Why There Are No Quick Fixes To MotoGP's Dearth Of Overtaking

Unless you have been living under a rock for the past month or so, you will have heard the criticism of MotoGP. Though the field is close, it has become harder and harder to overtake the riders in front. The Le Mans race was a case in point: the 27-lap race featured only a handful of overtakes, most of which were made possible only by a mistake by the rider ahead.

The problem was brought into stark relief by last weekend's WorldSBK races at Estoril. Alvaro Bautista, Jonathan Rea, and Toprak Razgatlioglu put on a dazzling display of passing in all three races on Saturday and Sunday, finding ways to jam their bikes ahead of each other into the first corner, the fourth corner, the Parabolica Interior, and the tight, awkward uphill chicane. They produced three glorious races.

The spectacle of Rea, Razgatlioglu, and Bautista knocking spots off one another reinforced that the problem is indeed down to the technological point at which MotoGP finds itself. With limited aerodynamics and no ride-height devices, the WorldSBK trio found no problem diving out of the slipstream and outbraking each other.

The reasons that isn't possible have been covered in some depth, by me and by others. You can find some of the background in the Le Mans subscriber notes posted last week, and also the wider context in a column I wrote for On Track Off Road.

Anti-wheelie is anti-passing

The short version is that MotoGP is caught in the middle of a two-pronged attack from technology. The increased use of aerodynamics on MotoGP bikes is reducing wheelie and disrupting the air behind them. Less wheelie means more load on the front tire which increases temperatures. Less air on the tire in the slipstream means tire temperatures rise further. And the increasing reliance of the bike on aero to keep the front wheel on the ground means that the bikes lose that in the slipstream, and can't brake as hard as the bike in front.

Then there's the ride-height devices. The rear device lowers the center of mass and reduces wheelie, again putting more load into the front tire. But these devices also alter the way that riders can brake for corners: with a lower center of mass, the bike pitches differently, allowing riders to brake much harder and putting yet more stress on the front tire.

Stress equals temperature, and Boyle's Law says temperature equals pressure, and raising the pressure of the front tire changes the behavior of the bike completely. Aleix Espargaro gave an example at Le Mans, referring back to being stuck behind Jack Miller and Marc Marquez for most of the race. Once he finally got past – again, only thanks to a mistake by Marquez and Miller – he got cool air on his front tire again, the pressure dropped, and he was immediately a lot faster.

Behind Marquez and Miller, Espargaro's front tire pressure had increased by nearly 0.2 bar, totally changing the way the bike felt. "I analyzes the race in Jerez a lot with the engineers, and you cannot imagine the difference between 2.08 to 1.91 pressure on the front tire," the Aprilia rider said. "The bike has unbelievable chattering, losing the front, no turning, and then everything is perfect." The difference? "It's half a second. It's crazy."

Energy sink

The change has been especially marked in the last couple of years, as aerodynamics has grown in importance and ride-height devices have become ubiquitous. Both official tire supplier Michelin and unofficial monopoly brake supplier Brembo have noticed the difference.

"We realized in the past two seasons, that bikes are changing, they are putting more and more weight on the front, with the winglets, and riders are braking very very hard. So the load is changing, so we had to also change the development to adapt to that," Michelin boss Piero Taramasso told me at the preseason test in Sepang.

At Portimão, Brembo engineer Andrea Bergami, spoke to Peter Bom and I, and the Brembo engineer backed up what Taramasso had said. "Piero described the situation very well," Bergami told us. "This situation involved us a lot because in the last years we saw an increase year by year of the braking power and the braking energy that has been massive compared to the old years. Then we saw some points, 1%, 2%, of increase, not an important increase in braking energy. In the last year, we saw +10%, +20% of increase of braking energy year by year."

More energy for the braking systems to absorb means the bikes are slowing faster, and that means more stress for the front tire, and more stress means more temperature, and therefore more pressure.

