Why pit-to-rider radios are coming to MotoGP

MotoGP

San Marino GP insight part 3: Riders give warm reception to MotoGP radios, why Christmas is coming early for Quartararo, why KTM went from hero to zero at Misano and why Viñales’ brakes failed at Red Bull Ring

Valentino Rossi, Misano test 2020

Rossi – seen testing Yamaha’s new megaphone exhaust on Tuesday – is keen on MotoGP radios

Monster Yamaha

Rossi: ‘MotoGP radio communications are good’

Radio communication with riders has been coming for decades. The always go-ahead Team Roberts tested a pits-to-rider system years ago and Alex Barros evaluated a similar set-up for use by Race Direction. None of the riders were keen.

But time moves on and technology keeps accelerating. Radio comms was the biggest talking point at Misano, with HRC test rider Stefan Bradl trying Dorna’s latest system on Friday and a number of riders experimenting during Tuesday tests.

The main driver behind the introduction of radio comms is the riders. During Safety Commission meetings following controversies at Brno and Red Bull Ring the riders asked Dorna to develop a system to warn them of dangerous incidents, yellow flags, red flags and so on. This system would relay pre-recorded warnings – similar to standard dash communications – to the riders through earphones.

Many riders complain that they often don’t see yellow flags waved by marshals or the warnings issued by Race Direction. There are a few reasons for this.

First, when you’re riding a nigh-on 300 horsepower motorcycle every fabric of your being – both physical and mental – is fully engaged in keeping that motorcycle on the fastest few inches of asphalt. So one fraction of a second glancing at the dash or away from your chosen line could be disastrous.

Second, riders use so much lean angle they can only see what’s happening on the inside of the corner. Third, the same goes for the extreme hang-off technique, which takes riders’ eyes far away from the dash.

There is another alternative to radios – the giant ‘electronic’ flags used in Formula 1.

It seems like all MotoGP riders want radios for safety’s sake and many also want them for pit-to-rider comms, so they can talk with their engineers during practice and races.

“Radio communications are good,” said Valentino Rossi, by far the longest-serving rider on the grid. “It’s true I’m an old-school rider, but I’m also sometimes a car driver. In car racing, everyone uses radios to communicate with their box – it’s very good. For me it would be a good step forward for MotoGP.”

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Jack Miller is also keen. “I’d love to be able to chat to the boys and tell them how I’m going,” he said. “I don’t think the boys will be in your ear the whole race. I think they’ll only be on the radio if they’ve got some suggestions. As soon as they start telling you, ‘Hey try and fix up Turn Two’, or something I’d just tell them to shut up!”

Some riders and most fans are horrified by the thought of pit-to-rider radio that would increase the role of engineers during races – advising riders about the performance of their motorcycle and the about the performance of other bikes and riders.

“If Race Direction can tell us the more important safety things, without the messages distracting us, then that’s very good,” said Pol Espargaró. “But the problem will be the next step, which will be engineers trying to control what you’re doing on the bike. They’re going to tell you about tyre wear, they’re going to tell you what to do, so in the end the racing will be less human and more machine. This is what’s happening in F1 and I don’t like it. I want to keep MotoGP a more human sport.”

Ducati sporting director Paolo Ciabatta agrees. “On one side whatever helps riders to know about dangerous things is good,” he said. “But on the more romantic side, my personal opinion is that the good thing about motorcycle is that the rider is out there by himself, doing the best he can with what he has.

“Maybe the engineers would like to be able to communicate with the riders but already they can give map info via the dash and pit signals, so I say let the riders do the job, using their talent, their feelings and their experience. For the show it’s probably better to leave it as it is.”

Many people in Formula 1, including Motor Sport journalist Mark Hughes, hate what radio comms have done to the F1.

“Formula 1 went this way and it contributed hugely to the philosophical taming of the drivers,” said Hughes, one of the most respected voices in the F1 paddock. “It’s made them much more publicly employees rather than stars; which is not the image it should be projecting to the outside, regardless of the realities.

