Guest Blog: Mat Oxley - Ducati in MotoGP: looking for the perfect motorbike

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.


Ducati in MotoGP: looking for the perfect motorbike

Like Eldorado, the perfect MotoGP bike doesn’t exist, but that doesn’t mean Ducati’s Gigi Dall’Igna can stop searching. We spoke to him at Assen

Ducati likes to build a MotoGP bike around its engine. The factory literally did this for its first nine seasons in the championship, when the Desmosedici was essentially an engine bolted to a steering head and swingarm.

Focusing on horsepower can make a lot of sense, because it’s easier to overtake in a straight line than around a corner. So that’s always been Ducati’s way – build a bike that allows its rider to get through the corner as best he can, then pull the trigger.

I recall 2003 preseason testing at Jerez, just weeks before the Desmosedici made its race debut at Suzuka.

Suzuki team-mates Kenny Roberts Jr and John Hopkins were stood in the pitlane, checking out the brand-new Italian V4. “It’s like they’ve got a Ferrari engine in there,” muttered Hopkins.

Ducati’s pull-the-trigger concept worked well for a while and can still work today, when track layout allows.

It worked best when Casey Stoner rode the Desmosedici, the Aussie genius modulating front brake, rear brake and throttle all the way through corners. But ultimately the engine-as-frame concept failed.

Those early Desmosedicis had two major flaws: poor turning and front-end feel entering corners and too much suspension pump exiting corners.

The first problem was most likely the fault of the tiny front frame [first steel, then carbon fibre] that didn’t allow enough lateral flex, a vital turning/cornering aid that increases in importance as lean angles increase.

The second problem may have had something to do with the bike’s super-long swingarm. Some chassis engineers believe this design gave the rider less control over chain force and anti-squat, which can stop the rear shock compressing too much during acceleration.

Ducati changed direction at the end of 2011, switching to the same kind of aluminium beam frame used by all Japanese factories since the 1980s. In 2016 Ducati won its first MotoGP races since Stoner left, in part due to chassis improvements and in part due to the switch to Michelin tyres and spec Magneti Marelli electronics software.

During 2017 and 2018 Ducati won 13 races and Andrea Dovizioso twice finished second overall to Honda’s Marc Márquez, but this year is turning out to be more difficult.

Not because the GP19 is less competitive, but because Suzuki and Yamaha are more competitive, cancelling out the Desmosedici’s advantages and highlighting its one major disadvantage: mid-corner turning.

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

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Total votes: 11
Total votes: 5

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Comments

Another excellent MM and MO report. Thank you. Can you tell us where a bike flexes? The Ducati bare chassis image illustrates the extreme swinging arm length and the almost non-existant front frame. There is lot in the tyres and forks, obviously, but how much flex and in what plane and element do the swing arm and frame parts flex? Not much to ask.....

Also, can someone explain chain force? I’ve noted that this has been referred to a few times but I am puzzled as to what it is/effects.

Total votes: 6

Chain force is cool to experience, and simple enough for us layfolk to understand. On the gas, the top half of the chain drives the rear tire down and away. The bike shortens, the shock effectively stiffens, rear gains traction, (some load comes off of the smaller front tire patch) the bike wants to turn. Roll off the gas and the lower half of the chain gets taut, doing the inverse. Short for "the chain forces the rear wheel down under acceleration."

Here is a 2015 Cycle World article quoting a number of people in the know on particulars re chassis flex dynamics for you friend.

https://www.cycleworld.com/2015/10/16/motogp-racing-chassis-flex-and-sta...

Braaaaap! Vroom.

Total votes: 8

How can anyone expect a bike, that is allegedly the slowest in the middle of the corner, to win a world championship against the likes of Marquez, his team and the juggernaut called Honda?

Total votes: 5

you cannot say it definitely is, or will be. Plus, the behemoth called VAG and/or Phillip Morris. Or Red Bull KTM.... And what if Yamaha find their fix for acceleration? Márquez is a big factor of course, but that’s a rider issue not the bike. The big unknown is could MM93 be as fast on a Ducati or Yamaha, or KTM. Possibly. Dall’Igna, Jarvis, and Beirer must dream of such things, but JL99 has shown it isn’t easy to move and win.