Fixing the impossible

That's the problem, but how do we solve it? Two approaches are needed, and neither is available in the short term. The technological solution has to come from Michelin, in the form of a revised design of front tire. The regulatory solution has to come from the Grand Prix Commission, MotoGP's rule-making body.

First, the front tire. Michelin have been working on a new, stronger front tire since 2019. The plan had been to test it extensively in 2020 and then roll it out in 2021. But the pandemic put paid to that plan, severely restricting testing in 2020 and 2021.

So 2022 is the first season the MotoGP riders have some space to test a new front tire, but the bikes have changed enormously since 2019, especially, as laid out above, in terms of aerodynamics and ride-height devices. So Michelin are having to revisit their 2019 plans and update them with data from the last couple of seasons. The new tire still needs some testing.

"Basically it's delayed, because we are working to improve the temperature and the pressure control," Taramasso told me. "Now when you have the slipstream, the tendency of the front tire is to overheat. So we are working on that, to try to better control that point."

Testing travails

Here, Michelin's plans fall foul of Dorna's expanded schedule. As part of the grand bargain with the teams, the number of official test days is to be reduced from next year, from 11 to 8. The reason for that is simple: the teams get money from Dorna to go racing, and they get nothing for testing.

The independent teams also have the least to gain from testing: the most important part of the development work is going on in the factory garages, with independent teams having only limited access to the shiny new 'preciouses' in the official boxes. For the most part, they are testing a few setup ideas, playing with bigger changes in suspension and weight balance which they don't have time to try on a race weekend. While that is interesting and productive, they don't need to spend 3 days at a track doing that.

Changing a front tire, however, is the biggest change you can make on a racing motorcycle. The front tire is the conduit through which the rider communes with the asphalt, the tool they use to try to understand what is going on with the bike and precisely where the limit is. You cannot simply take one tire construction out and put a new one in. It would be like suddenly telling them they can only explain their feelings on the bike to their crew chiefs in Welsh: not impossible, but not something that can be learned proficiently in the space of a few days.

"When you change the front end, you change the bike completely," Taramasso told us at Portimão. "You change the feeling for the rider, you change the confidence. You need to do a lot of tests in different tracks, different conditions, cold, hot. So it takes more time to validate than a rear tire."

The reduction in testing days was also a factor, Taramasso explained. "Eight days is not too much," the Michelin boss said. "We also need to test in other tracks, which are not on the schedule, so we have to see how to arrange that."

One option might be to add extra or longer free practice sessions at some race tracks, as happened at Phillip Island in 2016, Michelin's first year as official tire supplier. But here, too, the weather might play a role, rendering the extra track time a pointless exercise if conditions are not good enough to push the front to the limit.

"What we would like to do is next year [2023] try a new front tire and then we will see," Taramasso said. "If the tests go very fast and the results are positive, then we can introduce in 2024. If not, we may need 2024 to test and introduce it in 2025."

With two more years to develop before Michelin can introduce their new tire, the factories are likely to make further steps forward with their aerodynamics and ride-height devices. As both are still quite novel technologies, the data currently being gathered is extremely valuable and helping to propel development at high speed. As the technology matures, the rate at which progress is made slows. But we are still at the early, steep part of the curve.

Playing politics

Which brings us to the second option for slowing this development, an option which runs through the Grand Prix Commission. In theory, the GPC could both ban ride-height devices and severely clamp down on aerodynamics any time they wanted.

In practice, though, they won't, precisely because of who controls the technical regulations. As part of their grand bargain with the factories, Dorna promised the manufacturers two things: that major changes to the technical regulations would be introduced at the end of each five-year contract period, and the factories given plenty of warning to allow them to prepare. And the manufacturers, through their representative body, would be able to pass any changes to the technical rules they wanted, and veto any changes proposed by the GPC's other members, Dorna, IRTA, and the FIM.

With the MSMA holding a veto, the chances of any proposals to ban ride-height devices or aerodynamics are very close to zero. The factories have already invested too much time and resources into their development, and will be loath to throw all that investment away. The MSMA will not propose such a change, nor would they agree to a change if it were proposed by the other three GPC members.