“The sport has recognised this with radio restrictions regarding driver coaching, but in the meantime, the radio has enabled vastly more complex control systems that require guidance on how to use – hence the current controversy about whether teams should be allowed to tell a driver that his gearbox or brakes need nursing or the engine is in incorrect mode and so on.

“I personally feel it should be pit boards only, once they leave the pit lane, and the control systems should be simplified accordingly. I’d hate to see MotoGP follow F1’s misguided engineering-led path on this.”

During Tuesday’s Misano tests Dorna had several riders evaluate the technology. Their main focus was evaluating the effectiveness of Race Direction radio messages – can riders hear the messages and might they be distracted by them at critical moments? There will further tests later in the year, with the focus on improving the receivers, noise-cancelling headphones and so on.

 

Quartararo to get big title boost at Barcelona

Fabio Quartararo, Petronas SRT MotoGP 2020

After four disastrous races Quartararo needs some good news

Petronas SRT

What does Fabio Quartararo want for Christmas? We don’t know, but he will be like a kid on Christmas day when he arrives in Barcelona next week.

All being well Quartararo will find two Yamaha crates with his name on them. Inside the crates will be his two YZR-M1 engines that were taken out of circulation – just to be sure – when Yamaha ran into reliability problems during July’s Spanish GP. Both engines, along with three broken engines belonging to Valentino Rossi, Maverick Viñales and Franco Morbidelli, were flown to Yamaha’s race department in Iwata, Japan, for inspection. Only now are Quartararo’s being returned to Europe.

Since the end of the first Jerez race the French title hope has been restricted to just two engines, with Yamaha keeping his fifth and last engine in reserve. Obviously this puts him in a hugely vulnerable position, so it’s a massive boost to his title hopes to have five engines for the final eight races.

“We are crossing our fingers to have some great news for Barcelona – Yamaha are working hard,” said Quartararo at Misano.

In fact when the engines do arrive Quartararo will be the only Yamaha rider with five at his disposal, because those belonging to Rossi, Viñales and Morbidelli are dead.

Yamaha admits to valve problems, apparently due to a faulty batch from an outside supplier. Factory engineers were able to dismantle the three broken engines to find the fault, but Quartararo’s suspect engines could not be unsealed, if they were to remain in his allocation, so Yamaha may have used endoscope cameras to look inside.

It’s not known if Quartararo’s returned engines will need to run at reduced revs, but the megaphone exhaust used by Rossi during Tuesday’s tests suggests that Yamaha engineers are working to get a better spread of power from the M1 engine, which implies they have less peak rpm to work with.

Yamaha’s engine allocation

Black cross denotes engine use by event and session. Red denotes engine broken and withdrawn

Fabio Quartararo

Fabio Quartararo engine allocation MotoGP2020

Franco Morbidelli

Valentino Rossi

Maverick Viñales

 

How KTM went from Czech/Styrian wins to nowhere at Misano

KTM MotoGP 2020

Michelin’s 2020 rear slick is usually a big help to KTM, but it wasn’t at Misano on Sunday

Red Bull

Misano was a bit of a shocker for KTM, which had been fully competitive at Jerez, Brno and Red Bull Ring. By the time MotoGP left Austria many pit-lane people were convinced that the factory’s 2020 RC16 was the best bike on the grid, but at Misano KTM’s riders struggled to bother the top ten.

KTM’s speed at the first tracks was hugely impressive, especially since the RC16 is the only V4 MotoGP bike that seems to have fully unlocked the secret of Michelin’s 2020 rear slick.

While Ducati’s championship leader Andrea Dovizioso and Honda’s world champion Marc Márquez have complained about the tyre, Pol Espargaró believes it has helped KTM get to the front.

“This tyre brings us more stability and more consistency,” said the Spaniard at Misano. “Maybe this consistency is also something that helps Yamaha. I think Ducati are the most damaged by this tyre, but I cannot give you a technical answer why.

“The most important thing we were losing last year was consistency and this year we have it, so we can keep the same pace we do in practice. It is super-helpful and we like it.”

