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MotoGP 18

The Honda/Yamaha pendulum

Amid all the Assen drama it was easy to forget about the forlorn figure of Dani Pedrosa, slumped in his pit, wondering what might have been.

motogp race  The Honda/Yamaha pendulum

If all things had been equal, victory should have belonged to the Spaniard. Instead he finished a distant fourth, just one place ahead of the remarkable Jorge Lorenzo. So instead of stretching his advantage over his main title rival by 14 points, he gained just two points on him.

Pedrosa may still lead on points but his season has gone awry since his back-to-back wins at Jerez and Le Mans, because for one reason or another he hasn’t been able to get the best out of the Bridgestones. At the three races since Le Mans – Mugello, Catalunya and Assen – he has cited tyre issues for his inability to challenge for victory.

At Mugello he struggled with Bridgestone’s heat-resistant rear tyre, new for this race. “We had many problems with the new rear tyre and we had to set up the bike completely differently to get grip,” he said. “Jorge was faster in the corners.”

At Catalunya everyone struggled with the front slick, but the Hondas more so than the Yamahas. “When I tried to push, I immediately got warnings from the front,” said Pedrosa after finishing runner-up to Lorenzo for the second consecutive race.

motogp race  The Honda/Yamaha pendulum

Assen was even worse, his first finish off the podium since Qatar, where he also highlighted tyre problems. “It’s another race where we don’t know why we don’t have grip – we need to find a set-up that gives more grip,” he said.

Cynics might suggest that Pedrosa is making excuses. I don’t think he is. None of the top riders in MotoGP are winning riders one day and fourth-place finishers the next. The difference between the days that Pedrosa is in the hunt and the days he isn’t is that when he is in the hunt he’s riding to the limit of the bike and when he isn’t he’s riding to the limit of the tyres.

Of course, everyone has the same chance – the tyres are the same for all. But of course the bikes and the riders aren’t the same, so the tyres work better for some than for others. And the interface varies according to the track and the weather – just a few degrees can change everything.

Some people like to think they can predict where the Honda will work best and where the Yamaha will work best. But invariably they are proven wrong. Jerez, for example, is a Yamaha circuit, all about corner speed. But when track temperatures rose on race day, the tyres lost edge grip, the Yamahas were unable to use their corner-speed advantage and Pedrosa pointed and squirted his way to victory.

motogp race  The Honda/Yamaha pendulum

When track temperatures rose at Mugello and Catalunya, the know-alls suggested we were in for a re-run of Jerez. Again they were proved wrong. Lorenzo’s tyres worked better at both races, where he used his knew trick of launching straight into the lead (the Yamaha is much better off the start line this year), setting a devastating early pace and not letting the Hondas get past him for one moment. Lorenzo knows that the Hondas have better acceleration and braking performance, so if they do get ahead he will struggle to pass them. But when he is ahead he can negate the Honda’s advantages by using his superior corner speed, so they can’t get past him.

So what does this tell us? It tells us what most of us already knew: that the Yamaha is a more neutral motorcycle that can be more successfully tweaked to get the best out of the tyres from one track to the next. Lorenzo’s back-to-back wins also suggest that Yamaha learned something from their defeat at Jerez and now know how to look after the edge grip of the tyres in hot conditions.

It also tells us that the Honda and Yamaha are in many ways very similar in performance, in that they are capable of very similar lap times, even if they go about it in different ways. The only big difference is how they work the tyres from one track to the next.

motogp race  The Honda/Yamaha pendulum

So this is going to be one of those championships years – when the battle for the MotoGP crown sways this way and that, like a pendulum. There are people in the paddock who believe that the circuits in the second half of the championship suit the Hondas better than the Yamahas, according to results from the last couple of seasons. I’m not so sure. I think these things change from year to year, according to the bikes, the riders, the tyres and the track temperature.

The next race at the Sachsenring is certainly Pedrosa territory. He’s won on his last three visits, so if he doesn’t win this year, it will be a bad sign for him. Lorenzo, however, may have more problems in Germany than he had at Assen: the Sachsenring is all about left-handers, which will be a huge ask for his left shoulder. And the race after that is Laguna Seca, which also runs anti-clockwise. Pedrosa should be able to regain the initiative in July but, as always, it will come down to tyres.

Click here to read more from Mat Oxley on MotoGP.

motogp race  The Honda/Yamaha pendulum

Add your comments

18 comments on The Honda/Yamaha pendulum

  1. Thomas Baujard, 3 July 2013 10:18

    Brillant analysis as always. We want more !

  2. G Evans, 3 July 2013 10:34

    Tyre competition would be great, but not sure how we’re going to get it with no £££ around. As long as we need to have one supplier, I am glad it’s Bridgestone. During the competition era they showed that they are better than Michelin at developing tyres that work over a big range of conditions and their quality control is second to none.After what happened in F1, I wouldn’t want Pirelli anywhere near MotoGP, what a recipe for disaster.

  3. N. Weingart, 3 July 2013 13:49

    Once again Bridgestone is introducing new tire constructions during the season. Bridgestone’s Azuma has said the reason is to promote safety at high temp. high energy imput tracks, like Mugello. But I wonder. Assen saw Bridgestone bring the heat-resistant rear slick in what was a cool temp. race. The belt construction of the heat-resistant tire is different from the regular rear slick and has caused Pedrosa problems at high lean angles. You may say that Honda is just bad at designing a chassis but if Bridgestone persists in bringing the heat-resistant rears to every “Honda” track I would wonder what the reasons are for this. Early in the season Azuma said the heat-resistant rear was designed only for Mugello but now we are seeing it used more and more. If this hints at manipulation of the series time will tell, but it isn’t good for Bridgestone’s reputation nor Dorna’s. There should not be new tires injected into the series after the Winter testing period is over. Bridgestone must have safe, race-worthy tires finalized by this point for the season.

