Measuring Progress: How Much Faster Did MotoGP Bikes Get In The Past Three Years?

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.

Hard comparisons

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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Want to give me some financial advice? :-)

Interesting stuff; thanks for taking all that time. I still think, Like Aleix Asparagus, that Binder is the cream of the current crop. On any other bike -- yeah, even a Yamaha or Honda -- I'd take bets on him waxing the field.

Thanks David. Faster bikes and comparatively better riders is definitely spicing things up. 

Highest quality full race

2018 Thai GP

Aka the worst start narcissist poster boy AI29 ever had at 16'15"

(Remembering not to miss Steve Day. I blame white soled black shoes).
Iannone M front tire and S nose job. Marquez still an uncracked skittle. Vale smiling in Blue. Dovi challenging hammer and tongs with mixed appreciation. Smith still KTM, Asparagus back in 16th w a soft R, Karel Abraham and Dad's money hanging on, Syahrin hoping for rain. Pol can't find his grid spot, and Redding is backmarker. Different days!

There are 3 Ducatis. THREE. Read that again.

ADHD ish riders start well or botch it (not naming names). Really! They are natural gunslingers.

It gets HOT here. Over 100k people may BE there on Sunday, seeking shade.
"Please over cook me like gooey pad thai" says T1. (Drunken Noodles w pork here thanks).
Mind Zarco aboard the lovely 2016 Herve parts bin special Yamaha.

Has anyone confirmed Petrucci's helmet size? What's bigger than XXL? Petruxxl. 
We've still got the last of the CRT's. After lap 1 Jack Miller is sneaking one into 7th! The Aprilia is an adapted RSV4 in 12th. Morbidelli just behind.
Marc/Honda, Rossi/Yamaha, Dovi/Red on display up front. 
The 2018 Ducati is STABLE. Long and low. The Yamaha too keeps wheels in line, from a F tire bias. The Honda? Drift through the apex until finding grip. We ALL knew the fantastic save dice rolls had an expiration date. No one, even The Marc, is doing the modern wiggling about and elbows down. Unfortunately we remember the 2018 row amongst our Italian and Spanish friends. And, where oneself landed, which was much less Yellow here. Run to T3, 22 laps out. 
Maverick is holding station behind Cal for 5th! Don't forget these two as firmly holding fast when the bikes weren't strong.
Raer tires may be getting torn up. 3 years on we will talk F tires overheating in traffic, but now we focus on tire wear.
19 laps to go we have an eleven bike front pack freight train to Iannone.
Crutchlow in speediest green Castrol gives good testament to a Ducati tow - what better hole to punch the wind than good old Dovi on a Duc?

As unpalatable as it may sound Valentino is "doing a Jorge" out in front. To validate, Vinales is doing the same reeling in Cal. Opening stage done and we have a race on our rubbing hands.

Marquez and Dovi become the show as was the deal then. Bikes and riding styles couldn't be more opposed. I refer to this as the "silver duct tape" stripe Duc Jorge rode.

31 mins 30 secs the drive out onto the straight, take note. It says volumes - the Yamaha gets one mildly miffed drive out and gets eaten for breakfast by both V4's. "That Yamaha rear grip problem" on full display! Vale looks to be on a 250GP.

14 laps to go we have an 8 rider freight train front pack with Pedrosa as caboose.

Halfway point in Thailand and we all start salivating for the latest Marc -- Dovi last lap paint swap. Andrea has lots of tire left. Not so many passes, but the race is scintillating for the forward thinking fan. HUGE freight train out front.

10 laps to go? Lap records and another MM93 AD04 showdown.

At 44:45 note how big the helmet and short the lower legs our friend Pedrosa appears. Samurai? Sand your eye. No, this is not a pocket bike racer. Fast crash! Bowed his legs a bit.

English conjecture from Matt Birt re Crutchlow, do you hear how crap this sounds? His tires are going off, and Matt sounds a fan boy. 

Marc studies and plans for several laps. T12? Yep.

Look how second hand the 2nd pack od Zarco, Crutchlow, Beatista and Miller look. Punching way above their weight for 6th! 

T2, Marc pass #1 --> nope. Dovi's bike moving around. 3 laps, full slip stream for Marc but NO pass opening. Lovely protective line from Dovi at full gas. Vinales and Rossi ready to pick up Blue points handed them.

Dovi's rear snaps back from drift turning in, then the front grabs traction on the gas -- such a long bike! Marc's wobbles through all transitions at 11 10ths.

2 laps to go, and Marc doesn't need more tire to throw his bike around. Au contraire, he two wheel skates at the apex in union and balance. What a nutter. Does he know this isn't flat track?

If Dovi swapped paint and got his hands dirty, easier to do, Marquez gets punted like the 2018 Vale-Marc yuck.

Andrea in Parc ferme? Good human being, very real and grounded. 

For Aprilia if you compare AE's 19 time and place with Vinales' 22 ones you get an improvement of about 35 seconds and 8 places.

Using AE's 22 numbers doesn't seem fair given the start and tyre issues, lack of company initially then the need to overtake the backmarkers who aren't that slow these days.

I know one of the popular talking points around MotoGP these days is how tech is making it impossible to pass

But how much of a factor is the depth of talent and parity of the bikes? Even putting points and times aside- which are relevant data points- the sheer # of WCs, race winners and MotoGP podium finishers on the grid has to be higher than at any other point in the sport's history. Regardless of tech, being on a grid with like 10 GP WCs, 12 MotoGP race winners and literally only 5-6 guys who haven't ever finished on a MotoGP podium, all on bikes with demonstrated winning capability, has to be harder than passing guys who have never got podiums on bikes that have never won races.... which was absolutely the case during the "good old days". I do think there are some technical issues in MotoGP but I don't think the spicier action of the past made for better championships.