WorldSBK Analysis: The Contrasting Fortunes Of Yamaha And Honda

While it has hardly been surprising to see Ducati and Kawasaki maintain their position as the dominant forces at play in WorldSBK the battle for best of the rest has been an interesting subplot for 2017.

Over the course of the opening three rounds of the campaign the form of Honda and Yamaha has been marked by their stark contrast in fortunes. Last year, Honda had been a podium and front row regular as the season moved into the European swing, and Yamaha looked to be clutching at straws in looking for any positives they could find on their return to the series.

This year has seen their roles reversed, with Yamaha consistently the best of the rest and in position to fight for a rostrum finish. Honda on the other hand have had a disastrous start to the campaign with an all-new Fireblade.

Heartbreak for Honda

At the press launch of the new bike journalists raved about the handling and power of the Honda but, as has been shown time and again in the past, the requirements for a road bike and a race bike are very different. The new bike has been a hybrid throughout the campaign so far with various parts from the 2016 bike still in use but with upgrades set to come thick and fast the Ten Kate squad will be hopeful of making progress.

With the bikes arriving just weeks before the first test of 2017 the team were always likely to face an uphill task in the early races. Just how difficult it would turn out to be has been a surprise though. With Red Bull backing and two world champions on the bike the expectation was high but has since turned flat.

The team has plenty of legitimate excuses with production delays caused by the Japanese earthquakes that badly damaged their factory, but there is still a sense of disappointment. There is no doubt that they have been put on the back foot from the outset but their inability to match last year's performances has been a big surprise.

American Nicky Hayden has done his best to search for positives throughout the winter and early rounds but his patience is clearly being tested at the moment. With the team expected to test some new parts at Portimao it should at least give the 2006 MotoGP world champion some hope that progress can be made and they can push to be closer to the front of the field.

The biggest issue this year has been the electronics and with constant engine braking problems the team has struggled to use their track time for much more than trouble-shooting the bike. At the post Aragon test Hayden comment that “it's been a good day and we were able to work on a lot of set-up options and try some things. Overall it was positive and a useful day and we tried some new things with the transmission. We wanted to test the new softer tyre but had some problems at the end of the day.”

The WorldSBK paddock has moved on in recent years and Honda's decision to rely on Honda Europe rather than HRC to fund the project, not to mention rely on Ten Kate to develop the bike, has given them additional obstacles. If big H is to be a front runner in WorldSBK in the future they will need to offer resources from Japan to the championship.

A Yamaha return to form

Yamaha has been in a similar situation with the Crescent run squad based in the UK and initially receiving minimal support from Japan. Over the course of the winter this has changed considerably and so has their fortunes.

Alex Lowes and Michael van der Mark provide a potent rider lineup and in addition to this both riders have been successful in getting the most from the R1. Last year was a challenging season, a lone podium for Sylvain Guintoli was a highlight, but this year has seen Lowes a constant top five fixture and Van der Mark get more and more from the bike with each outing.

At the Dutch round in Assen both riders will go to the weekend expecting to be in the thick of the fight rather than hoping to be close. There is still work to be done to be on par with Kawasaki and Ducati but whereas a year ago they needed a wing and a prayer now the team can feel much more confident. “It's been a good start to the year and the test went well,” said Lowes. “We worked on trying to find improvements on corner entry, this has been a focus all winter, and some of it worked well and others didn't but that's normal in a test.”

On the balance of the season must of what they have been working on has been offering improvements. With the next round Van der Mark's home race it would not be a surprise to see the blue bikes in the running at the front.


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Total votes: 121
Total votes: 124

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Comments

Nice article as always. But I think this time it leaves plenty of room for  another view:

I think the spirit behind the WSBK series is building a stock based championship with teams with quite limited resources. That makes sense since people who like to see the pinnacle of technology are attracted to Motogp, and those who would like to see their own current or future motorbike could see it in WSKB. A lot of people are also attracted to the less tight en less professional environment, where it it still possible to breath, speak freely and touch the hero's while walking the pitlane.  

I think there is a fault in focussing at the dissapointing results of European based teams like Honda and Yamaha and blaim them for it, since they might be the teams that are playing the game according to the rules. I think Ducati en Kawasaki are to blame for spending motogp like budgets in a series that is not intended for that. 

In wintertest Rea posted alsmost similar times on WK superbike as Motogp bikes (ok, in less ideal circumstances). To me, this indicates that something is growing the wrong direction. No way, one would achive that with a real production based motorbike or with an ordinary garage based team behind you.

It is quite easy to have expectations of ex Motogp riders in the series. But... most ex-motoGP and WK superbike riders also tends to evaporate in anonimity when they enter British Championship. Per example N. Haga.

Total votes: 148

it's anoying  the see te ten kate squad struggle .. so much 

why cant they build one bike like  the rcv '' street '' with 200 bhp and ( paying 160 grand ) sell like the other brands for worldsbk like kawa's bmw,yamaha, ducati, mv augusta  and ducati .

the other brands are way more compleet then the honda 

i wonder if hayden and bradl will be positive in the next coming months  #fingers crossed  maybe ?

Total votes: 197

it's anoying  the see te ten kate squad struggle .. so much 

why cant they build one bike like  the rcv '' street '' with 200 bhp and ( paying 160 grand ) sell like the other brands for worldsbk like kawa's bmw,yamaha, ducati, mv augusta  and ducati .

the other brands are way more compleet then the honda 

i wonder if hayden and bradl will be positive in the next coming months  #fingers crossed  maybe ?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Total votes: 174

I am a big fan of the more exotic standard bikes with an extreme motor configuration. But I think it is quite a bold statement to state that the new Honda is way off.... It could be one of the most diverse, ergonomic and useful 1000 cc bike on the street ride now

What I read in the article the barely being competative issue is probably due to there is not enough time to dial the package in and to problems with the software. Which is aftermarket, and has nothing to do with the base of the bike

I can imagine that Honda has not been building a hyper V4 bike with 200+ hp yet. The market for ultrafast sportsbikes decreased in size: Only the first generations of Panigales did sell very well, the better 1299 does not sell very good. If you ever have the misfortune to pay for a Ducati Panigale service interval yourself then you have enough reason to understand that this kind of machine is off-territory for a mass producer like Honda (and Suzuki), which is at best when building bikes that suits everybody and only needs petrol. 

RC45' was a sharp and racy bike but are also very scarce (pricerelated though)!

Total votes: 132

WSBK falls down in the Production to Race equivalence in the Bore diameter and hence the Inlet valve diameter. 

The streetable road bikes have smaller bore diameters, hence smaller inlet valve sizes, and better partial throttle response. Factories shouldn't have to build race replica bikes (at a great cost) just to compete in WSBK.

Maybe an 80mm bore should get less ECU controlled butterflies. A 76mm bore should be allowed all bores to have ECU control. 

Total votes: 122

Ducati want to have their cake and eat it.

They want the improved mid-range torque of a twin with the narrow profile of a twin, but with extra displacement to make up the power deficit.

Seriously.

If v-twins are so much better than 4s, then build one of equal capacity to the inline 4s and show us.

If they're not, then perhaps build a sports bike to compete against what is winning races, rather than crying about rules for more displacement for "parity".  You get advantages with 2 cylinders already.  If they're not enough, build something better.  No one is giving the inline 4 guys concessions to make up for the disadvantages carried by an inline 4.

 

2c.

Total votes: 102

No excuses, Honda. You're the world's biggest motorcycle manufacturer which also makes millions of cars and small engines and even her a. Quit letting your accounts run your motorcycle design and business. 

Total votes: 87