  4. chris, 3 July 2013 15:55

    “None of the top riders in MotoGP are winning riders one day and fourth-place finishers the next. ”

    everyone who has won a race this year had finished 4th or lower in another race… rossi had two 4ths and a 1st

  5. Motoshrink, 3 July 2013 16:36

    Great article as per usual, thanks. Pondering that perhaps in addition to the Yamaha being more successfully tweaked for tire and condition changes will also be that MM93 can more successfully tweak his looser riding style to get more out of tires and Honda corner apexing than DP26? The new kid may upset the applecart with delightful results.
    Beautiful race at Assen! Bravo!

  6. kowalsky, 3 July 2013 18:03

    this is a champioship that’s going to be won by men , not machine. So if i was pedrosa, i would be concerned to see that lorenzo is in a state that very few riders in the history of the sport have been.

  7. erwinzx10, 3 July 2013 19:28

    the factor to watch is that number 93

  8. The Original Ray T, 3 July 2013 20:09

    Maybe Bridgestone should make tyres that shred after 8 laps? Maybe MotoGP needs push-to-pass technology?
    Maybe not.
    Brilliant race, brilliant year so far, great to see Rossi back. This is real racing, and exciting stuff to watch: 4 wheel formulas take note.

  9. The Phantom, 3 July 2013 22:09

    Chris wrote:v”everyone who has won a race this year had finished 4th or lower in another race… rossi had two 4ths and a 1st”

    That’s missing the point that Mr Oxley is making… what he is saying is that the top riders in the series are consistent, so if they go from 1st in one race to 4th in the next, it’s down to something to do with the bike. Not the rider.

  10. Craig, 4 July 2013 05:15

    Not one SYLLABLE about Rossi? He has won on a Yamaha, too. AND on Bridgestone tires.

  11. Mat Oxley, 4 July 2013 07:34

    Chris, yes, but the reason they finish fourth in one race and then first the next isn’t because they have an off-day or an on-day, it’s because they missed the set-up or, more likely nowadays, couldn’t get their bike to work with the measly allocation of two different tyre compounds

  12. Bill, 4 July 2013 13:29

    The MotoGP articles from mr Oxley are second to none. Thank you.

  13. R.E.B, 4 July 2013 17:54

    At least they are not deliberately designing rubbish tyres! It is a genuine engineering challenge for people like Gerry Burgess. No race formula is perfect and there will always be disputes about the rules, re CRT etc, but for my money Moto GP and BSB represent the best in racing at the moment.

  14. TheBaron, 5 July 2013 01:30

    Mat, another goodie. Wonder if the difference between Pedrosa and Marquez results at Assen and Qatar are due to the fact Marquez rides somewhat like Stoner and ‘anamalises’ the Honda whereas Dani seems to be a little smoother. Whatever, Marquez has got the heat into the rear at times Dani has struggled. Talking about tyres, and there was acknowledgement that Bridgestone brought a harder (stiffer) construction rear to Assen – did they also have a stiffer front available?

  15. Rich Ambroson, 5 July 2013 04:39

    Excellent read as ever.

    Is it me overstating things, or has it seemed to nearly always be a bit of Honda having a bit more of the grunt, and the Yamahas having a bit more agility?

    Love the bottom photo on this page, and used as the thumbnail on the main site.

    Finally, I know Rossi won the race, but I just have to say,

    Lorenzo!!!!

  16. Rich Ambroson, 5 July 2013 04:41

    “have been” a case of Honda grunt, Yamaha agility.

    And whether that’s the case or not, I thoroughly enjoy the differing abilities of the bikes, and how the riders have to try and exploit them. Makes for even more interesting racing, as if MotoGP isn’t already good. (though I’ll always miss those gnarly two strokes from the 80s/90s.)

  17. Alex Milligan, 5 July 2013 23:21

    Mat, why no race report and why no article on Vale winning again?
    I enjoy your articles and am an admirer of your work (been reading your stuff since Performance Bikes days) but for those of us in Oz who cannot alway’s sit up into the small hours to watch the race live and then miss the late night re-runs here, I finally caught up with a full race post on YouTube to see the result!!!
    Another question – whilst I understand that MS is first and foremost dedicated to 4 wheels and in terms of journo power you are heavily outnumbered here, can we please get your articles posted the day after the race at least and not up to a week later??? I mean, it’s not as if you hacks are working that hard is it??!!!!!!!

  18. chris b, 7 July 2013 07:49

    Interesting Mat, its always good to read someone who can articulate as effectively as yourself,

    the sway to and fro, is it good? i’m not sure what i do know is that i miss other manufacturers getting stuck in, oh sorry Ducati are there…ah..well in name anyway, and we welcome the return of the Suzuki – sadly not next year though, wouldn’t it be rather splendid to welcome back Kawasaki – isn’t Tom Sykes doing well? and then Aprilla, and as i ride one, Triumph? now that would be good, etc etc ah we did have WSB but that seems to have died a bit of a death – not sure why

    all i do know is that it is probably the best motor sport on TV this year, shame about next year

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