2012 Silverstone MotoGP Preview: Another Wet Race, A Few More Surprises?

On a sunny and pleasant Thursday, the day before the MotoGP riders are to take to the track at Silverstone for the first day of free practice, the questions ahead of this weekend should be obvious: Have the Hondas really found something at the Barcelona test to fix the chatter that has plagued them this season? How will Casey Stoner and Dani Pedrosa get on with the new "33" spec front tire, now that the old construction has been withdrawn from the allocation? Does Jorge Lorenzo's new two-year contract with Yamaha mean he eases up or he pushes harder to extend his impressive lead in the championship? And just how much more progress can the Ducatis make in the dry without any major updates? Are Nicky Hayden and Valentino Rossi any nearer to closing in on the Tech 3 Yamahas, their first port of call on the way to the podium fight?

But this is MotoGP 2012. And this is England. Despite the balmy conditions on Thursday, the Met Office forecasters are positively apologetic: it's going to be wet, and though the forecast has improved since early in the week, where they were promising positively torrential conditions, the weather looks set to be merely wet, rather than diluvian. Right now, it looks like race day could be the best of the lot - merely showery, rather than rainy - but the chances of getting much dry track time this weekend appear to be vanishingly slim.

Normally, wet conditions is enough to keep audience numbers down, but things are a little different this season. As Le Mans showed, a wet track is Valentino Rossi's best hope of a podium, or even - dare the fans dream of it? - a win. Why the Ducati works well in the wet is a mystery: every wet weekend, both Rossi and Nicky Hayden are asked why the Desmosedici GP12 is so strong in the rain, yet so troublesome in the dry, and every time they give the same reply: "We don't know." But the confidence with with the factory Ducati men can throw the bike around in the wet is plain to see, giving them their best chance of a strong result if the rain comes as promised on Sunday. And the prospect of Rossi on the podium fills grandstands, exposing the major weakness of MotoGP: it's excessive reliance on its Italian superstar. One day, Rossi will retire, and so far, Dorna have nothing to keep the fans attention - the casual fans at least, not the much smaller hardcore who will watch anyway.

Wet or dry, the two protagonists of any MotoGP race this season are Repsol Honda's Casey Stoner and Factory Yamaha's Jorge Lorenzo. Last year, in the torrential downpour that was the 2011 British Grand Prix, Casey Stoner gave a masterclass in riding in the wet. Yet a month ago, it was Jorge Lorenzo's turn to demonstrate his smoothness in the rain, obliterating the field at Le Mans with spectacular ease. That race neatly illustrated the problems which Honda is having this season: in Parc Ferme, the rear wet tire of Jorge Lorenzo's Yamaha looked remarkably fresh, with a nice even wear pattern and still plenty of tread left. The rear of Stoner's Honda was destroyed, the tire having chewed through most of its edge pattern, leaving Stoner losing ground massively in the final laps.

Since its introduction at Brno, the Honda RC213V has struggled with tires: in the dry, the bike chatters, first at the rear, and now, with the new spec front Bridgestone, at the front as well. In the wet, the bike eats tires, a consequence perhaps of its more aggressive acceleration. How well and how quickly Cristian Gabarrini and Mike Leitner manage to find solutions to that dilemma will be a key factor in this weekend's race.

The Yamaha has no such problems, the M1's only real weakness a lack of top speed and acceleration. That has not hurt them much: Jorge Lorenzo leads the title chase by 20 points after the first five races, and three Yamahas sit in the top five of the championship table. Andrea Dovizioso has already appeared on the podium - the first satellite bike to do so since Colin Edwards at Silverstone last year - and going by Cal Crutchlow's form, he is sure to follow very soon. Silverstone would be an ideal place for Crutchlow to get his first podium, providing a boost for the Englishman in front of his home crowd, and getting even once again with his teammate, in what is an increasingly tense relationship between the two men.

The anomaly in the Yamaha garage is Ben Spies, the Texan having a very torrid time in his second season in the factory Yamaha team. A technical problem at Qatar followed by set up problems at Jerez got his season off to a shaky start, and he has been playing catch up ever since. The pressure is obvious: a series of mistakes have seen Spies finish poorly, despite setting a respectable pace. His aim is once again just to try to have a smooth weekend, without any mishaps, and rebuild his confidence. Spies was fast in the wet at Le Mans - at least, once he'd sorted out a problem with his visor, suffered at the start of the race - and so should be competitive at Silverstone. If he can keep it together.