Such questions keep us watching even when the likes of Kawasaki and Rea dominate to the detriment of the spectacle, and sponsors paying in the hope of ultimate glorification.

Total votes: 10

Sticking this here in the interest of connecting with discussion. It is interesting what conclusions folks come to about a bike or rider and how. Yes, Ducati would do better to get the bike a bit easier to turn, but this bike IS easier to turn than it was. And many other very positive characteristics.

3 good riders all clumped together may also say that none of them are particularly flattering the bike in the manner that several competitors are. Marquez flatters the Honda, which is a rough wrangle with inconsistent feel. Two Yamaha riders are managing to flatter the underpowered still adapting to Michelins bike. Pol flatters the wild Orange. Aleix the empty pockets at Aprilia. With only two Suzukis on the grid for another year we have less to go on there, but while Rins is at times shining he is also repeating unforced catastrophic errors. He and the Suzuki are doing well, yet more is to come from both. This Duc though, as it is, can win a championship. I LIKE Dovisioso, Petrucci and Jack a great deal. And see the picture of three good riders doing pretty well on a great bike, albeit one with a few deficits. NO bike is without compromise of course. Suzuki and Yamaha are much easier to get on with than the Italian beast. But I can't make a convincing argument that any bike 2018-2019 is a better one than the Duc. One CAN about their riders.

Way too many hams went towards the Lorenzo experiment. It WORKED. He was able to ride that rear wheel blasting long bike and win. He was as 250 a front wheel rider as we have had during this era. And the last.

Ducati needs a plan for the future, correct Dovi. Careful though, as it may end up being a rider. Dovi is brilliant, but also rather defensive and pensive. Master of the wee roll-off and duck by. When he is having a tough weekend in recent seasons, he is reacting off the back foot. A fantastic journey to appreciate, but 2018 and 2019 were a do or die emergence for Andrea with that last reach. Nope. And Honda did the impossible and matched the Duc motor. Gone is Marc's need to over ride the bike under braking. Gone also is Dovisioso's magic missile motor advantage he was able to exploit to compensate for corner speed. But is there another Honda rider that matches the corner speed of Marquez? "It's the bike" isn't being said about #93 for good reason.

Bagnaia is dragging his feet a bit. Avinita is a customer without rider pipeline at present. We are in a holding pattern, for now awaiting the potential from Bagnaia. Or a surprise from one of the other 3, which for me is hanging around in the pits without promise. Very impressed with not just Dovi, but also Petrucci and Miller. They have done very well to reach this potential. The bike offers a bit more. It is more choosy about whom and how than Suzuki or Yamaha are, but it pays off the particularity in a big way. No, it isn't the barely ridable career murdering pre-Gigi bike, it is this excellent and perhaps still best 2018-2019 championship-in-waiting one.

The circus isn't waiting around. Yamaha is back and early yet in their return process. Maverick and Quartararo are doing the business. This Honda that is wiping the floor of everyone else's sweat? It is actually in a bit of a rideability slump still and likely to improve. The Suzuki is fantastic, fast, unparalleled in handling, easy as can be on tires, rider friendly, and with a decent amount of power laid down smoothly. Rins looks really good. Their kid Mir is figuring out the key to MotoGP riding race by race. 2 more of their bikes hit the grid when everyone's silly musical chair game will show their desireability.

If it isn't Bagnaia 2020, it will be someone not yet in Red for 2021 that will flatter the Ducati by blasting that rear wheel right around those corners, barging into a Marquez line with brazen authority.

Gasolio!

Total votes: 14

Would be nice. The rumour always was Gresini running them with Avintia bowing out. Get the right riders on the ‘satellite’ Suzukis and that would only enhance the show. Getting two more Aprilias on the grid would then bring a perfect six marques with four bikes each, but that ain’t gonna happen-unless Rossi does something baffling and runs a pair when he retires-watch this space, but not too intently...!

Total votes: 2

this comment really made me sit up "Honestly, I think you must speak with Jorge [Lorenzo] about that, because he rode our bike last year. [Laughs]"  because it is so so true.

So the impossible challenge for David is to speak with Jorge about the difference.  I'm assuming Jorge is either not actually allowed to or it is not really in his best interests to do this but it would be very interesting.

Total votes: 9

Shame since Jorge seemed to have cracked the code with the Ducati!!

