules.
That’s around 30 times more pages – a mind-boggling multitude of regulations written by people frantically grappling with a fast-moving, ever-more complicated four-stroke, electronic world, in which just about anything is possible, if you’ve got the money to pay for it.
Suzuki’s challenge for 2022: build a motorcycle that’s fast enough for Mir and Rins to drive home the GSX-RR’s advantages, rather than just compensate for its disadvantages
Joan Mir’s 2021 defence of Suzuki’s first MotoGP world in two decades was one of the worst title defences (by a fully fit rider) since, erm, Kenny Roberts Jr’s defence of Suzuki’s 2000 world championship.
Neither Mir nor KRJR won a single race as they fought to retain their crowns, for different reasons, of course.
As MotoMatters.com enters its 17th season (a number I can barely believe), it is a good moment to examine the past and look ahead to the future. The past two years have been strange and hard, for personal and pandemic-related reasons. But they have also provided a good opportunity to review what MotoMatters has done best in the past, and the direction we should pursue in the future.
In the past, I have sometimes struggled to maintain the frenetic pace of writing about MotoGP for a living, and trying to cover absolutely everything that happens. The longer I have been doing this, the more I have come to realize that trying to capture every detail and cover every insignificant news update is a waste of my time and yours.
My wife, who is right about pretty much everything (which is why I married her in the first place), likes to point out that my strength, and the strength of MotoMatters.com as a whole, is in analyzing and explaining the background to MotoGP. Reporting on what happened is neither challenging nor interesting. Explaining how and why it happened is far more interesting. Pretty much anyone can note that a Ducati hit 362.4 km/h on the front straight at Qatar. It is far more rewarding and fascinating trying to figure out and explain how Ducati managed to hit that speed. And why at the end of the season, it still couldn't help them beat Fabio Quartararo on his 12 km/h slower Yamaha M1.
KTM was the hero of the 2020 MotoGP season, then struggled in 2021. Team engineers tell us they need to improve qualifying speed and corner-exit performance to get back to the front in 2022
KTM goes into the 2022 MotoGP world championship following two seasons of weirdly contrasting fortunes.
In 2020, following KTM’s first complete redesign of the RC16 since the bike’s debut, the Austrian factory had a breakthrough year, claiming its first victories and missing a podium place in the constructors championship by just two points.
KTM had arrived.
Aprilia’s technical director Romano Albesiano talks openly about the factory’s fight to get to the front and the challenges of MotoGP engineering in general
Aprilia is still MotoGP’s underdog, but if the Noale factory continues climbing on the upward curve since introducing its 90-degree V4 that may no longer be the case in 2022, or at least less so.
The switch to a wider-angled V4 – basically the same configuration as used by Ducati, Honda and KTM – from the previous 72-degree unit allowed Aprilia to build a better-balanced motorcycle with improved engine performance in both corner entry and exit.
Honda’s 2022 RC213V is the factory’s biggest MotoGP redesign in 16 years – so what’s the focus of the new bike and what does HRC technical director Takeo Yokoyama think it can achieve?
If Ducati’s Desmosedici is favourite to win the 2022 MotoGP title, who or what might stop it?
The last two MotoGP championships have been won by inline-fours – Suzuki’s GSX-RR in 2020 and Yamaha’s YZR-M1 last year. Why? Because both factories built good bikes, but also because Honda’s six-time MotoGP king Marc Márquez was out of the game and because Michelin’s new-for-2020 rear slick suited inline-fours better than V4s.
It has been a long and exciting year in MotoGP and WorldSBK. Despite the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, WorldSBK managed a full 13-round season, MotoGP racked up 18 rounds in total. In both championships we saw exciting young champions emerge from a season full of drama. The best WorldSBK season in a decade or more, and a fantastic battle in MotoGP.
There has been a lot to write about, and I feel I have utterly failed to do it justice. Fortunately, thanks to the support of the wonderful people I get to work with - especially MotoGP reporter Zara Daniella, WorldSBK reporter Jared Earle, Moto2 and Moto3 guru Neil Morrison, WorldSBK doyen Gordon Ritchie and the photographic talent of Cormac Ryan Meenan, but also the many writers who have contributed, including Akira Nishimura, Peter Bom, Niki Kovacs, Steve English, and Tammy Gorali, among others - we have covered a lot of ground.
Yet I feel I have not lived up to expectations. Not for my readers, and not for myself. My only excuse is that it has been a long and difficult year. Apart from dealing with the effects of the pandemic on motorcycle racing, and life in general, I have also had the death of my father at the beginning the year to deal with, and helping my mother to find her feet after spending nearly 57 years by his side. That has absorbed an enormous amount of emotional energy, and left me frankly exhausted. For a more detailed account of some of the things I went through last year, see the Twitter thread embedded below.
The greatest WorldSBK championship fight for many years has just gone all the way to the very last day of competitive action. The new best Superbike rider in the world managed to become the most tip-top Top Cat after a season-long fight with the greatest WorldSBK rider of all time. And don’t forget another bloke in red, not blue or green. He also won more than a fistful of races.
Five of the top six riders also won at least one race, on four of the five competing manufacturer’s flagship products. All five manufacturers took multiple podiums.
When you see the final WorldSBK outcome written down like that then obviously 2021 will be regarded as a classic.
The past season will be remembered for many things, but primarily for Razgatlioglu vs Rea. It was, as even the most cursory glance under the roller-shutter pit garage doors proved, much more than just enthralling man-to-man combat.