Filippo Preziosi Interview: Clever Rules Push Stupid Engineers In The Right Direction!

When you look at the plain numbers involved, a tiny company like Ducati has no right to be competing in MotoGP, let alone providing a serious contender for the MotoGP title and supply nearly one third of the bikes on the grid. One of the main factors in Ducati's success in the series, and one of the greatest minds in the MotoGP paddock is Filippo Preziosi, Ducati Corse's General Director. Preziosi has been the driving force behind Ducati's engineering innovation, including the decision to replace Ducati's trademark steel trellis frame with a carbon fiber monocoque, and the switch from screamer to big bang.

MotoMatters.com was lucky enough to grab 10 minutes of Preziosi's time at Jerez, where we talked about why a big bang gives better feedback, how the new engine limits affect production motorcycles and whether Ducati will build a 1000cc bike when the new regulations come into effect in 2012. His answers were extremely illuminating:

MotoMatters.com: First of all, you changed the firing order on the Ducati GP10, it's no longer a screamer, it's now a big bang. The riders always say the engine feels much more responsive. Why? Do you know why?

Filippo Preziosi: No. [Laughs]. So it's a very short question, very short answer! We have some ideas and have some measurements of that. We have some data and we did some analysis. But to be honest, there are some points in which there are numbers which show that the engine should be better, but there are also other numbers that show that the engine should be worse. So like usual, it's not easy to say the reason why.

MM: Do you think it could just be sound? Because the frequency is lower, it makes it easier to understand where the engine is in the power?

FP: For sure that is one of the points, but I'm not sure it's the main one.

MM: The riders are restricted to just 6 engines this year. Are you worried about the engine restrictions?

FP: [Laughs] Every engineer is worried about the engine restrictions! Every engineer is worried about everything! But we know the rules and we are working to get the maximum reliability that is possible, keeping the power like the year before. So of course it is a trade-off between power and reliability, but I think it is a good rule, because it is pushing the engineers to develop a more reliable engine, and that could help in production.

MM: So this will really help for production engines, in 2013, 2014?

FP: Yes, you are developing knowledge not only about performance but also about reliability.

MM: Is this also the case with the fuel limit?

FP: Exactly, exactly. But the rules are important. Ducati decided to go into MotoGP when we switched from two stroke to four stroke. The reason is that with the two strokes, there is no link with production. We are a small company and we will not do racing just for advertising. It doesn't make sense, it's too expensive. But if you consider that the research and development you are doing during the race is increasing the company knowhow, it makes sense to spend that money. So even the fuel consumption is giving us good knowledge for production bikes.

MM: Can you actually measure the difference in production engines? Do you know how much less fuel, say, a 1098 uses.

FP: No, I don't have those numbers, but we are supplying over the years our knowledge to the production department, and they can find what is interesting and what is not, and decide to put into production.

MM: So you make your research available to production, and they...

FP: … are free to use or not what they need.

MM: Crash damage: have you changed the engines at all to make them less likely to be damaged in a crash?

FP: One of the simple things we did is in the vertical exhaust, in the bottom part of the bike, you can see something like a grid to prevent the stones from coming into the exhaust and coming into the valves. It happened some times during the last years, but because it was allowed to change the engine, we never did it. And this shows, this part is very simple, and because the engines are very expensive, it's something we should have done even in the past. But we never did. Why? Because you are not forced by the rules, you are concentrated just on performance. But it's a stupid thing, because when you change an engine, you lose time, you lose time with the mechanics because they are changing the engine instead of working on setup. So I think the rules have to be very clever in order to push the stupid engineers in the right direction!

MM: That brings me to next question quite nicely: When I was a computer programmer, I spent all my time trying to get around the rules, that's what engineers do. How would you make MotoGP cheaper? How would you change the rules to make it cheaper?

FP: This change of engine [limiting riders to 6 engines a season - MM] is something that reduces the cost of the category. In terms of money, there is no difference in the amount of money you are spending developing the engine, because if you have a rule that pushes you to search for power, you will use your test bed, your engineers and you will buy parts in order to improve performance. If you have rules that push you to increase reliability, you spend the same amount of money, because you have to pay the same number of engineers, you have the same number of test bed for engines, and so on. So in terms of development, you are not spending more money or less money for either kind of rules. But the engine you are producing for racing, you spend less money, because you are using not one engine each race, but just 6 engine. So you spend more or less one third. It's not exactly one third, because the engine is a little bit more expensive, but it is 10 percent more expensive, not triple. So you are spending maybe 40% of what you were spending before.

