Why Ducati should rename its MotoGP bike the ‘Desmodiffuser’


Revealing the secrets behind Ducati’s Formula 1-inspired aerodynamic grip, why Pecco Bagnaia is 2022 title favourite and how Jorge Lorenzo is still helping Ducati win races

Jack Miller on Ducati

The Ducati’s diffuser sucks in air below the fairing to create low pressure and therefore downforce to increase grip


For the first time ever Ducati goes into a new season as favourite to win the MotoGP riders’ world championship, after winning the last two constructors’ titles.

It’s taken a while… The Desmosedici has always been fast down the straights, thanks in part to its desmodromic valve actuation, but getting into and through the corners has always been its weak point. Until now. Finally, after more than a decade, Ducati riders no longer complain about poor corner-entry and/or turning performance, which means Ducati has finally built a motorcycle that does everything right.

That’s a real worry for the other five manufacturers, especially since Ducati will have eight GP21 and GP22 machines on the grid this year.

So, how did Ducati get here?

Ducati has always obsessed about top speed because it gives riders a huge advantage in races

Let’s start with the Desmosedici’s heart, its 90-degree V4 engine.

A V4 can make more power than an inline-four because its crankshaft, camshafts and crankcases are stiffer, so it can be tuned more aggressively. A 90-degree V4 is even better, because it has perfect primary balance, so once again it’s more robust.

The desmodromic system both opens and closes valves with camshafts, instead of closing them with springs. Among its advantages are reduced friction losses at medium rpm compared to spring systems (metal or pneumatic), which gives Ducati a triple win: less power loss and better fuel consumption, plus using less fuel allows Ducati to run its engines closer to full horsepower in race trim than other factories.

Ducati has always obsessed about top speed, not just because it’s a good number to boast about, but because it gives riders a huge advantage in races, because it’s easier, less risky and demands less from the tyres to overtake on a straight.

In theory, all factories should make a big step forward in horsepower this year, because 2022 marks the end of a two-year engine freeze. But Ducati isn’t so sure.

Gigi Dall Igna in Ducati MotoGP pit with Pecco Bagnaia

Wise wizard Gigi Dall’Igna has revolutionised Ducati’s MotoGP bike since 2015


“Last year was the tenth year of 1000cc engine and during that time we increased horsepower by about 10%, so now there’s very little we can achieve but we will try anyway, because the easiest way to overtake is on the straight,” says Ducati Corse technical director Davide Barana.

In which case it’s by no means certain that MotoGP’s current top-speed record of 225.2mph (achieved by Johann Zarco’s Desmosedici in Qatar last year) will be broken.

Chassis improvements have also helped. Since Gigi Dall’Igna arrived at Ducati at the end of 2013 he has chipped away at the bike’s chassis deficiencies, working on balance, geometry and especially stiffness to improve turning. Increasing frame flex at high lean angles is the dark art of mid-corner turning, and hugely important, because whoever turns quickest gets on the throttle quickest.

And then there are Gigi’s gadgets, from downforce aero to holeshot devices and shapeshifters, which give a vital advantage at the start of races and further increase Ducati’s straight-line advantage.

Finally, aerodynamic grip, which is the most fascinating area of Ducati’s R&D, because none of the other factories have even tried it. Yet.

Ducati first went big with aero in 2016, to compensate for the single software’s low-tech anti-wheelie programme. And ever since its engineers have gone bigger and bigger with aero, partly because the Desmosedici’s horsepower advantage means that Ducati doesn’t have to worry about the extra drag caused by increased downforce.

Every year Ducati takes another step forward with its aerodynamics tech, last year adding Formula 1-inspired diffusers at the bottom of the Desmosedici’s fairing. This was an historic step because it was the first time that aerodynamic grip had featured in motorcycle racing.