Total votes: 3

Very, in my estimation. He’s been ganged up against by the other manufacturers, ruining the aero and thus the front end of the bike Jorge was recruited to ride. He’s been let down by senior management who let Jorge go just as he was winning races (and I believe showing championship potential) on the much revised bike Gigi had had to build for him. Also for cost saving reasons, I suspect, he’s got an aging number one rider who is predictably complaining about bike development now he can no longer rely on Ducati power to mask his limits as a rider and a journey-man number two rider playing happy families with the number one rider when he should be pushing him to the limit. Of course the bike doesn’t turn as well as it might. But then the Honda doesn’t brake. The Yamaha doesn’t accelerate. The KTM doesn’t stay on line. No bike does everything. But every bike does something extra with the right rider with the right attitude on board. Gigi says ‘Sometimes your ideas are what you need to make the rider happy. Other times you have a different solution, a different improvement’. My ‘different improvement’ would be an entirely new rider line up at Ducati. Quartararo, Bagnaia, welcome to the team. 

Total votes: 10

Pecco Bagnaia is on a Pramac Ducati, OK maybe not the full fat factory 2019 machine but a Duck MotoGp bike. With more power than all 5 of my bikes put together! Bagnaia is a very good rider no doubt. Don't see Pecco setting the world alight just at the moment. Jack Miller has scored 70 points to Pecco Bagnaia's 11 points. So more MotoGp experience & JackAssen is the better rider in my opinion. Next year is a different story & looks like Bagnaia will have a factory GP20.

Luigi "Gigi" Dall'Igna looked rather happy last time I saw him. Almost bumped into him while doing the factory tour.

Fab Quartararo would be one new rider, NOT " an entirely new rider line up at Ducati."

Who  would you replace Jack Miller with? Alvaro Bautista, AB has developed a problem with crashing too much. Tito Rabat ? He is on a Ducati. Not many riders available now or for next season.

IF Marc Marquez was available, IF MM93 could be brought over to Ducati corse, he would probably do better than Dovizioso. But that doesn't seem likely at the moment. Maybe IF some head honcho at Honda might alienate the Alien, then Marc Marquez might look for another team, another manufacturer, maybe.

Total votes: 3

I thought that was self evident since that is the team that Gigi runs. And of course I know what bike Bagnaia rides. I haven’t been a subscriber for eight and half years for nothing. Cloverleaf out. 

Total votes: 7

IMO. I have thought that he looks very relaxed and enjoying things for a man who seems to be all over the world at once and in the pressure cooker that is top flight sports. He seems to have as much resource as anyone could reasonably ask for. His problem is that HRC have found as much power and Suzuki have the handling he searches for. KTM probably lift his heart with empathy. Dovi may not be a wild young thing, but he has Miller for that. Petruc isn't exactly giving him a hard time, but neither is he holding back as he has shown at Mugello and since. Vinales showed what being being too pushy does for your next contract. Dall'Igna probably has the man who gives the best feedback in the world on his bike and he can see the data - he will know that HRC and MM are the team to beat and that his other riders are doing better this year than HRC's MM support team. The margins are tiny and he is now looking for technology he can hide under the fairing rather than having to stick it on for everyone to see. He's in a not-so-bad place. Great coffee too.

Total votes: 5

Looking back at some of the most successful riders, we find riders that can overcome the deficiencies and maximise the advantages of the bike, tyres and software. Jorge needs a bike that is perfect or perfect for him. Rossi was (probably) given the perfect bike during his success. Whereas Marquez, Stoner, Doohan and Lawson took non-perfect bikes to success. The haters will hate that, but hey.

Total votes: 0

That’s what I was trying to do. I agree that Gigi is looking to gain advantage through technological advance and I support that. What I thought he was also saying eg on tyre pop was that Dovi had more to do in adapting his style so as to get the best out of what he’d got. And perhaps quite a bit more, since Gigi goes on to stress how important the rider contribution is. There was also a suggestion in the Gigi comment I quoted earlier of a difference with Dovi over developmental priorities. If that’s what he meant then that seems significant to me. But I don’t think I should have attributed frustration to Gigi - he’s a pro. I do think it’s fair, however, to raise concerns about the race winning, championship winning capability of the current Ducati Factory rider team. Gigi may not be frustrated, but I certainly am. And I bet Jack is too. 

Total votes: 7