Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - Why Honda never take the easy road

MotoMatters.com is delighted to feature the work of iconic MotoGP writer Mat Oxley. Oxley is a former racer, TT winner and highly respected author of biographies of world champions Mick Doohan and Valentino Rossi, and currently writes for Motor Sport Magazine, where he is MotoGP correspondent. We are featuring sections from Oxley's blogs, which are posted in full on the Motor Sport Magazine website.


Why Honda never take the easy road

Honda’s RC213V engine is a wild thing, but this is not an unusual problem for them to solve. Here’s why…

Many people will tell you the most important things about preseason tests is lap times. These numbers are endlessly analysed by so-called experts attempting to predict the outcome of the new season, rather like weirdos trying to divine the future by reading the tealeaves in the bottom of their teacups.

It’s all a load of nonsense, of course. Individual preseason lap times mean nothing. If they did, Marc Marquez would’ve won last year’s MotoGP title.

Over the years I’ve worked out a much better way of understanding what’s really going on during preseason testing. You hang out at the airport hotel restaurant, just round the corner from the Sepang racetrack, quietly supping a beer and waiting to see which teams sit down for dinner first.

This week at Sepang it was generally the factory Yamaha squad who were first at the table. Meanwhile Honda mechanics were nowhere to be seen – they were still toiling away in their sweatbox pit garages, fettling the RC213V for the 2016 MotoGP campaign, the 68th season of Grand Prix racing.

The lap times at the end of the three-day session didn’t make for happy reading for HRC. It’s star man Marc Marquez was fifth fastest, a whopping 1.2 seconds behind Yamaha’s champ Jorge Lorenzo, who floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee, armed with Michelin tyres and Windows 4 (or thereabouts) electronics. It seems his buttery smooth style works even better with less grip and fewer rider-aids. Even Valentino Rossi was almost a full second adrift of his team-mate. But it was Honda’s travails that really made the headlines.

Read the rest of Mat Oxley's blog on the Motor Sport Magazine website.

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Comments

Great article Mat. I'd agree on this with Honda, it's more than a theory as there is a ton of practical evidence. I was reading an article about the different method of packaging Honda have gone with in the F1 car. Their engine is smaller than any of the others, and most of the energy recovery system sits between the Vs of the V6 engine, so as not to use too much space. They're thinking once they get it right, they'll be up there. If they simply copy Mercedes, they'll never beat them.

I get what they're doing, because to leapfrog someone or something, you have to innovate and change, not just copy.

I'd be interested in knowing what is different between the Ducati 90degree V4 and the Honda version.

The Duc engine is a beast and yet very smooth and rider friendyl, whereas the Honda isn't quite as powerful (apparently) and seems to be such a harsh engine. The valve train differences are well known and that doesn't really makes much difference.. so what gives?

Is it just down to torque curve? firing order? flywheel weight?

David, how about an article/analysis highlighting the differences?

The only differences I could write about would be speculation, and maybe firing order stuff based on analyzing engine sounds. I would love to have detailed knowledge of Honda's crankshaft, engine stroke, approach to valve overlap, etc. But if I ever found that stuff out, I would found shortly afterwards face down in a ditch having suffered an "accident". Honda (and Ducati, for that matter) guard such information incredibly closely. Sometimes, mechanics or engineers may drop hints, but even then, you can't be sure that they are telling the truth, and not spreading misinformation through you.

>> The valve train differences are well known and that doesn't really makes much difference

Given the same cylinder architecture an engine's character is all in the valvetrain. As is the efficiency.

Besides that, Ducati have spent years making well behaved yet very powerful engines. Honda have spent years making barely tameable beasts with heavy electronics control. I'd say that the '16 engine is likely a lot more docile than the '15 (relatively speaking, of course) but the primitive software is masking it. They are being hamstrung by both their dependence on advanced electronic control and arrogance that they didn't need to do more R&D with the control software. I would not be at all surprised if they were trying to do with less than 22l.

I wonder how much of HRC having to continually relearn basic lessons is due to them cycling new engineers through every few years?

Chris

HRC have always been brilliant and by Sepang 2 they will be right up there I guess.
On a pedantic note, the reason they are so good is that they call a spade a spade so to speak.
They run an L-4 layout like Ducati, not a V anything, and yes I saw Freddie Spencer take the 3 cylinder stroker at Kyalami back in '83 . Kenny did an awesome job to beat Takazumi Katayama who was on the fastest bike out there.
Katayama clocked something like 280km/hr down that downhill 1.2 km straight back then.
How times and technology have advanced.
I reckon a Moto3 Honda would get close to 280 on the circuit as it was back then.

Nice article, and yes, Honda has often tried to be different to gain an advantage - and to showcase their technology, I’m sure. Which I quite like, I must say.
Now about this quote: "Honda runs a 90-degree V4 because it wastes no power through vibration. A 90-degree V4 makes huge power, at a cost of some rideability."
That first part sounds correct to me, but I don't see why that second statement would be true.

