MotoMatters.com is delighted to feature the work of iconic MotoGP writer Mat Oxley. Oxley is a former racer, TT winner and highly respected author of biographies of world champions Mick Doohan and Valentino Rossi, and currently writes for Motor Sport Magazine, where he is MotoGP correspondent. We are featuring sections from Oxley's blogs, which are posted in full on the Motor Sport Magazine website.
Ducati in MotoGP: looking for the perfect motorbike
Like Eldorado, the perfect MotoGP bike doesn’t exist, but that doesn’t mean Ducati’s Gigi Dall’Igna can stop searching. We spoke to him at Assen
Ducati likes to build a MotoGP bike around its engine. The factory literally did this for its first nine seasons in the championship, when the Desmosedici was essentially an engine bolted to a steering head and swingarm.
Focusing on horsepower can make a lot of sense, because it’s easier to overtake in a straight line than around a corner. So that’s always been Ducati’s way – build a bike that allows its rider to get through the corner as best he can, then pull the trigger.
I recall 2003 preseason testing at Jerez, just weeks before the Desmosedici made its race debut at Suzuka.
Suzuki team-mates Kenny Roberts Jr and John Hopkins were stood in the pitlane, checking out the brand-new Italian V4. “It’s like they’ve got a Ferrari engine in there,” muttered Hopkins.
Ducati’s pull-the-trigger concept worked well for a while and can still work today, when track layout allows.
It worked best when Casey Stoner rode the Desmosedici, the Aussie genius modulating front brake, rear brake and throttle all the way through corners. But ultimately the engine-as-frame concept failed.
Those early Desmosedicis had two major flaws: poor turning and front-end feel entering corners and too much suspension pump exiting corners.
The first problem was most likely the fault of the tiny front frame [first steel, then carbon fibre] that didn’t allow enough lateral flex, a vital turning/cornering aid that increases in importance as lean angles increase.
The second problem may have had something to do with the bike’s super-long swingarm. Some chassis engineers believe this design gave the rider less control over chain force and anti-squat, which can stop the rear shock compressing too much during acceleration.
Ducati changed direction at the end of 2011, switching to the same kind of aluminium beam frame used by all Japanese factories since the 1980s. In 2016 Ducati won its first MotoGP races since Stoner left, in part due to chassis improvements and in part due to the switch to Michelin tyres and spec Magneti Marelli electronics software.
During 2017 and 2018 Ducati won 13 races and Andrea Dovizioso twice finished second overall to Honda’s Marc Márquez, but this year is turning out to be more difficult.
Not because the GP19 is less competitive, but because Suzuki and Yamaha are more competitive, cancelling out the Desmosedici’s advantages and highlighting its one major disadvantage: mid-corner turning.
Read the rest of Mat Oxley's blog on the Motor Sport Magazine website.