The diffusers accelerate airflow between fairing and racetrack, which creates an area of low pressure, which increases downforce, as close to the tyre contact patch as possible. This sucks the bike into the asphalt, which increases grip and thus improves turning. Bingo!

Pecco Bagnaia on Ducati MotoGP test bike

Bagnaia testing new fairing and exhaust at Jerez last November


Ducati may be the first manufacturer to reach this landmark but others had already thought about taking this direction.

“When you’re talking about 60 degrees of lean you’ve got a lot of fairing close to the ground, so what’s that doing and what could it do?” renowned F1 engineer John Barnard told me when he was working for the Team Roberts MotoGP team a decade and a half ago.

Ducati’s current strength in MotoGP isn’t only down to engineering, it’s also down to its riders. The company has a new attitude to the man part of the man/machine equation. Last year it brought two youngsters into its factory team and put three even younger rookies in its independent squads.

“We are improving the perfect bike, but to improve a bike that was already fantastic isn’t easy.”

Youngsters are usually more malleable and open-minded, which is vital, because more than ever riders must listen to their engineers and adapt to their increasingly complex motorcycles.

“The package of the bike is a great base and we’re able to understand it and work around it – it’s the way you adapt and approach each track,” says factory rider Jack Miller, who won two races last year and finished fourth overall. “Thanks to the evolution of the bike a lot of the older Ducati clichés no longer apply. The ’20 and ’21 bikes worked pretty much all round, so we don’t have that cliché of the bike not turning, because it does turn quite well now and it’s getting better and better.”

Miller’s team-mate Pecco Bagnaia was Ducati’s strongest rider in 2021, winning four of the last six races and ending the year runner-up. If he can maintain that form he will most likely lead the championship charge in 2022, his fourth year in MotoGP.

Bagnaia used huge corner speed to win the 2018 Moto2 title and brought that into MotoGP. However, he spent his first two seasons in the premier class crashing too often, by trying to enter corners too fast and losing the front.

2021 MotoGP Misano start

Holeshot devices keep MotoGP bikes remarkably flat at the start


Bit by bit he fixed that problem: by learning to brake harder to stop the bike quicker and by learning how to get heat into the front tyre as soon as he left the pitlane.

By 2021 Bagnaia was fast and safe.

“Last year I knew the bike very well and adapted myself in braking, so now I can stop the bike really well,” he says. “Also we adapted the setting of the bike for my corner-speed style. The Ducati isn’t usually so fast in the middle of corner but last season we did a good job and now the bike is sweeter in that area. Now I have a great feeling with the front of the bike and this gives me a lot of confidence in braking and entry.

“The 2021 bike was perfect and now we are improving the perfect bike, but to improve a bike that was already fantastic isn’t easy.”

(It’s worth noting here that MotoGP riders are very, very, very rarely as complimentary about their motorcycles.)

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Ducati’s current MotoGP journey began in 2015, when Dall’Igna designed his first Desmosedici.

“The bike we have now is a result of the work we’ve done since 2015, when we changed the bike completely, every single part,” adds Barana. “It’s been a long process, with many steps, partly because you have to test with your official riders to prove something is effective and for some years the opportunity to test with official riders has been very limited, so this slows down the process quite a lot.”

Bagnaia’s crew chief Cristian Gabbarini believes that Ducati took its final step forward when it put Bagnaia and Miller in the factory team.

“Ducati worked a lot on turning, because it was our weakest point, but also the riding style of Pecco and our other guys helps a lot to make the bike turn,” says Gabbarini. “For example, Pecco rolls into corners much faster than Andrea [Dovizioso, Ducati’s number one from 2013 to 2020].

“At Aragon [where Bagnaia won his first MotoGP race after a long duel with Marc Márquez] Marc said that Pecco looked like Dovizioso in front of him, but Pecco braked harder and especially rolled intro the corners a lot faster than Dovi.