MM: Any thoughts about 2012? Have you thought about whether you will be building a 1000cc or will you be sticking with the 800?

FP: We are thinking about a new bike, but we don't know the displacement, because the fuel limit will remain 21 liters, and the bore will be limited to 81mm. So, it's not clear that 1000cc is the best idea. So you have to produce the most efficient engine in order to get the most out of the 21 liters you are allowed to use.

MM: What's the key point? What's the most important factor in doing that?

FP: I think it's just attention to details. Because the rules are specific in some areas. You cannot use direct injection, because the fuel pressure is limited. You cannot use exotic materials, because the ratio between the stiffness and the weight is fixed, so there are a lot of constraints that push you to develop a more efficient engine itself, without designing very strange things.

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Comments

David - that's a great interview...best explanation of the engine limit and its benefit toward cost reduction and "improving the breed" that I've read. What an impressive guy Filippo Preziosi is!

Yep, great interview with a very clever guy. He also sounds very level headed.

It will be interesting to see if some manufacturers build 1000cc bikes.
Providing they can manage the fuel limitations, their riders will be able to 'park' the bike in the middle of the corners (blocking the run of the 800cc riders), and then blast into the distance with the extra grunt the additional 200cc's provide...

Very interesting times ahead.

I just wanted to say thank you for providing this kind of really interesting inteviews (Preziosi, Livio Suppo, Peter Clifford..).
I really enjoy this website, I think you are doing a great job.

Fuel pressure was limited to 10bar, but they eliminated that restriction for this season. It seems like Preziosi would know the rules for fuel injection inside and out, I wonder if the manufacturers simply have an agreement not to use DI even though they've changed the rules for this season.

All of this talk about fuel economy and DI makes me wish MotoGP would allow dual fuel. Dual fuel is basically a direct injection E85 system that raises pump gas octane to 120AKI and beyond. High octane means high compression so the bikes would gain another 10-15% horsepower. Premium pump gas is cheap and production relevant.

I think they could probably add a 1L E85 reservoir to the bikes quite easily. The end result would either be an 800cc engine that produces 990cc power figures, or they could alter the rules so 800s make the same power figures at lower rpm (possibly extending engine life).

Probably a pipe dream, but it would be really cool.

they're letting you in the paddock now! Another interesting interview you don't get on the bigger websites!

David ~ your questions provided an outstanding insight into the mind of a great Ducati engineer. It's posts like this that makes me and other GP race fans look forward to receiving your Tweets, e-mails and visiting your website. We appreciate your work. Thanks.

"Faster, Faster, Until The Thrill of Speed Overcomes The Fear of Death." ~
Hunter S. Thompson

Great stuff... I learned a lot from this article. Props to you guys @ MM.

JK
1999 Ducati 900SS
1995 VFR750F

Great interview, always very interesting to read these sorts of comments from someone involved in the behind the scenes aspect of bike racing. Top stuff!!

er .. i noticed my post is missing, did i say something wrong??? seriously, can someone tell me what i did wrong that would get my post removed? i wasn't trying to be facetious nor promoting anything - at least that was y intent.

just looking for clarification as to why my thoughts were denied.

sincerely,

paul.

I checked the logs, and your post wasn't removed. In fact, I can't find it being posted at all. I do remove offensive comments, but I certainly can't find offensive ones from you. It sounds like something went wrong during posting. Sorry about that, it happens sometimes.

thank you for taking the time to check for me, david! :)

this is another display of your considerable integrity - that which keeps us all extremely happy & wonderfully informed.

ever since i discovered your site - an 'accident' (i think of it as a blessing) of google, while looking for the alternative sites - it was immediately my favourite bookmark & i consult it twice daily. :)

again, thank you so much!

paul.

David, I enjoyed very much this interview. It's always great to get the views from the riders, but also the thoughts from the geniuses behind their success. I think Preziosi is a legend in the making, but he also seems to be a very nice guy. I celebrate the fact that the day you got your paddock access we all got a little piece of it. Thanks for sharing.

Preziosi was a very nice guy, and an incredibly passionate race fan. After the interview, we spent a couple of minutes chatting about who was going to win the race, and assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the various riders. He was clearly speaking as a fan, not as a Ducati team member, though it's also clear he is as passionate about Ducati as he is about MotoGP.