Of course with a 90-degree V you have 'natural' balancing of pistons and crankshaft counterweights, so you don't need a balancer shaft to create more (opposite) vibration to compensate. That's less power loss, less strain on certain parts of the engine casing (so less weight) and less components (less weight again) and even less inertia, although you need some flywheel anyway, so I don't know if that last aspect does indeed make a difference.

But why would a 90-degree V4 suffer in rideability? It is precisely the firing intervals of a 90-degree V4 that are used in a Yamaha YZR-M1 (and Suzuki GSX-RR too) to make the power delivery at the tyre more controllable, plus making the engine running smoother because of not having all four pistons standing still at the same moment, like in a conventional inline-four. At high revs a conventional inline-four gives an increasing amount of high-frequency second-order vibration because of that.
Yamaha and Suzuki use the crossplane crankshaft even though it means you need a serious balancer shaft to counter vibration (because there’s no pistons nicely lining up with the crankshaft counterweights halfway the stroke).

Also, a 90-degree V4 – as far as I know - actually tends to make a bit less power than a conventional inline-four, because the latter has a constant airflow in the airbox into the engine, all intervals being 180 degrees, whereas the uneven firing intervals of a V4 (or crossplane inline-four) cause one of the cylinders to inhale very shortly after another one (90 degrees instead of 180 degrees), while there's also one that inhales 270 degrees after its predecessor.

By the way, these numbers apply for a 90-degree V4 with a 180-degree crankshaft, where the firing intervals are 180-90-180-270 degrees. With a 360-degree crankshaft it is normally 90-270-90-270 degrees, so two long intervals and two short ones. This was the case with the Honda RC30 (and still is with the Pan-European) and that gives a deeper, more regular sounding drone.

Listening to both the Yamaha and the Honda, the remarkable thing is that the inline-four sounds like a 90-degree V4, while the real 90-degree V4 is actually sounding much more like a screamer, albeit not really like an inline-four. Honda seems to have searched for the most evenly spread-out firing intervals by phasing the two V-twins (that make up the V4) differently to the conventional 180-degree or 360-degree crankshafts. If you would space the two crankpins by say 135 degrees, you can get 135-135-315-135 degrees, giving three short intervals and one long one. I can imagine that would give the mean-sounding ‘broken’ scream of the Honda. Just guessing here, I would love to hear about any sound-analysis with an oscilloscope. That would reveal it, so I’m sure that’s been done by several people.
(I’m assuming here that because of strength reasons Honda is using just two crankpins with two conrods each, not the offset crankpins as they use on their Transalp and custom models.)

Also, hearing the impressive deep drone of the Yamaha when I was live at the track last year, I would even guess that Yamaha has gone for the 90-270-90-270 degree intervals, or something close to that. David or Mat, is there any info on that..?

Sorry about the long post, it was supposed to be shorter, but I could not help myself.

Loving the techie stuff. Thank for sharing your knowledge and thoughts

Given the incredible verbosity of the owner and chief editor of this website, it would be churlish to complain about anyone posting long and thoughtful comments. Great post, thanks. Posts like these put my own articles to shame, and I am greatly appreciative of the community which produces them.

The only thing I could think of that would affect rideability is the bulk of the 90 deg and not being able to centralize mass as easily, but seems obvious that it's not that big of a deal given the popularity of the layout.

... has 4 camshafts rather than 2... more cam gears too. but no balance shaft.

Powervalve58 thank you very much for the technical explanation that you put in there. In fact, when you say sorry for the long post after you have put in so much material with a load of substance that others like me benefit from, I feel ashamed that I post long ones myself and nobody benefits from what I write. Thanks, great post.

Great article by Powervalve58. In particular, his comment on firing orders for V4s...

"By the way, these numbers apply for a 90-degree V4 with a 180-degree crankshaft, where the firing intervals are 180-90-180-270 degrees. With a 360-degree crankshaft it is normally 90-270-90-270 degrees, so two long intervals and two short ones. This was the case with the Honda RC30 (and still is with the Pan-European) and that gives a deeper, more regular sounding drone."

My memory is very short-lived, but I do seem to recall that - back in the late 1980s - the RC30 was known for that 360-degree 'drone' noise while the VFR-750F (& later) had a 180-degree "Rr-Rr-Rr" noise (if you follow!).

Both great bikes. Wish I still had my VFR!

I fully agree with Mat. Honda is leader, not a follower, and because of that they are the most winningest brand in WGP, and by far. So...

Excellent Read on Honda Development processes. It is interesting to see the upside down development with the muffler on top and the gas tank on bottom. Looked very dangerous to me, like an explosion just waiting to happen. All in pursuit of better handling. That early two stroke turning 22k RPM sounds nuts, but interesting to me in how they got that to work. Excellent read. Enjoyed it immensely.

Thank you for a fantastic link - just gorgeous engineering. I couldn't help but think of the day my 6 week premature granddaughter was born. Perfectly formed, just in miniature and covering about the same hand surface as the Suzuki and Honda crank and piston set up pictured in the article / blog. It's just a pity that these remarkable bits of engineering never had the chance to grow up - lol!!

It's importantly to remember when reading this is that this was done 50 years ago - technology and metallurgy are not sciences solely of the 20 teens.