What of the CRTs? Could a damp Silverstone provide them with the opportunity to get in among the factory prototypes? Though much progress is being made on the new bikes, the fact that they are still at such an early stage of their development makes it difficult, even in the wet. Cream of the CRT crop so far have been the Power Electronics Aspar riders Aleix Espargaro and Randy De Puniet, and a new swingarm and extra testing should help them get a little bit closer. But Silverstone is such a fast track that even in the rain, following the much faster prototypes is tricky. Perhaps PBM's James Ellison can repeat his feat from Le Mans, ending as the top CRT bike and getting close to a top ten finish. The new bikes still have a way to go yet.

2012

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Comments

I have a guess as to the reason that the Ducati "works" in the wet. I am convinced that the problem with the Ducati is rooted in an engineering process problem that relied too much on simulation. I think the problem they are experiencing in the dry has to do with the way the bike handles the loads, and how that information is transferred back to the riders senses. I don't think anyone would argue with this part.

In the wet the loads are a fraction of what they are in the dry and are below a certain threshold that results in the chassis of all makers functioning in a more familiar (for wet conditions) fashion and the usual suspension adjustments give familiar changes in handling. So I think that maybe riding so fast that one is on the edge of traction in the dry is very different from riding on the edge of traction in the wet, from the point of view of the chassis.

I really think that Ducati needs to take a step back, dig one of the old steel chassis out and run a test on that with Rossi. this chassis was functional in the hands of at least two riders, Stoner and Bayliss (on one occasion). If they can find a baseline that works they can then start to make incremental changes to work back toward the design goal of the carbon "chassis". this would be somewhat time consuming but look how much time they have spent so far.

IIRC, Capirossi didn't do that bad either on the steel frame. They need a new designer. They have gone no where with Preziosi. He was all giddy about getting Rossi on he team to get his feedback and work with him. Doesn't seem he's been listening or making the engineers come up with what Rossi wants. Realisticly. If Casey had been picked up by Yamaha or HRC before Ducati got him, Ducati would have never won a championship. I like Ducatis(street bikes). They are beautiful machines, but they are getting what's deserved of them over the way they treated thier only WC and the only one who could win on thier bike.

My take on why the Duke is fast on wet is about traction. Fair amount of efforts been spent to increase the traction; but somehow the package works best when there is less. If they try the opposite and take the actions (be it aligning chassis so that loads differs or not) which lead to decrease the traction, the weird feeling made me thinking that they would be fine.

Note to Dorna on replacing the Italian in the series; I would have liked to watch a racer comes from zero to hero.

My point about going back to the steel frame is that Ducati needs to establish a base line that "works" for Rossi and Hayden. That is the only machine that seemed to "work" for more than just one rider. It is entirely possible these guys would have as much trouble with it as the GP11. I don't suggest they retun to racing the steel frame just test it with Rossi and Hayden aboard. I know I am reaching for straws, but without a functional baseline it is not possible to make improvements.

I think you are wrong to assume the steel chassis was flexi. I don't think Stoner said it was flexi just that the CF was an improvement. But Stoner is not the point, Ducati needs to make the bike work for others.

The quote I remember best was Casey saying he couldn't consistently hit the same points on the track lap after lap because the handling was imprecise.

Having said that, I get what you're saying about a baseline. Perhaps they could save themselves some time and borrow an old M1 for a long weekend.

Everyone who rides favors a certain tire for one reason or another. Even if you own multiple bikes you probably use different brands on each. I'd like to see how the Ducati performs with a set of Michelins, Perellis or Dunlops. It could be that simple.

IMO, we've gotten very far with engine tech. To the point now that there really isn't too much being transfered to street bike. The trickle down tech that use to happen has come to a crawl. The factories have always use GP racing as a form of testing new tech. Right now I don't see the benefit being applied to street bikes. We have 170+HP production bikes running around. That's more than anyone needs on the street. The 600s nowadays are more than anyone needs.

What needs to happen to move foward in bike tech is cap the engine regs and give everyone a standard ECU that is tunable. That levels the engine side. Then they need to open up suspension tech, active suspension comes to mind. If they're mapping the engines for corners, the same could be applied to suspension. This will bring new tech to the street. Imagine having a street bike that knows when it starts raining and adjust braking power and suspension settings automatically. Being able to tune with electronics on the suspension side would cure a lot of teams issue switch tires and would be cheaper than trying to build hard parts during the season. Maybe this isn't the right article for this but it's something that has come to mind in the last few months. Right now HRC are having chatter problems and Ducati are having grip issues. To me a lot of this could be tines out with active suspension. Maybe I'm wrong but it's worth a thought. David, id like to here/read a article on this thought from you.

