Can Honda be Ducati’s biggest threat in 2022?

MotoGP

Honda’s 2022 RC213V is the factory’s biggest MotoGP redesign in 16 years – so what’s the focus of the new bike and what does HRC technical director Takeo Yokoyama think it can achieve?

Honda prototype 2022 MotoGP bike in carbon

Pol Espargaró looking good on the new RC213V at Jerez last November

Gold and Goose

If Ducati’s Desmosedici is favourite to win the 2022 MotoGP title, who or what might stop it?

The last two MotoGP championships have been won by inline-fours – Suzuki’s GSX-RR in 2020 and Yamaha’s YZR-M1 last year. Why? Because both factories built good bikes, but also because Honda’s six-time MotoGP king Marc Márquez was out of the game and because Michelin’s new-for-2020 rear slick suited inline-fours better than V4s.

This grippier rear tyre features a softer construction, so it works more naturally with the inline-fours, which use smoother cornering lines while the V4s – especially the Ducati and Honda – deformed the tyre too much with their more aggressive stop-and-go lines.

That’s why 2020 was Ducati’s worst season since 2016, with just two race wins. But by the end of 2020 Ducati engineers were on top of the problem and had signed several new riders who could get the best out of the tyre. That’s why Ducati was so good in 2021, winning seven races.

“The bike is faster and safer – it feels easier to make the lap time”

Honda, meanwhile, continued to struggle with the new rear tyre, because when you lose your number-one rider, how do you maintain the same development direction? You don’t, which is why last year Márquez often used his 2019 RC213V instead of the 2021 bike, which was engineered via input from Honda’s other riders.

“When you miss rear grip you miss braking, turning and acceleration, so you miss everywhere,” affirmed Márquez last summer. “We need something more, we need maybe one tenth per lap and we need to be able to be fast at every circuit.”

Honda’s struggles convinced HRC to undertake its biggest MotoGP redesign since the RC212V V4 replaced the RC211V V5 in 2007. The 2022 prototype looks nothing like earlier RC213V machines, which were closely related to the 800cc RC212V.

This redesign was probably overdue, but when you’re dominating MotoGP – with championship wins in 2013, 2014, 2016, 2017, 2018 and 2019 – why would you change everything, even if you’re relying on one rider to make magic on your motorcycle?

Side view of Honda 2022 prototype bike

The 2022 RC213V prototype during Jerez testing – it’s a very different motorcycle to previous RC213V iterations (see below)

Gold and Goose

Four factories run V4s in MotoGP: Honda, Ducati, KTM and Aprilia. The Honda and the KTM are taller and shorter, while the Ducati and Aprilia are lower and longer.

The RC213V and RC16 have always been front-end bikes, which means their riders make the lap time by diving to the apex of the corners and using the front tyre to the limit. This is one reason why Márquez – with his otherworldly feel for the front tyre – is the only rider to have achieved consistent success with the bike.

Now it looks like the new RC213V is moving in the Ducati/Aprilia direction and shifting focus to the rear, because the latest Michelin rear is a much, much better tyre than the Michelin front.

Therefore riders must now use the rear tyre to make the lap time. This means not only using the rear’s huge grip during acceleration, but also using it to help stop the bike into corners, which takes load off Michelin’s so-so front tyre, then getting the bike turned as quickly as possible in the middle of the corner to get off the front tyre and onto the rear.

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Different geometry and centre of mass are part of the RC213V redesign, with the engine tilted backwards, for more rear grip. This is what Ducati did in the early days of Michelin’s spec tyres.

So far, the changes seem to be working.

“The bike is faster and safer – it feels easier to make the lap time,” said Márquez’s team-mate Pol Espargaró following November’s post-season tests at Jerez.

HRC has been working non-stop since that test to incorporate Espargaró’s feedback into the next 2022 prototype that will be tested at next month’s pre-season tests at Losail, Qatar, and Mandalika, Indonesia.

If the bike works well and if Márquez is fully fit, following his double-vision problems, my feeling is that the six-time MotoGP king and the RC213V will be the combination most likely to stop Ducati in 2022, not Suzuki or Yamaha.

Takeo Yokoyama celebrates with Marc Marquez

HRC technical director Takeo Yokoyama celebrates Márquez’s comeback win at Sachsenring last June

Honda

To get an idea of what HRC are doing for the new season, I spoke to its technical director Takeo Yokoyama.

How much has the new rear tyre and Marc’s absence affected HRC?