The new tyre – with slightly softer construction for more deflection for a larger contact patch and more grip – is a huge help to Espargaró on corner exit.

“The problem in previous years was that the tyre was already spinning a little before my first touch of the throttle, so I started generating spin and when I lifted up the bike to go straight the spin increased and I lost time,” he added.

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“Now my first touch of the throttle allows me to turn the bike, so now I pick it up earlier. It looks like we no longer generate spin at this point, which allows us to accelerate a bit better and we keep the grip, so we don’t spin, which also means we don’t destroy the tyre.

“I’m always aggressive on the throttle and I ask a lot from the tyre, but I get it.”

Of course, the new tyre wasn’t a simple case of plug-and-go. Espargaró’s crew worked hard on chassis balance and electronics strategies to match the bike to the tyre.

“It looks like when you are using a lot of power with this tyre it cannot manage it, so if you have less power at the bottom the tyre works better.

So what went wrong last weekend?

Espargaró couldn’t get enough braking performance from the rear tyre, which forced him to overuse the front tyre. He finished the race in tenth, 12 seconds behind winner Morbidelli. Fellow RC16 riders Brad Binder and Miguel Oliveira chased him over the finishing line, suggesting they had similar issues.

“Stopping the bike was the main problem – I was sideways like supermoto from the first lap to the end,” Espargaró explained. “I don’t like to use much engine-braking because it feels too electronic, so I prefer to use the rear brake so I can control it myself and be more flexible in braking, but we ended up locking the rear tyre too much, which put too much stress on the front tyre.”

KTM engineers say that Espargaró uses the brake so much it’s like another footrest for him!

During Tuesday’s Misano tests Espargaró improved his pace, because the track was grippier, which may have had more to do with the lack of Moto2 rubber than anything else.

 

Brembo and Yamaha explain Viñales’ Styrian brake failure

Brembo brakes MotoGP 2020

Brembo’s finned 2020 caliper, now used by most of the MotoGP grid

Mat Oxley

MotoGP may impose further restrictions on brake spec at some tracks following Maverick Viñales’ brake failure at last month’s Styrian GP.

Viñales crashed at Turn One because he had no brakes, but the problem wasn’t so much the brakes as his choice of brakes.

Brembo makes three different types of MotoGP caliper. Its latest 2020 caliper and its previous high-demand caliper are suitable for heavy braking tracks, like Red Bull Ring. The other caliper is best at circuits like Phillip Island where riders use the brakes less.

Viñales was the only top rider to use the latter type. He did test other calipers during the weekend but didn’t like the feeling, so he preferred to stick with what he knew best.

“After the first race in Austria Brembo checked all the data and most of the bikes had quite high brake temperatures, so Brembo recommended everyone should use the 2020 system for the second weekend,” explained Monster Yamaha team manager Massimo Meregalli. “Maverick never had any problem with the calipers he was using and when he tried the 2020 system he didn’t have a good feeling, so he preferred to keep using the system he preferred. And based on the fact that the temperature was under control the team and Japanese engineers followed his request.”

The problem was that when Viñales tested the 2020 calipers at Red Bull Ring he did so with used discs. Brembo believes this is why he didn’t like the feeling of this disc/caliper combination. He tested the 2020 system again at Misano with new discs and was immediately happy, so he raced with the 2020 system.

MotoGP technical director Danny Aldridge is monitoring the situation closely. Already there is mandatory use of one piece of braking equipment at one circuit – riders must use the larger, high-mass 340mm discs at Motegi, another track that demands a lot from braking systems. If Aldridge decides that the lower-spec caliper shouldn’t be used at Red Bull Ring then the other calipers will become mandatory at the Austrian venue.

“We’ve got to allow the teams to make the decision about what is right for their riders, we don’t want to tell them what parts to use,” said Aldridge. “But obviously if the problem is purely that kind of caliper at that circuit, which could be dangerous, then we would ask Brembo to remove that part from their list.”

Picking the best brake set-up isn’t always easy – MotoGP riders have a total of 48 different combinations of caliper, disc and pad to choose from.