MotoGP needs to fix its tyre-pressure overtaking problem


Two weeks after a processional Spanish GP at Jerez there were just two overtaking manoeuvres among the top four at Le Mans. Why is this and what needs to be done?

Lead group at 2022 MotoGP Franch Grand Prix

Follow my leader at Le Mans: there were only two overtaking manoeuvres in the lead group during 41 minutes of racing


Front-tyre pressure, front-tyre pressure, front-tyre pressure… it’s all we hear from riders these days, isn’t it?

And although there can hardly be a more boring subject of conversation than tyre pressure the fact is that this matter currently has a bigger effect on what happens in MotoGP races than anything else, so it is important.

My post-Jerez blog about tyre-pressure rules caused something of a stir in the Le Mans paddock, but the story is nothing new. Front-tyre pressure has been a problem for years and it’s getting worse, for various reasons.

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At Jerez I was leaked MotoGP’s secret tyre-pressure sheet which showed that four riders had broken the minimum-pressure rule during the Spanish Grand Prix race. This seemed a lot, just one week after Michelin told journalists at Portimao that it was “very rare” for riders to break the rule, with just four guilty parties since the start of the season.

Then on Thursday at Le Mans I saw another official document which revealed that 18 of the 22 points scorers at the first six races had been under pressure at least once, including the top six in the championship.

And yet the very next day Michelin announced, “You must respect the minimum pressure”.

So what the hell is going on? How can motorcycling’s biggest world championship not have such an important aspect of machine performance under strict control?

The grim effect of soaring front-tyre pressures is turning MotoGP into a procession

The hope is that this will happen next year, when all machines will be fitted with identical pressure sensors and receivers, so no one can claim they are under pressure because their sensors read differently, or that the only reason their rivals aren’t under pressure is because they’re fixing their numbers. Accusation and counter-accusation…

It’s all a bit of a mess but in fact there’s a much bigger problem here than the tyre-pressure rules.

This is the grim effect that soaring front-tyre pressures have on the racing, which is turning MotoGP into a procession.

Jack Miller ahead of Pol Esparagaro at the 2022 MotoGP French Grand Prix

Espargaró keeps his distance from Miller, to stop his front tyre overheating


At Le Mans on Sunday there were only two overtaking manoeuvres among the top four during the entire 27 laps, when Pecco Bagnaia took the lead from team-mate Jack Miller on lap four and winner Enea Bastianini passed Miller for second on lap 12.

At Jerez two weeks earlier there would’ve been only one pass among the top seven after the first of 25 laps, if it hadn’t been for Marc Márquez.

If one rider tells you it’s impossible to overtake because high-front tyre pressure reduces grip, preventing him from attacking rivals, you might think that he needs to try a bit harder or adapt his technique.

But when all the riders speak about the same problem you know MotoGP has got a problem.

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Marc Márquez has talked about this since last year, but now it’s time to let others have their say.

“Everything, everything, everything is about front tyre temperature and pressure – the difference is huge,” said Aprilia’s championship-challenger Aleix Espargaró.

“Every time I got close to Jack [Miller] on Sunday I started to have a lot of movement from the front tyre and I saw on the dash that the tyre was on fire, so I said, OK, let him go, about half second and stay there… And I knew Fabio [Quartararo, who chased Espargaró throughout] would have exactly the same problem with me.”

So fans were denied any real battle for second and third at Le Mans.

It had been the same for Espargaró at Jerez, where he spent much of the race chasing Miller and Márquez in the contest for third place. The trio rode line astern for 20 laps – mostly separated by only a few tenths – without a single change of position.

“Everything in MotoGP is now super-equal, so this makes a problem, because a small difference can be huge,” added the Spaniard. “At Jerez you cannot imagine the difference between 2.08 to 1.91 bar in the front tyre pressure. At 2.08 my bike had unbelievable chattering, I was losing the front, the bike wasn’t turning, so I couldn’t overtake. The bike was a disaster.”

When Espargaró finally got past his rivals and had clean, cool air in front of him, after Márquez nearly crashed, his RS-GP changed totally.

“With no bikes in front everything was perfect and I was half a second faster – it was crazy!

Joan Mir cornering in the 2022 MotoGP French Grand Prix

Mir: “Once I’m half a second behind the guy in front the front tyre gets too hot.”


“The problem is to get close to the bike in front of you. Your tyre pressure increases, then you have to brake earlier, or you crash. It’s very easy, as we saw at Portimao, with Jack and Joan [When Miller passed Mir at Turn 1, crashed and took out Mir]. By braking two metres later to overtake the guy in front you lose the front, so it’s very difficult to overtake now. All you can do is wait for the guy in front to make a mistake. If he doesn’t do that, no chance!”

Mir knows all about the problem.

“You have a tyre that’s really grippy and you have the bike really on point, then you are behind someone and it becomes completely the opposite – the bike becomes so difficult to ride,” said Suzuki’s 2020 MotoGP champion.

“It’s not actually racing, just surviving. That’s what we’re trying to deal with.”

