Why MotoGP may become a drag for Suzuki and Yamaha


Downforce aerodynamics is increasingly important in MotoGP but more downforce means more drag, which is a problem for the less powerful inline-four machines used by Suzuki and Yamaha

Fabio Quartararo, Yamaha 2022

Yamaha tried these big wings and sidepods during pre-season testing, but the extra drag reduced top speed on longer straights


Eagle-eyed fans may have observed something strange afoot during pre-season testing at Sepang and Mandalika

Aprilia, Ducati, Honda and KTM all had big aero on their bikes: large top wings, plus fairing sidepods, except the Aprilia which ran without sidepods. But Suzuki didn’t and when Yamaha tried a big wing and tiny sidepods at Sepang, its world champion Fabio Quartararo complained that the increased drag made the sluggish YZR-M1 even slower on top speed.

Why is this? And does it matter?

All six manufacturers are chasing more downforce aerodynamics to improve performance, hence the bigger 2022 aero. But you can’t have downforce without drag. The more powerful V4 machines can cope with this extra drag, but it seems like the less powerful inline-fours can’t, which could be very bad news for Suzuki and Yamaha.

MotoGP’s downforce war really started in 2016, when Ducati added multiple wings to its Desmosedici. The idea was to compensate for the weak anti-wheelie programme in MotoGP’s new spec electronics, by physically keeping the front wheel down exiting corners, allowing riders to use more throttle for better acceleration.

If you think wheelies can’t affect acceleration that much, you’re wrong. Most MotoGP bikes have so much horsepower that the acceleration limit, at least in the first three gears, is determined by the wheelie limit, not by power.

Rival manufacturers quickly followed Ducati’s lead. And as engineers learned more about MotoGP aerofoils (which are basically upside-down plane wings, creating downward lift instead of upward lift) they soon realised downforce aerodynamics don’t only help with wheelies.

Honda 2022 MotoGP

Honda wanted to run more downforce aero last year but didn’t have the horsepower. The RC213V’s 2022 wings are courtesy of a big power increase

Mat Oxley

Properly designed downforce aero makes the motorcycle more stable on the brakes, allowing the rider to brake later. It also makes the bike turn into the corner better, by increasing front grip and feel, and hold its line better all through the corner, for the same reason.

The advantages increase when the rider opens the throttle. This transfers load to the rear tyre, shrinking the front tyre’s contact patch, reducing front grip, which sends the bike wide, so the rider must ease off the throttle. This doesn’t happen with downforce aero, because the extra load on the front tyre keeps it planted on the ground, so the bike keeps turning.

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Therefore machines with good downforce aero help riders go faster into corners, through corners and out of corners. So, might the new aero used by the V4s reduce the cornering advantages always enjoyed by the sweeter-handling inline-fours?

For all these reasons big aero is the big deal of 2022, because how can you ignore technology that will make you faster pretty much all the way around the racetrack?

Aprilia was the first factory to follow Ducati’s big-aero lead, adding a huge front wing to its RS-GP for 2021. This year Honda has finally got serious, fitting beautifully sculpted wings to its RC213V, much bigger than anything it’s used before, plus sidepods. At the same time KTM has fitted larger two-step top wings and sidepods to its RC16.

KTM 2022 MotoGP

KTM RC16’s double two-step wings and sidepods, plus extra air intake around the airbox intake, which decreases drag by reducing the pressure difference between the front and rear of the screen


Yamaha briefly tried its bigger wing and sidepods in the two-day Sepang test, but Quartararo wasn’t impressed.

“The idea is to have less wheelie, which we have, but we lose top speed because the straights here are really long,” said Quartararo. “So we win a little on acceleration but then we lose it on top speed.”

Quartararo already has the slowest bike on the grid, so less top speed is exactly what he doesn’t need, because as soon as he gets into a battle with faster motorcycles he struggles to find the room to use the YZR-M1’s excellent corner speed.

“Maybe we can try this kind of aero at Jerez, where we don’t have big straights and where it would be very important,” added Quartararo, who used Yamaha’s big aero much more at Mandalika, which features only one straight, the start/finish, which is only 0.3 miles/500m long.

But switching aero from one track to another isn’t ideal, because changing downforce requires big changes to front suspension set-up. Again, this is exactly what riders don’t want because they’ll have to adapt to a different feeling from the front end.

Joan Mir, 2022 Suzuki MotoGP

Suzuki’s minimal wings have grown fractionally for 2022, but the GSX-RR still runs much less downforce aero than any of its V4 rivals


Ducati’s Desmosedici has long had the most powerful engine on the grid, currently at around 300 horsepower. This is what allows the Bologna factory to run more aero than anyone – big upper wings and sidepods and most recently diffusers (which must create A LOT of drag) – and still win the top-speed race. At Sepang, four of the six fastest bikes were Ducatis and at Mandalika the five fastest bikes were all Desmosedicis.

Honda worked particularly hard on its engine during the winter, specifically to allow the RC213V to run more downforce aero without losing top speed.

“Last year we couldn’t use so much downforce, because we didn’t have enough power, but now we have more power,” said Repsol Honda’s Pol Espargaró at Sepang. “So we have changed the wings for this year for more downforce but still the acceleration is beautiful, so everything feels much better.”

Of course, it is possible to go too far with downforce, even if you’ve got V4 power. KTM’s RC16 was often the second quickest bike through the speed traps last year, but at Sepang and Mandalika it was bettered by Suzuki’s GSX-RR, which has more speed for 2022 and still runs the least aero of all.

Therefore don’t be surprised if KTM have slightly tweaked its aero for the season-opening Qatar GP, when the first of each rider’s two annual aero options must be homologated on the eve of practice. In fact don’t be surprised if any of the factories unveil revised aero in Qatar, using what they learned from pre-season testing, because it’s vital they get their downforce aero just right.