The chances are close to zero, but that doesn't mean it is impossible. The other GPC members have one route to change, which they have already employed in the past. The GPC can impose changes to the technical rules by a majority vote of the four parties on safety grounds. In the past, this was used to change the shape of the wings to turn them into closed loop structures instead of the more usual flat planes and end plates seen in the first iterations of aerodynamics.

To do this, however, they would have to be able to make a persuasive case that ride-height devices and aerodynamics pose a safety risk. That is hard to argue, given that we have had two seasons of (relatively) safe racing while this technologies were permitted.

A tenuous argument might be constructed based on the fact that the ride-height devices and aerodynamics are making overtaking so difficult that riders are being forced to take more and more risk. They could also point to the stresses being placed on the human body while racing: the extra braking and acceleration these technologies are allowing are making it physically even more demanding to ride these bikes. The ever-increasing number of riders requiring arm pump surgery is an indication of the problem at hand.

Divide and conquer

The other opening for Dorna, IRTA, and the FIM is dissent within the ranks of the MSMA. The addition of Aprilia, Suzuki, and KTM to the previous triumvirate of Honda, Yamaha, and Ducati have complicated relationships within the MSMA, something the withdrawal of Suzuki will do little to change.

The "tire cooler" affair of 2019, when Ducati turned up with an aerodynamic attachment to the bottom of the swingarm, blew the MSMA apart. Five manufacturers felt it violated the spirit, and possibly the letter of the rules, one manufacturer did not. I leave it as an exercise for the reader to fill in the names there.

Eventually, the MotoGP Court of Appeal (part of the quasi-legal apparatus put in place to deal with disputes over the rulings of the FIM Stewards) ruled that Ducati's reading of the letter of the law was correct. But the other manufacturers were still very much hung up on the spirit of the rules.

The Covid-19 pandemic turned that situation around completely. In the face of a global health crisis, the MSMA worked smoothly together to put together a set of temporary restrictions on development to restrict costs during the pandemic.

Now, though, the pandemic has faded, and those restrictions have been lifted again. And with development back up to full speed, disputes over the spirit vs the letter of the rules are splitting the MSMA once again. Ducati's introduction of a front ride-height device saw the other factories accept Dorna's proposal of a ban. Tensions are rising, as each factory interprets the rules in its own way.

This could offer Dorna a route to a ban on either aerodynamics or ride-height devices. But it looks unlikely they could get enough support from at least some of the factories to push it through. That horse has already bolted, and is a long way down the lane.

One door closes, another door opens

Even if the GPC could impose a ban, history teaches us its effectiveness would be short lived. The best way to inspire innovation and new ideas is by closing off existing routes to performance, forcing engineers to use their creativity to think up new ways of achieving their goals.

This is how we got ride-height devices and aerodynamics in the first place. Before spec electronics, wheelie and acceleration was largely controlled electronics, with factories deploying armies of engineers to write clever algorithms for their proprietary software. Once Dorna succeeded in pushing through spec software, the factories explored and found other ways of managing acceleration and reducing wheelies. And those ways – aero and ride-height devices – have proven to be even more successful, as they also help to improve braking.

So the likely outcome of a ban on aero and ride-height devices would be a temporary reprieve. For a few short years – between 5 and 8, if history is a guide – the bikes would lose performance. But at some point, some big brain in Bologna, or Mattighofen, or Noale, or Asaka, or Iwata, will think up an ingenious way of accelerating harder, or braking harder, or reducing wheelie, or all three. And before you know it, we are back at square one again.

The point of racing is to try to go faster than anyone else on track. Riders, engineers, crew chiefs, every single member of a team will always be looking for a way to do that. You can't stop progress. You can only divert it onto an alternate path.


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Comments

No one mentions ( a horrible idea, granted ) adding devices to wheel assemblies to lower and raise tire pressure. Would give back so much. Ultimately rather than just maintain optimum pressure, change pressure multiple times per lap, explore non-traditional settings. Back to pickle we're in now.