“When you’re fighting with someone you want to use the slipstream for speed but I can’t even be close to the guy in front. Once I’m half a second behind the tyre gets too hot and I start going wide. It’s a problem.”

Miguel Oliveira too.

“In a race situation the tyre cannot handle much time behind anyone, so it becomes really crucial to try to manage the space,” said the Red Bull KTM rider, winner of round two in Indonesia. “If you’re fast enough to overtake you can overtake, but otherwise it’s a yoyo effect: you gain some time, you catch the guy, then your tyre overheats and you have to drop back again.

“Michelin’s MotoGP tyres are really, really high-performance tyres, but on the other hand, like any high-performance machine or equipment, they’re also very sensitive to temperature and pressure changes.

“Too much pressure and we crash, or it’s impossible to stop the bike. The front tyre becomes a hot balloon and even straight braking is scary because you really cannot stop the bike. The bike is skipping and sliding everywhere, so it’s tricky.”

Imagine dealing with this, several times a lap, from 170mph or 210mph, over 45 minutes.

“This makes it very easy to crash, or very easy to tie your hands during the race and not actually racing, just surviving,” added Oliveira. “That’s what we’re trying to deal with. It’s not easy for teams to think about and predict what pressure they’ll reach in the race so that we can be in a safe area.”

Miguel Oliveira on KTM in the 2022 MotoGP French Grand Prix

Oliveira: “The front tyre becomes a hot balloon and even straight braking is scary.”

Red Bull KTM

And Andrea Dovizioso.

“More or less everybody locks the front when they brake,” said the Italian veteran. “If you are already on the limit because you are locking the front, this means you are not able to brake even two metres later.”

Why has this suddenly become an issue? Michelin’s front slick has always been temperature and pressure sensitive but it’s now reaching a critical point, for various reasons.

First, the racing is getting faster and more competitive. Then there are several ways in which front-tyre loads have risen. Big aerodynamics don’t only reduce wheelies, they also increase downforce during braking, which increases load and therefore temperature into the front tyre.

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Then there’s the shapeshifters, which drop the rear of the motorcycles on the straights to minimise wheelies and adjust the angle of the downforce aero.

“Now with the rear device the situation has changed,” continued Mir. “You warm the tyre more, everyone knows this, because the weight of the motorcycle is a bit more, you get more transfer to the front during braking, because the rear was down, and of course you are braking from higher speeds. All this makes a difference and a couple of degrees more tyre temperature makes a big, big difference.”

All these factors have combined to take Michelin’s front to the limit and make it very, very difficult for riders to get close enough to even think about making a pass. This explains why there’s so little overtaking.

And there’s more. The art of slipstreaming – using the partial vacuum created by the machine in front of you to gain a huge speed increase, like a Formula 1 driver hitting the DRS (drag reduction system) button – has always been hugely important in motorcycle racing, because it allows riders to set up passing manoeuvres, even when their machines lack horsepower.

The front-tyre pressure problem makes slipstreaming almost impossible now, except at super-high speeds, where there’s more cooling air, which is a huge concern for MotoGP.

But there’s another reason MotoGP riders can’t draft other riders anymore. The vacuum created by bikes with big aero is huge, so a rider that finds himself inside that area of lower-than-atmospheric pressure at high speed will find himself in big trouble when it’s time to brake. Because just as the low pressure helps push him forward when he’s on the throttle it significantly reduces his ability to slow the bike when he’s on the brakes.

This is what happened to Alex Rins when he was in Pecco Bagnaia’s draft approaching Le Mans’ Turn 1 on the third lap of Sunday’s race.

Alex Rins slides past Pecco Bagnaia after coming off his MotoGP bike at Le Mans

Rins hits the ground at Turn 4 after getting caught in Bagnaia’s draft on the way into Turn 1


“I braked at the exact same point as the lap before but in his slipstream,” said Rins, who had to use more front brake to decelerate, which locked the tyre and sent him into the gravel trap at 125mph.

“If you have a slipstream when you’re braking you have no chance to brake at your limit,” adds Dovizioso. “You have to brake early because of the slipstream from the other riders.”

Of course, these situations will be better at some tracks and in some weather conditions and worse elsewhere. Mugello next week should be better, but let’s see.

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However, when all the riders complain of the same problems and the racing is becoming boring as a result of those problems, then MotoGP-owner Dorna should listen and react.

What to do?

No one in MotoGP is bigger than the racing, so Dorna needs to hire an aerodynamicist to frame new aero regulations, which allow useful aero development that doesn’t ruin the racing.

Shapeshifters also need looking at. Electronics too. I already wrote last year that MotoGP’s electronics have improved so much since the introduction of spec software in 2016 that they are too good. And when the bikes are that good all the riders can ride them to the limit and overtaking becomes more and more difficult.

Add tyre-pressure and slipstreaming problems into the mix and you have a perfect storm. Dorna recently lost MotoGP’s biggest-ever star, so it should work very hard to ensure it doesn’t also lose overtaking, which helped make MotoGP so popular and Formula 1 look so boring by comparison.