The 2020 Covid-19 pandemic threw a spanner into the works for MotoGP in all sorts of ways. In response to the pandemic, the MSMA decided on an engine and aerodynamics freeze for 2020 and 2021, to limit costs in a time of uncertainty.
That went a long way to restraining costs, but as the world adapted to the pandemic, and it became clear that a global economic crisis had been averted, development budgets started to rise again. Even more so when people started using the money that travel restrictions prevented them from spending on vacations to buy new motorcycles and accessories.
With engine development frozen, MotoGP engineers turned their minds to finding advantages in other areas. Factories went all in on the holeshot devices which had made their debut at the end of 2018 and through 2019, transforming them from devices used only at the start to become adjustable ride-height devices, used throughout the race to improve acceleration and corner exit. Faster speeds on corner exit meant higher speeds on the straight, and as a result, higher braking forces.
That has had a knock-on effect on Michelin's development program as well. Since 2019, Michelin has been working on a new front tire, with more support, to improve corner entry and braking stability. The tire had been tested in 2019, with more tests scheduled in 2020 to finalize development ahead of an introduction in 2021. But with the 2020 calendar and test schedule completely rewritten, that idea had to be abandoned.
With 2022 promising to be something of a return to normality (pandemic and war permitting), this could have been the season where work on the front tire resumed. But the development of MotoGP bikes in the past two season has forced a rethink, because the design parameters have moved on.
"We are still working on the front," Michelin boss Piero Taramasso told me when I spoke to him at the Sepang MotoGP test. "We will make some adjustments, and the tests will be done in 2023, to be introduced for 2024." The added aerodynamics and braking forces had changed the demands placed on the front tire. "Basically it's delayed, because we are working to improve the temperature and the pressure control. 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."
The behavior of the MotoGP bikes had changed a lot over the two years of the pandemic, Taramasso said. "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." With the front tire being subjected to higher loads, the front would have to offer even more support.
The stronger front had originally been expected to help both the Hondas and KTMs, as the bikes which demanded the most from the front under braking. But with the redesign of the RC213V to move the weight distribution more rearward, the Honda is now less dependent on the front tire for its lap time. The bike has more rear grip, and so more drive out of corners, and the ability to use the rear tire to assist in braking.
Development of the front tire may be delayed until 2024, but Michelin will be continuing development of a new rear tire ahead of the 2023 season. "We have some new things, a rear casing," Taramasso told me at Sepang.
The MotoGP riders had already tested the tire in 2021, and had brought it to Sepang for further testing. "This rear casing we already tested last year in Barcelona, in Misano, in Jerez. It's a new solution to improve the warm up and to improve the edge grip. So this solution, if it works, we will test it again this season. It may be introduced next year, for 2023."
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