Just a bleed-off valve might be funny.  Rider A is leading and everything's going great, rider B is behind and front tyre temp starts goes above optimum, struggles to keep up.  Bleed-off valve actuates and rider B gets the perfect bike again, charges through on rider A.  Rider B, now in clean air, loses tyre temp and pressure, dropping below the optimum, slows down.  Rider A is now being held up by rider B, tyre temp increases.... bleeder valve actuates... great bike again... passes rider B back....

I'm sure there are a million ways this would not work in practice.

A device to both raise and lower the pressure would be cool though, hidden inside hollow wheel spokes (back to the ol' 3-spoker Marchis). Gigi has probably already thought of it.  If it's not expressly forbidden in the rules...

A device that lets air out to limit the rise in pressure doesn't seem entirely implausible.  Should be possible with a relatively simple mechanical device, though I guess there is a risk of being underpressure if the tyre cools down again.  Consequence of it failing and letting all the air out mid race are pretty dire too.

 

crazy ideas pop up..  like how much air are we really talking about ?  would this work - like if you could have a pocket/bladder inside wheel connected to air space of tire via a pressure valve.. when you inflate tire the bladder/pocket would inflate to same pressure/temp..   so, you have to be able to set this pressure valve to a range of pressures that certainly vary track to track and possibly day-to-day at any given track..

out on the track,when tire heats up => more pressure => autobleed from tire into the 'bladder' & pressure in tire stays the same.   out in front & tire cooling => lower pressure in tire airspace => autobleed from bladder to tire airspace maintaining pressure of tire ...  we already have transponders inside wheel measuring the air pressure, this doesn't seem that far a jump..  I can see it with just a single pressure to equalize, but reality would require ability to set the valves to open at multiple settings.   How big a range of tire pressures are in use on track ?

does anyone else think this is even possible ?

yud

Yes. They have this very thing in the early stages of development. It's called an "Inner Tube".

tgold, inner tube vents to outside & you can't get back what lose.  here idea is iso-stasis of pressure

 

 

 

 

 

Easier to bring back tire competition?  Or, maybe use homologated DOT tires?  Passing in racing happens when there's some mixed combination of rider skill and machine capability, i.e. wrung what they brung.  With effectively a spec series, everybody converges on the same solution.

"In the name of safety" sure makes things change easily. "Cost savings" not as much. "For the show" likely even less?

Looks as though most of us are not in favor of shapeshifters. They are not start devices, and seem to have self-proliferated. Nearly as much of us seem to favor a restriction on aero. "Us" just being public discourse.

The lesson well learned from Dorna grabbing the reins and pulling electronics back to a safety oriented basic spec? I think it applies. Both what and how, less concerned with the why in terms of justification.

Heck, pull a Suzuki with it. Just announce it as soon as possible. It is evidently getting less fun and interesting for the riders too - an engineering exercise more than a motorcycle racing one. 

I think it's poo to flush.

P.S. if you are like me, "bar" re tire pressure makes no sense. We always did psi (pounds per square inch) and we could for sure feel .5 of a psi. 1 bar = 14.5 psi, so an increase of .2 bar = 2.9 psi. TWO POINT NINE PSI! That could make a bike feel unrideable! I remember adding or dropping 1 psi and having a very different feel. 3 psi? HUGE and would mean that the wear on the tire would radically change as well as the handling. No damn way would you run a tire 2.9 psi too high or low!

Digital gauges have at least 2 decimal places for domestic use and high quality units have at least decimal 3 points!

Kpa. One hundredth of a bar. Now you're getting big numbers!!! Imperial is dead, long live metric 😁

I remember adjusting pressure for motocross too.  3 psi your could feel.  I can believe that is big on the street.

For enduro, we could use the mousse.  Someone also experimented with tennis balls and I think came up with a product.  But speeds averaged under 30mph.  Inner tubes add extra heat and mousse and balls would add more.

