After a torrid preseason of testing, with Dani Pedrosa finishing well down the order during several sessions at the official MotoGP tests at Sepang and Qatar, speculation started as to the causes of Pedrosa's mediocre performance. And when Pedrosa finished just 7th at Qatar, the buzz really started about whether one of MotoGP's aliens had finally gone missing.
Anyone watching practice and the race could quite clearly see what Pedrosa's problem was, however. His Repsol Honda RC212V shook and weaved going into corners, and again coming out of corners, causing the bike to shake its head all the way along Qatar's long straights. After qualifying, in a press debrief, when asked how it felt to ride a bike bucking and weaving like that, Pedrosa fixed his interrogator with a beady eye, before replying that it felt awful.
Much of the Spaniard's problems have been put down to the adaptation process to the new Ohlins suspension that Honda are using on all their bikes, but in a story on the website of Spanish sports daily AS.com, journalist Mela Chercoles explains that the suspension is not the issue. The problem, Chercoles learnt from Pedrosa, was the chassis and the swingarm. Pedrosa has asked HRC for a stiffer frame and a stiffer rear swingarm, to allow the Spaniard to gain the rear traction that Pedrosa and his crew have been chasing, while making the bike more stable under braking and on corner exit.
The problem has been highlighted by the contrast between Pedrosa's fortunes and those of his Repsol Honda teammate Andrea Dovizioso and LCR Honda's Randy de Puniet. Dovizioso finished on the podium at Qatar, and looked like challenging for victory for much of the race, while De Puniet rode a very strong race to finish 6th. But Pedrosa isn't the only Honda rider to be facing problems: the hotly tipped rookie Marco Simoncelli and his San Carlo Gresini teammate Marco Melandri - so impressive last year on the underdeveloped Hayate - have been suffering a similar fate on the 2010 RC212V. The problems are believed to be due to the extra weight transfer that the struggling Honda riders are said to prefer, which is overloading the current iteration of Honda's MotoGP chassis.
Honda is keen to fix the problem, however, and had one chassis revision ready for Pedrosa to test at Motegi, with another for him to try at Jerez a week later. Now that Motegi has been cancelled, Pedrosa has been left with more work to do, as HRC will be bringing both chassis iterations to Jerez for Pedrosa to try. The chassis consists of a new frame and swingarm, with carbon fiber sections used to provide extra stiffness in specific areas.
With the advent of the engine limits - Pedrosa, like the other MotoGP riders, has just six engines to last the entire season - testing chassis parts leaves Pedrosa between a rock and a hard place. This early in the season, mileage has to be kept to a minimum, to ensure that the Spaniard still has engines left at the end of the year, meaning chassis have to be evaluated as quickly as possible and on as few laps as possible. Yet if Pedrosa and HRC cannot evaluate the chassis properly, and can't find a solution to the instability which has plagued the Spaniard, he will have little chance of achieving the results both he and Honda believe he is capable of.
AS.com also have a very nice Q&A discussing the problems that both Honda and Pedrosa face, and just where their problems lie.