Our MotoGP mid-season review continues with the man everyone tipped for the title on Michelin tires, Dani Pedrosa.
4th: Dani Pedrosa, Honda, 96 points
Before the start of the 2016 season, many insiders, including several MotoGP riders, were telling anyone who would listen to look out for Dani Pedrosa. The new Michelin tires played perfectly into his hands. The extra grip of the powerful Michelin rear gave him the grip he had been missing with the Bridgestones, and his smoothness with the throttle was helping to overcome the limitations of the spec electronics. Pedrosa was the unanimous outside tip for the championship.
Once the 2016 season started, any hope of a Pedrosa title has flown. A mediocre Qatar got him the season off to a weak start, but Pedrosa's troubles started in earnest once Michelin changed their rear tire in the wake of Scott Redding's delaminated tire in Argentina. Because of his light weight, Pedrosa has always struggled to get heat into rear tires, and it is heat which creates grip. Once the much harder construction Michelin was introduced, it became almost impossible.
What made it particularly tough on Pedrosa was the change to the center part of the tire. Pedrosa's style relies on him picking the bike up quickly and getting it onto the fat part of the tire. There, he can use the bike's weight to create pressure on the rear tire, and use his balance and his skill with the throttle to generate drive out of the corner. But it was the middle of the tire which Michelin made much harder, the precise section which Pedrosa relies on. Getting out of corners became impossible for the Spaniard.
Things have improved as Michelin have worked on their tires, making the mid-section once again softer, and faster to warm up. But that still leaves Pedrosa with the same fundamental problem which all Honda riders have: no grip out of corners under acceleration. When you open the throttle, the engine is so aggressive that it just wants to spin up the rear tire. At some point, the tire will start to grip, at which point the short wheelbase of the bike means it wants to hoist the front wheel to the sky. With limited electronics, controlling wheelies is difficult. When you are as small of frame as Dani Pedrosa, there is a limit to how far you can move your weight forward.
Pedrosa faces an uphill task for the rest of the season, but things are looking up. As HRC gets more of a handle on the electronics, the throttle response of the Honda has improved considerably. Honda has also brought new throttle bodies and trialled a new exhaust for the RC213V, to try to improve the engine character, and improve acceleration. But Pedrosa has also had harsh words for Honda, saying the follow Marc Márquez' development direction too much, building an aggressive engine only Márquez can ride, and leaving the rest of the Honda riders out in the cold. Given the positions of the other Honda riders, you would have to say he has a point.
With a new contract under his belt, Pedrosa has two more seasons to try to win the MotoGP title which has eluded him so far. He will need help from Honda to do that. Given the struggles of the Honda satellite riders, they may be inclined to listen.
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