Especially with the reference to WSBK, which has become MUCH more interesting to watch, even with only three riders really in contention for winning. The close competition and continual passes are spectacular to watch, makes Moto GP (and 2 and 3) a bit tedious despite how close the racing can be in terms of lap times.

nothing here but talk of the lack of overtaking. Driven from the top?

Meanwhile we have a very interesting season unfolding. Dorna will figure this out... or they won't. Let's hear about how screwed team red is and the real politik of that business. How about the money burning KTM operation with a lack of results? A detailed look into the tire tech and the differences between the top tire constructors. Maybe some comparisons between WSBK and motoGP tech, what makes the chassis different and what kind of rider it takes to excel. Damn, anything other than a lack of overtaking. 

As a sidenote: a proper motorcycle race known as the Isle of Man TT is coming this weekend were real men put it on the line. Shall we complain about a lack of passing there as well? Perhaps we should complain about too many guys dying (average of 3 per year) though if you do you are missing the point.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BS71Dx-_e3A

I think now is the appropriate time to perform the weekly ritual of marveling at the GPC, particularly the MSMA. We are watching a group of lumberjacks trying to manage a cherry tree orchard.

My impression is that we are in a polite phase in MotoGP whereas WSBK has had the hard overtake re-introduced and almost made the norm by Toprak and subsequently matched by Rea. Both paid the price for this a couple of rounds ago. Bautista is using the advantages of the Ducati for his gains.

I think the larger problem has been created with the ride height adjusters. There is a secondary clever feature of these devices. Once the bike lowers the rear, the attack angle of the wings flattens out allowing for far less drag and more top speed. Aero on its own has its own negative.. too much angle = more drag, so while you may get better wheelie control, you sacrifice top speed.  The ride height adjusters allow more of the advantages but reduce the negatives. I dont mind the wings to be honest but I think the ride height devices need to go including their use as start line devices.

However when you look at aero, the previous generation of f1 cars had minimal drag for given downforce, created dirty air for the following vehicles and so passing was reduced dramatically over time. So the argument could be made thats happening in motoGP. The bigger concern is the acceleration performance is now far weighing the performance of the tyres and brakes on these machines. Run offs are not getting any bigger and the ability to wash off enough speed is reducing, I think its getting to the point that they cant outbrake someone else due to the fact theres nothing more to be had. Thus safety is also something to consider, aero was around before the complaints were, the complaints only really started to be noted and understood with the onset of the ride height devices.

Maybe the third possibility for overtaking to be back is a major drop of tv audience. Dorna would surely want to take the decisions needed.

As much as I like moto gp, watching those guys running around without ever overtaking is not going to entertain myself for long. Superbike is more and more becoming an option.

Very interesting article Mr Emmett, as usual. Thanks

The good thing about watching the races on PC is that you can drag the window over to the right side of the screen and use the left side of the screen to do something else.

As soon as the tyre tech, chassis tech and politics are the main talking points...

Rins' crash in France proved once and for all that all that aero-crap is without a doubt a very big safety issue. If riders can no longer trust their brakes in fast corners the problem is more than big enough to call out an immediate ban. Or do we have to wait for the incident that Rins didn't escape but is hit by another bike and takes Simoncelli from the top of that dreadfull list ?

All aero must be banned by one very simple rule : If the technical commission thinks it's an aero device, it IS an aero device and can not be used. No further arguments needed.

Engineers/factories that want to invest in aero should race airplains, not motorcycles. MotoGP is supposed to be a race between riders and their bikes, not between aero-engineers.

People who doubt this simply have to look at F1 . I'm 100% sure that their new rules will do absolutly nothing to make passing more easy. Aero is the death of any racing series on wheels.

And if ride-height devices are here to stay, all the "automaticality" of it should also he banned. Bikes should only be allowed to drop the moment a rider want's it to drop and by the amount he want's it to drop. Nothing "pre-loaded in advance and automaticaly dropping when a certain event happens", only "100% controlled by the rider " should be allowed.

 

Thanks for a great, big-picture article as usual David. As for comments about internal, on-board tire pressure adjusters they would make it nearly impossible to balance the wheel/tire assembly. In theory a great idea.