One of the more surprising things about the paddock is how many genuinely nice people there are there. There are plenty of people who think they are a big shot, just because they happen to work in the MotoGP paddock in one capacity or another, but the really successful people are usually both friendly and interested in what you have to say.

Thanks for that one Mr.Emmett. As a Ducati rider for over 30 years, it's great to hear forthright opinions and observations from men like Preziosi.He seems to have a great sense of humour to top it all ! May he and Ducati go from strength to strength this season.

If some idiot on a message board hadn't encouraged me, it might never have happened ;-). So you are especially welcome! And thanks!

David...you deserve all the props you get for your site. For a website that covers both MotoGP and WSBK, and with all the insight and knowledge that you provide, this is the best one out there I've ever encountered...period. My day is not complete without checking your main site and the forum at least 5 times a day...hahaha.

I enjoy Emmetts work and am glad he's now in the paddock bringing fans the lowdown, but playing devils advocate, to ask Preziosi whether Ducati have got the big bang to work on the basis of what it sounds like, strikes me as a little technically naive..?

Does it work better b/c the rider is more sensitive to sound/vibrations/feel?

I know it sounds like voodoo, but frequency doubles every time you gain an octave. The lower the octave, the more sensitive the engine note is to revs. Some people have even gone so far as to suggested that v-twins might be easier to ride as a result of sound.

Sound? Grip & slip? Inertial interference?

Who knows. It's one of the unexplained motorcycling sciences.

it is all down to inertial torque, the slowing down of the crank as two sets of pistons as set out in a conventional in line four, reach TDC and BDC. This works against the combustion torque, which is supplied by ignition on the powerstroke and creates "noise" as he calls it, or interference..it seems this noise does increase exponentially once it reaches a certain value, about 14000rpm. By the time the engine is at 18000rpm, the spike on the graph of the pistons slowing to turn round and travel the other way down the bore, is greater than the combustions firing the piston at TDC. It is this inertial torque interference which he credits with spoiling the feeling riders have at higher revs..the lack of connection between throttle openings and what the rear tyre is doing, and Yamahas solution was to build the crossplane crank, which has zero inertial torque by virtue of the 90 degree spacing of the crankpins. The V four Ducati has low inertial torque by design and is not as prone as the inline motors.
Messing around with firing intervals on top of crankpin spacing, allows engineers to fine tune intake and exhaust harmonics to improve performance again..improving tyre life/feel, plus it's all happening lower down the rev scale, giving the engine an easier time.. important with the six engine rule...
The sound is a symptom of the redesigned motor not a condition.

A perfectly good question. I was aware of Furusawa's explanation of why big bang engine's work, and was interested in hearing from Preziosi what he had to say. But the reason for asking is that there is so much talk about riders having a better connection to the rear wheel, and my belief that so much of motorcycle racing takes place in the mind of the rider. It is such a mental sport that even the smallest factors can make a difference. Valentino Rossi has always had a silencer fitted to his MotoGP machines, because he says an unsilenced machine prevents him from concentrating properly.

Another reason for asking was the discussion over electric bike racing. There's been a lot of talk about the necessity of noise in racing, and noise is one of the factors in helping riders to understand what is going on.

I would like to think that my question was not so much naive, as exploring avenues that may have been overlooked. Apparently, they have not been overlooked. 

You raise a point I hadn't considered..the sound of the engine and the riders interpretation of that, in aiding his ability to get the best performance from the bike.. I'm not convinced it's that relevant as whatever and wherever a person rides, you quickly get used to the "characteristics" of the engine, where to shift etc. without looking at the tacho all the time...
Surely most racers wear earplugs in any case, although riding an electric bike without an engine backtrack/reference point must be weird initially, but something you'd adapt to.
Riding bikes is visceral in which sound plays it's part, but by how much is an interesting and perhaps a more valid topic than I first considered.
Good work and what about a podcast from trackside, race weekends if you're there.?

I thought the same as you, that it should just be a matter of knowing the engine, and the engine sound. But I wondered if there wasn't more going on. Preziosi's answer seems to be that they're not sure, but probably not. I'm just trying to cover any angle I can think of, however unusual or unlikely it may seem.

As for a podcast, it's on a list of things to do when our budgets have expanded, though there are a few practical problems as well. I'm never short of work when I'm at trackside!