Mat Oxley: ‘Current MotoGP machines are surpassing 225mph at some tracks’

New MotoGP rules are designed to reduce performance

Technical regulations are hugely important in motor sport because they play a crucial role in the quality of the racing. And, like it or not, motor sport is now more of an entertainment business than an engineering laboratory, so the racing needs to be enjoyable. Therefore when a championship rewrites its technical regulations, the rules need to create a show, or they risk damaging the business.

MotoGP recently announced new technical rules, which will take effect from 2027. The first concern was to reduce outright performance, because the current 1000cc machines are making around 300hp and surpassing 225mph at some tracks. That’s quite fast on a motorcycle.

The new engine rules – 850cc maximum, 10% less fuel, 100% from non-oil-refinement origin – should reduce performance by around 40hp. There’s been no push towards hybrid because the cost of miniaturising that technology for bikes would be prohibitive.

Next came the desire to get rid of some of the Formula 1-inspired technologies that have changed MotoGP – downforce aerodynamics and ride-height devices. These were introduced by Ducati, which has dominated MotoGP since.

Most of Ducati’s rivals weren’t keen on these new areas of development, but nothing could be done because downforce aero and ride-height devices were within the rules and new rules must be unanimously agreed by all five manufacturers, with Ducati obviously determined to retain its advantage.

Ducati introduced its first ride-height devices in 2018. The front-end holeshot device was inspired by motocross, MotoGP’s muddy off-road equivalent. Motorcycles pitch rearwards during acceleration, which lifts the front wheel, requiring the rider to roll off the throttle, which kills acceleration.

This device is basic but effective. The rider compresses the front suspension before the start to lock the forks at the bottom of their stroke, so the bike doesn’t pitch rearwards. The device disengages when the rider hits the brakes for the first corner.

Ducati’s hydraulically controlled rear-end holeshot device is much more complicated. MotoGP banned electronically adjustable suspension in the 1990s, assuming it had banned dynamic adjustment, but it hadn’t allowed for Ducati’s creative minds.

German physicist Robin Tuluie, who had previously created a hydraulically controlled ride-height system for Mercedes’ Formula 1 car, applied the concept to Ducati’s Desmosedici MotoGP bike. Both systems worked well, essentially transforming the Desmosedici into a drag bike for the race towards the first corner.

The next step was obvious. If the ride-height device allows stronger acceleration from the grid, it will do the same from slowish corners. So this was Ducati’s next innovation: the rider presses a switch on the left handlebar, the rear shock compresses to lower the motorcycle’s centre of gravity, and this allows the rider to be more aggressive with the throttle.

All these devices – copied by rivals with varying levels of success – have been banned for 2027, to the delight of most riders who say they detract from the skill required to race a MotoGP bike. Without the lowering devices, riders need to play more with the throttle and move weight forward to maximise acceleration.

“Reducing horsepower will most likely limit downforce”

The new rules don’t ban downforce aero – which also favours lesser-talented riders – but it will be reduced. From 2027 upper fairings will be narrower and their noses pushed backwards. This will reduce downforce by blunting the fairing and moving the centre of load behind the front tyre’s contact patch. That’s the theory, anyway. The new rules don’t specify a limit on the number of aero elements within the bodywork, so 2027 MotoGP fairings could look more like current F1 front wings, with multiple cascaded elements, designed to maximise downforce.

However, reducing horsepower by around 15% will most likely limit downforce in its own way. The 1000s made excessive power, which engineers turned into grip via downforce. They may not have that luxury with the 850s.

Riders are also happy that downforce aero has been shrunk. Current MotoGP bodywork creates a huge wake and partial vacuum behind the motorcycle, which has safety implications. The wake can knock riders off course, which isn’t ideal when they’re fighting in groups. The vacuum is an even bigger issue. It can reduce grip in corners and increase stopping distances.

Recently, there have been several 200mph-plus near-misses caused by the lack of what riders call air-stop – when a rider brakes in the vacuum behind a rival the lack of air resistance reduces his braking power. Last August at Silverstone, Marco Bezzecchi braked at the end of Hanger Straight in Pecco Bagnaia’s vacuum, his bike didn’t slow as expected, so he grabbed more brake and crashed. The bike made it all the way to the barrier at Stowe corner and he only stopped tumbling a few feet away.

MotoGP rights-holder Dorna can only change the rules without the agreement of the manufacturers when there are safety concerns, but it has yet to play this card. No doubt Dorna doesn’t want to upset aero king Ducati, which currently supplies machinery to four of the 11 teams on the grid.

Those in charge of MotoGP will be crossing their fingers twice: firstly, hoping that their luck holds for the next two seasons, secondly, that the new rules do reduce the air-stop problem.

Mat Oxley has covered motorcycle racing for many years – and also has the distinction of being an Isle of Man TT winner
Follow Mat on Twitter @matoxley