Already exists in the offroad vehicle and transport vehicle world. GP engineers could easily add it tomorrow if rules permitted.

As long as there are tires, that will be the limiting factor. Right now, manufacturers have out-engineered the tires and it will require the tire manufacturer to catch up... but they will never out-engineer the manufacturers. Bikes get faster>tires catch up> bikes get fasterer>tires catch up...It's the "cycle of racing". Banning technology? Good luck with that..... But I regress:″‘Precious, precious, precious!’ Gollum cried. ‘My Precious! O my Precious!’ And with that, even as his eyes were lifted up to gloat on his prize, he stepped too far, toppled, wavered for a moment on the brink, and then with a shriek he fell. Out of the depths came his last wail precious, and he was gone.”

 

Lots of tech is banned already. Regardless of the tyre, up until the point where it starts to collapse, more load -> more grip. Wings don't like turbulent air, it results in less load.

Not sure what the answer is but Rea, Toprak and Bautista were brilliant in WSBK and far more exciting to watch. Dorna better take notice. It's good to see the poor relation putting on a great show,.

Well, Dorna runs WSBK now so I’m sure they’ve noticed the racing is much better in the production racing series.

Much as I love WSBK - you know that 9 times out of 10 - the winner will be Toprak, Rea or Bautista. You need both talent & the bike to do well. Look at how Redding has fallen in the standings by being on a BMW.

Other point I would like to make is because there are so many points up for grabs each weekend in WSBK - if you only finish 3rd in each race - like Toprak is doing - you will rapidly fall behind the leader. The only way to catch up is to hope those ahead of you start falling off or DNF - simply winning and the other coming 2nd or 3rd only narrows the gap marginally. This happened to Redding last year and is happening to Toprak this year.   

"You can't stop progress. You can only divert it onto an alternate path." What is progress? Is the goal to go ever faster around the track, even if that means two-wheeled machines controlled by gyroscopes and AI? Or is it to determine the rider (you know, a human-being) with the best skills using the best machine that can be constructed under the rules. You remember rules...the things MSMA likes to control...in the name of commerce, not sport. Why DORNA seems determined to see MOTOGP follow the joke that is F1 is beyond me, but none of my money goes into either's pockets, so they'll ask why I care.

You comment on the entertaining aggression shown by Rea, Razgatlioglu, and Bautista in this season's WSBK races.  However WSBK can't match the variety of riders achieving podium finishes in MotoGP.  For season after season, every race and each championship has been contended by the same two or three riders.  The fact that Rea has won the championship six times between 2015 and 2020 demonstrates the lack of competition in the WSBK series.  In the 90's and the 00's the championship was more open and far more entertaining.  And this was further leveraged by bikes that had more power than handling capability.  Those were the days!

use very simple pressure bleeders but these are not allowed in NASCAR. When Ryan Newman´s team was caught back in 2015 for manipulating tire pressures on the 31 the team was hit with some shocking sanctions. I am assured that once in the heat of racing there would almost never be an occasion when it would be necessary in short races like MotoGP to increase pressures, so it would seem that a more sophisticated device (offset by balance weights) would probably do the trick in MotoGP, but there must be some reason that Goodyear is so against it in NASCAR. I don´t know what is done in Formula Just Google Ryan Newman tire pressure to see how this played out.

if there was no mandated minimum pressure, how low would they want to go. If the teams would like to run say 1.3bar, maybe the tyres are running at their absolute max pressure range to provide decent performance. These supposed underinflation incidents just how far under were they. Michelin are being very cautious, if all these tyres were a bit low with no failures perhaps overly. Maybe lower minimum by.3 and every one is fairly happy?? Probably to simple but just a thought. Cheers Beamer 12

I'm wondering why they don't increase air volume. 

I guess  if you have tire pressure is too high because of temperature, you can reduce tire pressure by increasing air volume.

That can be done by deeper wheel cavity  or put air into spokes, like 80's some sports bikes had.