When you look at the plain numbers involved, a tiny company like Ducati has no right to be competing in MotoGP, let alone providing a serious contender for the MotoGP title and supply nearly one third of the bikes on the grid. One of the main factors in Ducati's success in the series, and one of the greatest minds in the MotoGP paddock is Filippo Preziosi, Ducati Corse's General Director. Preziosi has been the driving force behind Ducati's engineering innovation, including the decision to replace Ducati's trademark steel trellis frame with a carbon fiber monocoque, and the switch from screamer to big bang.
MotoMatters.com was lucky enough to grab 10 minutes of Preziosi's time at Jerez, where we talked about why a big bang gives better feedback, how the new engine limits affect production motorcycles and whether Ducati will build a 1000cc bike when the new regulations come into effect in 2012. His answers were extremely illuminating:
MotoMatters.com: First of all, you changed the firing order on the Ducati GP10, it's no longer a screamer, it's now a big bang. The riders always say the engine feels much more responsive. Why? Do you know why?
Filippo Preziosi: No. [Laughs]. So it's a very short question, very short answer! We have some ideas and have some measurements of that. We have some data and we did some analysis. But to be honest, there are some points in which there are numbers which show that the engine should be better, but there are also other numbers that show that the engine should be worse. So like usual, it's not easy to say the reason why.
MM: Do you think it could just be sound? Because the frequency is lower, it makes it easier to understand where the engine is in the power?
FP: For sure that is one of the points, but I'm not sure it's the main one.
MM: The riders are restricted to just 6 engines this year. Are you worried about the engine restrictions?
FP: [Laughs] Every engineer is worried about the engine restrictions! Every engineer is worried about everything! But we know the rules and we are working to get the maximum reliability that is possible, keeping the power like the year before. So of course it is a trade-off between power and reliability, but I think it is a good rule, because it is pushing the engineers to develop a more reliable engine, and that could help in production.
MM: So this will really help for production engines, in 2013, 2014?
FP: Yes, you are developing knowledge not only about performance but also about reliability.
MM: Is this also the case with the fuel limit?
FP: Exactly, exactly. But the rules are important. Ducati decided to go into MotoGP when we switched from two stroke to four stroke. The reason is that with the two strokes, there is no link with production. We are a small company and we will not do racing just for advertising. It doesn't make sense, it's too expensive. But if you consider that the research and development you are doing during the race is increasing the company knowhow, it makes sense to spend that money. So even the fuel consumption is giving us good knowledge for production bikes.
MM: Can you actually measure the difference in production engines? Do you know how much less fuel, say, a 1098 uses.
FP: No, I don't have those numbers, but we are supplying over the years our knowledge to the production department, and they can find what is interesting and what is not, and decide to put into production.
MM: So you make your research available to production, and they...
FP: … are free to use or not what they need.
MM: Crash damage: have you changed the engines at all to make them less likely to be damaged in a crash?
FP: One of the simple things we did is in the vertical exhaust, in the bottom part of the bike, you can see something like a grid to prevent the stones from coming into the exhaust and coming into the valves. It happened some times during the last years, but because it was allowed to change the engine, we never did it. And this shows, this part is very simple, and because the engines are very expensive, it's something we should have done even in the past. But we never did. Why? Because you are not forced by the rules, you are concentrated just on performance. But it's a stupid thing, because when you change an engine, you lose time, you lose time with the mechanics because they are changing the engine instead of working on setup. So I think the rules have to be very clever in order to push the stupid engineers in the right direction!
MM: That brings me to next question quite nicely: When I was a computer programmer, I spent all my time trying to get around the rules, that's what engineers do. How would you make MotoGP cheaper? How would you change the rules to make it cheaper?
FP: This change of engine [limiting riders to 6 engines a season - MM] is something that reduces the cost of the category. In terms of money, there is no difference in the amount of money you are spending developing the engine, because if you have a rule that pushes you to search for power, you will use your test bed, your engineers and you will buy parts in order to improve performance. If you have rules that push you to increase reliability, you spend the same amount of money, because you have to pay the same number of engineers, you have the same number of test bed for engines, and so on. So in terms of development, you are not spending more money or less money for either kind of rules. But the engine you are producing for racing, you spend less money, because you are using not one engine each race, but just 6 engine. So you spend more or less one third. It's not exactly one third, because the engine is a little bit more expensive, but it is 10 percent more expensive, not triple. So you are spending maybe 40% of what you were spending before.
MM: Any thoughts about 2012? Have you thought about whether you will be building a 1000cc or will you be sticking with the 800?
FP: We are thinking about a new bike, but we don't know the displacement, because the fuel limit will remain 21 liters, and the bore will be limited to 81mm. So, it's not clear that 1000cc is the best idea. So you have to produce the most efficient engine in order to get the most out of the 21 liters you are allowed to use.
MM: What's the key point? What's the most important factor in doing that?
FP: I think it's just attention to details. Because the rules are specific in some areas. You cannot use direct injection, because the fuel pressure is limited. You cannot use exotic materials, because the ratio between the stiffness and the weight is fixed, so there are a lot of constraints that push you to develop a more efficient engine itself, without designing very strange things.