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 V4 MotoGP bikes are better in battles
2020 Austrian MotoGP Insight Part 3: V4s have been the dominant force for years and not only because they make more power. Plus, has KTM built the perfect V4? And Honda’s toughest start in decades
Last weekend’s Austrian GP was the perfect illustration of the difficulties that riders of slower, better-handling inline-four MotoGP bikes face when they are fighting with rivals using faster, poorer-handling V4 machines.
V4 MotoGP bikes make more horsepower because a V4 engine has a stronger crankshaft, less vibration and fewer pumping losses, while inline-four MotoGP bikes are more user-friendly in corners because an inline-four engine has a longer crankshaft.
Some of Sunday’s race was a straight fight between two Suzuki GSX-RR inline-fours and two Ducati Desmosedici V4s. The V4s had the advantage on the straights, while the inline-fours had more speed through the corners, if they had the room to use it.
Yamaha was in a much worse state than Suzuki at Red Bull Ring. While the GSX-RR reached 193.8mph on the run into Turn Two, just 1.6mph slower than the Ducati, the YZR-M1 was 3.7mph slower. These might seem like tiny differences, but MotoGP is so close now that any deficit in any area of performance is a big problem.
Two Yamaha riders qualified on the front row, because M1 riders can cut super-fast qualifying laps on a clear track. But when they get boxed in by faster V4s in a race they’re in trouble.
What happened to Franco Morbidelli on Sunday was an extreme example of this. Johann Zarco used his Ducati’s superior speed to pass Morbidelli, then blocked his line. And not necessarily on purpose, because by taking a tighter line through the kink his bike naturally drifted to the right.
(It’s also worth adding here that braking in someone’s slipstream is a nightmare. Just as the vacuum created by the leading motorcycle helps the chasing motorcycle accelerate faster, so the lack of wind resistance makes the chasing bike decelerate slower. This is one reason why riders using a slipstream on a straight always move to the left or right of the leading bike when they brake.)
Anyway, back to the story. There are numbers that prove that inline-fours work better alone than in a battle: in the 50 races prior to this season inline-fours fared much better in qualifying than they did in races, taking 17 pole positions against six race victories.
Read the rest of Mat Oxley's blog on the Motor Sport Magazine website.