You make a good point. What as much or more power than a human pilot can handle, hence the importance of Traction Control. The bikes are getting to a point where GP champs are saying they're almost too fast. Through tuning and electronics they can try to make the power more usable, but there's a limit to how much power can ever be used.

The tyres are so important, the key thing you can adjust to suit a chassis, and it is just counter-intuitive to me from a business perspective to rely on one supplier and give him all your business. I also doubt that it has saved money - how much re-engineering went on to make those Bridgestones work? (never mind the human cost). Yes, the best riders will get the best tyres. Rookies mayy have to make do with something lesser (just like the real world). Has anything different really happened since the one tyre rule was brought in? Factory is still factory. It does seem to work in WSB and BSB (although people say those riders are not of the same class/able to push in the same way) but the prototype class should have prototype tyres, I feel. This is such a key factor that I fear that unless it is brought back we will see MGP deteriorate further - everyone will be on UJM's. ........I wonder if anyone is working on that?

Without Preziosi's brainstorming, Ducati would not be in GP to complain about all the way back to entry list 2003.
I hope it rains cats and dogs, safe in the generally accepted opinion that the Ducati is the best bike in the wet.
Wait a minute. Should a Ducati win a wet race this weekend it will not be credit to L4 and Preziosi and their electronic/mechanical team. No need to mention Ohlins suspension and Bridgestones' new spec tyres working in close conjunction with the technicians from all 4 square essentials. Engine/Electronics, chassis,suspension,tyres. The fifth column is the pilot. Thats the one Preziosi never did have any control over. He never hunted Rossi's signing, the corporate decision pertaining to replacement riders has naught to do with him. Correctly,he embraced the new kid on the block and with the available funding he did and does the best he can for him within the ambit of Corse.
Steel trellis. Ioda use their own edition. Their problem is their streetbike subspecies Aprilia engine. Ioda/Came should give BMW a backhand to claim RdP's engine and give it to Petrucci just for fun. High time CRT started in terms of claiming. Pride commeth before a fall rules within the framework of the rule.
The argument about wet load,dry load doesn't really wash with me anyway.
The Ducati was pushing 250bhp in steel trellis 990 guise and the pilots of the day made it work wet or dry.
Preziosi should be replaced by whom ? Ideas,options ? As ever I'm listening.

By someone who can make a bike capable of winning races. Find new talent. It's a gamble, but Preziosi is a proven loser at this point. He has had more than enough chances to prove his worth and they still have a dog of a bike.

Name and ID and records, CV's please to replace Preziosi. 'Someone' don't count.
Inasmuch 'a dog of a bike' is concerned, it is arguably true and generally bites the hand of the handler that arrogantly feels the need to change its temperement and its geneology week in and week out. 80 second intervention fueling its rabid mouth.
Thats hardly Preziosi's problem. If you don't like the dogs attitude and can't adapt to it, get another breed.
Someone to replace Preziosi. Recommendations please, no someone's.
Maybe a 4 wheel Audi engineer will provide a solution.
Be specific. Someone...Adrian Newey,Masao Furasawa,Soichi Honda, Vlad Dracul.
Who is Ducati's someone ?
L4 D16 it is Preziosi. He sure as hell had no hand in forcing Stoner out and Rossi in.

is Franco Battaini the problem ?

Surely if the bikes been this much of a problem for so long would they not change the test rider or get others involved?

At the end of it i think its always going to come down to money and lack of serious engineering clout that Yamaha and Honda have and Suzuki and Kawasaki lacked and Ducati lacks but makes up for in passion for competition.

this comment perfectly illustrates what's wrong with the approach ducati seem to be taking. they don't know mathematically what they have or what they are trying to achieve with a design.

as i posted ealier, when the current problems became obvious, they should have slathered a bike whose handling the riders liked* with sensors, compared those results with 3D cad model results, tweaked the models the match the results, and then started designing something with clearer goals in mind than they have now. if they knew what stiffnesses and what frequency responses gave a good handling bike, they could then try to duplicate them in a new design.

(*or do this with the current bike in both wet and dry conditions.)

they seem to be taking the thomas edison lightbulb approach to this - try this, try that. if it works sometimes and not others, we don't know why.

after a career among professional aerospace engineers, the current ducati approach seems haphazard. the hitler parody had some points right on the mark. something like " we have so many different versions, we can't even make models..."