“At the beginning of the 2021 season all our riders except Marc had one year’s experience on the new rear tyre, so he needed time to get used to the tyre. And although Marc is a super-talented rider, one of the best in history, he had been absent for so many months and he was coming back to MotoGP when he still wasn’t 100% recovered from his arm injury, so he couldn’t push the bike like he used to.

“So some things went into confusion, because we rely so much on riders’ feedback and when the riders are, let’s say, a little lost and not sure what they need from the bike, the job is more difficult.”

Your 2022 bike looks like the biggest change since you designed the RC212V, so what are you trying to make better and what’s the target with this bike?

“The target is to win the title! Technically speaking, what we want to achieve is to use the rear tyre more effectively, this is clear. Last season was the second year with this tyre and we started to understand in which way to use the tyre.

By the end of last season, the way our riders were riding and using the bike, which comes from the tyre, changed, because we were starting to understand more and more. But last year there were some limits to what we could do with the bike [engine development was frozen due to Covid], so we couldn’t change things radically. However, our understanding improved, so now we are putting everything we learned into our 2022 bike.”

Honda 2022 prototype bike in pit garage

HRC mechanics work on the new RC213V during the Jerez tests

Gold and Goose

Is the big thing to improve turning, so you can get off the front tyre and onto the rear as soon as possible?

“It’s a bit of everything: weight distribution, pitching behaviour and the way to spin and slide. Because in the end with a motorcycle you only have two tyre contact patches on the ground and whoever takes the maximum efficiency from these will get the best performance.

“The [traction] balance is especially important because you can’t always have both tyres working 100%. When one tyre is working, the other one must be a little sacrificed and vice versa, but for total performance you must make the best balance between the two.”

“To get constant good grip you must be quite a gentleman with the tyre”

This year’s bike is the biggest redesign you’ve made in many, many years…

“Yes, it’s a big re-design, because when we are losing, when the results are bad, it’s easier to make a radical change. When you are winning it’s more difficult to make a radical change, this is also true.”

Like everyone else you will have a new engine for 2022, so what’s your focus – to improve negative torque and engine-braking performance, which has been an issue?

“First, going into corners our riders were struggling to get the correct support from the rear tyre, which made the front tyre more stressed. And if you miss the corner entry you are delayed getting to maximum [lean] angle, turning and opening the gas, so everything is delayed, delayed, delayed and in the end you miss the lap time. Michelin’s front tyre is a little delicate, you cannot really squeeze the tyre, so to get constant good grip you must be quite a gentleman with the tyre.”

Michelin’s current rear slick has a softer construction, so do you have to load it more softly?

“Yes, you must load the tyre in a gentler way.”

Have you have been using an exhaust valve on the prototype to allow you to fine-tune engine braking for different tracks and corners?

“Yes, but we are still doing development and we haven’t completely finalised this project – we are still investigating what we can gain and what we can lose.”

2019 Honda RC213V

The 2019 RC213V that took Márquez to his best-ever championship success

Oxley

Do you expect a big increase in horsepower following the two-year engine development freeze?

“This is the first time in history that everyone has worked for two years on engine development, so I think there will be a bigger change in engine performance, even though development has been somewhat restricted by the pandemic situation.”

Ducati’s Desmosedici always has the best top speed, so do you think it’s possible to get the same peak power from a pneumatic-valve engine as a desmodromic engine?

“I can’t say if the desmodromic system has an advantage because I’ve no experience of it, but I believe that a pneumatic-valve engine can at least equal a desmodromic engine.”

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Ducati also has by far the most radical aero in MotoGP, which helps them in acceleration, braking and even aerodynamic grip – why don’t you and other factories go down this road?

“Of course we have studied many different aerodynamic configurations in CFD [computational fluid dynamics], wind tunnel and riding but honestly speaking what we have is the best package we can make.”

Will the new RC213V feature a mass damper?

“Mass damping is one of the technologies that I think all the manufacturers in MotoGP have at least studied and tried, some already have them. We have already studied this technology and we have some ideas…”

Last season HRC tried so many revised chassis – like you did with the RC212V in 2009 – is the main thing you’re working on chassis stiffness?

“It’s not only stiffness. If we only wanted to change the stiffness we could’ve kept everything outside the same and just change the thickness of the frame sections or the construction inside. But obviously the changes we are doing for the 2022 machine aren’t only stiffness, that’s why we have also changed the construction, balance and geometry of the machine.”

Marc’s eye issue must be a worry for you…

“It was a big shame that Marc had to miss the last two races of last season and the Jerez tests, but we took all the power from what we had, which was still four riders, including Stefan Bradl, so I’m sure we can make something good for 2022.”