“This isn’t just the bike, because we can’t make such a big difference, but we are able to help the riders do this more”

Pecco Bagnaia in Ducati pits

Bagnaia with crew chief Gabbarini: “Pecco is super-clever to immediately understand what we say”


Dovizioso struggled with the Ducati following the 2020 introduction of Michelin’s softer-construction rear slick, which demands that riders replace their stop-and-go cornering technique with more corner speed.

“Dovi was super-good at stopping, turning and starting again, but he couldn’t use a lot of corner speed because that wasn’t his strong point, so now he is also struggling with the Yamaha,” adds Gabbarini. “So our new riders have helped us a lot – because if they are super-strong in corner speed they can also help us understand how to obtain an even better effect in this area.”

“Pecco brakes very, very, very hard! Marc starts braking and Pecco makes metres on him”

Gabbarini started working with Bagnaia when the youngster joined Pramac Ducati in 2019, after spending 2017 and 2018 with Jorge Lorenzo, who might’ve won the title for the Bologna brand if factory bosses hadn’t fallen out with him. And yet four years later Lorenzo is still helping Ducati.

“What was unbelievable was that when we started working with Pecco we immediately understood that his riding style is very, very similar to Jorge’s,” reveals Gabbarini. “He talked about the same problems on the bike and he has the same way of doing things on the bike, so me and Tommaso [Pagano, Bagnaia’s data engineer, who also worked with Lorenzo] realised we must check Jorge’s data a lot.

“This was helpful because Jorge at the end of his career at Ducati was in some ways a genius. So when Pecco had a problem we might say to him – no, Jorge used this line instead of this line, to make the exit better, or whatever. Pecco is super-clever to immediately understand what we say and to try it – you never have to tell him something twice.

“One of Jorge’s strongest points was that he could beat Marc on braking – nobody could overtake him on the brakes. So I told Pecco you must brake super-hard. Now Pecco brakes very, very, very hard! If you look at the onboard from Aragon you see Marc start braking and Pecco makes metres on him. Honestly, in 20 years in MotoGP this is the first time I’ve seen something like this.”

Jorge Martin on Ducati test bike

If 2021 Rookie of the Year Jorge Martin continues improving into 2022 he could be a real threat

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At the end of last year Bagnaia had only one demand for 2022 – more agility. No surprise there, because the Ducati’s downforce aero makes the bike heavy to move around, which is why Ducati are evaluating a slimmer fairing for 2022.

“All our riders ask for more manoeuvrability, especially in fast corners, so Gigi is working hard on this,” says Gabbarini. “I think this will be one of the biggest things we will change on the bike. Otherwise it will be simple evolutions, because now many riders can be fast with the Ducati now.”

The other big change for Ducati in 2022 is sheer weight of numbers – a full third of the 24-rider grid will ride ‘Desmodiffusers’, including five GP22s (Bagnaia, Miller, Zarco, Jorge Martin and Luca Marini) and three GP21s (Enea Bastianini, Marco Bezzecchi and Fabio Di Giannantonio).

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This will have a big effect on the racing and on the factory’s rivals. The Ducati has always been strong in qualifying, so it’s likely that ‘Desmodiffusers’ will pack the front of the grid, making life very difficult for rivals once the lights go out.

And then there are the advantages that multiple bikes and riders bring to set-up, development and tyre choice.

“Eight bikes are a big help because statistics usually give the correct answer,” explains Gabbarini. “From Pecco to Jack there’s a big difference in riding style, then in the middle we have the others, so if we change something on the bike and they all improve their lap times then we can be confident we made the correct modification, that the improvement wasn’t because the rider was more focused, the sun was higher, the wind changed or something like that.

“Or if we want to raise the bike or make it longer we can try half the bikes one way and half the bikes another and understand the correct answer more quickly.”

It’s been 15 years since Ducati won its first and so far only riders’ MotoGP championship. Will this be the year that Bagnaia, Miller or even Martin join 2007 champion Casey Stoner as Ducati MotoGP kings?