After an absence of three years due to the Covid-19 pandemic, MotoGP is returning to the circuits in Asia and Australia. A lot has happened in those three years in terms of motorcycle development; there has been a sea change in the way that bikes are controlled, as ride-height devices have been introduced to aid acceleration and braking, and engineers have gotten a better understanding of aerodynamics, sufficient to start gaining in the corner, as well as on entry and exit.
When MotoGP raced in Argentina for the first time since 2019 earlier this year, Aleix Espargaro's winning time of 41:36.198 was more than 7.5 seconds faster than the 41:43.688 Marc Marquez took to win in 2019. Argentina, however, is not a great basis for comparison, as the track sees very little use in between races, and the condition of the surface can change a lot.
So Motegi offers a better comparison. It is track which sees regular use throughout the year, with which all of the manufacturers know a great deal about, and which is also regularly used as a test track by the Japanese factories. Weather conditions were not quite comparable – it was overcast and cooler in 2019, with track temperatures of 27°C, rather than the 38°C from Sunday's bright and sunny race – but the differences in times are big enough that they can't be explained away by a slightly warmer track.
Comparing between seasons is tricky, of course. The race in 2016 was faster than 2019, for example, though still not as fast as 2022. And 2014 was faster still, but that was in the period when MotoGP was still using Bridgestone tires and proprietary electronics. Still, this is the best comparison we have for the moment.
To see how much MotoGP has advanced – and how each factory has improved – I put the lap times from 2019 and 2022 into a spreadsheet to compare them. That produced some fascinating numbers, not just in terms of how much faster MotoGP is going now, but who has improved since 2019, which manufacturers have gotten faster, and who has improved least.
The two tables below contain a selection of riders, based mainly on finishing position and whether they were racing in 2019. Apart from the winning time, I compared the 2019 and 2022 times of Jack Miller, as best Ducati; Marc Marquez, as best Honda and 2019 winner; Fabio Quartararo as best Yamaha and runner in in 2019; Miguel Oliveira, as the only KTM rider to have raced both years; Maverick Viñales, to compare the Yamaha of 2019 and the Aprilia of 2022; Franco Morbidelli, as a benchmark for Quartararo's improvement; and Aleix Espargaro, who was with Aprilia in both years.
Riders and bikes
In addition to comparing riders, I have also taken the times for each of the five manufacturers who finished in 2022 and compared their best finisher from 2019 and 2022. That gives a direct comparison for the bikes, rather than the riders, though for Aprilia, Honda, and Yamaha, it is the same rider (Aleix Espargaro, Marc Marquez, and Fabio Quartararo respectively), while Ducati's best rider was Andrea Dovizioso in 2019 and Jack Miller (obviously) in 2022, and KTM's best finisher was Pol Espargaro in 2019 and Brad Binder this year.
Let's start with the winner. That gives a good sense of how much faster MotoGP is as a whole. Marc Marquez won the race in 2019, just beating Fabio Quartararo, in a time of 42:41.492. Jack Miller won this year, with a clear advantage over Brad Binder, in a time of 42:29.174, over 12.3 seconds faster.
But this wasn't just down to Miller's incredible time. The first nine riders across the line were faster than Marquez in 2019, from Miller down to Enea Bastianini, who finished in 42:39.492, exactly 2 seconds quicker than the Repsol Honda rider. Those nine riders included bikes from five of MotoGP's six manufacturers (both Suzuki riders withdrew with mechanical issues): a Ducati in first, a KTM in second, a Honda in fourth, an Aprilia in seventh, and a Yamaha in eighth.
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