Yamaha improving step by step, another all-new Honda RC213V on the way?


Yamaha is trying to fix its YZR-M1 with regular updates while Honda's MotoGP team seems to be taking a different route, with hints of an all-new RC213V for September

Yamaha of Fabio Quartararo leads Honda of Takaaki Nakagami in MotoGP American GP

Yamaha’s Quartararo leads Honda’s Nakagami, Zarco and Mir at COTA – only Quartararo made it into the points

Last year’s German Grand Prix was the first time in more than 50 years that no Japanese motorcycles finished inside the top ten of a premier-class GP.

This year once again at Sachsenring there were no Japanese bikes in the top ten, but this is no longer historic, it’s the norm. At the first nine GPs of 2024 Japanese machines made the top ten only twice and never better than seventh, 20 seconds behind the winner.

The rider who scored those results (seventh at Portimao, ninth at Barcelona) is Yamaha’s Fabio Quartararo who is also the best-placed rider of a Japanese bike in the championship, in 15th place, behind eight Ducatis, four Aprilias and two KTMs. Honda has yet to score a top ten and its top-placed rider is Repsol’s Joan Mir in 17th.

Honda and Yamaha seem like they’re contesting a different championship

Despite generous concessions created specifically to help Honda and Yamaha get back in the game – more engine and aero upgrades, more testing and so on – the two companies seem like they’re contesting a different championship: Ducati has 315 points in the 2024 constructors’ championship (in which only the best-placed machine from each manufacturer scores points), while Yamaha has 48 and Honda 23.

At Sachsenring, Quartararo finished 11th, 18 seconds behind winner Pecco Bagnaia, a difference of six-tenths per lap, while Honda’s top finisher Takaaki Nakagami took the chequered flag 25 seconds down, his pace almost nine-tenths slower than Bagnaia’s. And Sachsenring is MotoGP’s shortest lap, so the gap is usually bigger.

So what does the immediate future hold for MotoGP’s stragglers?

Yamaha engineers believe they are finding a good direction to take the YZR-M1 back to the front. The Iwata brand recently poached two top engineers from Ducati: technical director Max Bartolini and chief aerodynamicist Marco Nicotra. It also continues to work with former Ferrari Formula 1 engine designer Luca Marmorini and has started a partnership with renowned Italian car-racing brand Dallara to develop downforce aero.

Max Bartolini in Yamaha MotoGP pit garage

Former Ducati engineer Bartolini is helping Yamaha improve but he knows there’s still a long way to go


If you can’t beat the Europeans, get them to join you, because MotoGP technology is no longer a Japanese thing, it’s a European thing, a transformation triggered by Ducati’s Gigi Dall’Igna, who started introducing F1 technologies almost a decade ago.

It’s amazing that Honda has yet to follow Yamaha in hiring top European engineers. But its signing of Aprilia star Aleix Espargaró for testing duties in 2025 and 2026 suggests that perhaps the culture within Honda Racing Corporation is changing.

Yamaha has brought many upgrades this year – engine, chassis, aero and electronics – aimed at boosting overall performance, because when you are that far behind, you’re not losing time in only one area.

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Before last month’s Dutch round, Yamaha tested at Valencia, where Quartararo and luckless team-mate Alex Rins evaluated two new YZR-M1 engine specs.

One of these engines gives better agility, which suggests reduced engine inertia, probably through a lighter crankshaft. The other gives better stopping, most likely through revised compression ratio and firing configuration, plus refinements to the engine-braking software and exhaust valve.

Both Quartararo and team-mate Rins chose the second engine, even though it was little help at tracks like Assen and Sachsenring, where agility is so important. At most tracks what they really need is better stopping power from the engine, because using the rear tyre to stop the bike is hugely important now. And better stopping improves the most vital cornering factor – turning – because you can’t turn if you arrive at the corner too fast.

“With this new engine we can stop more and carry more speed [into corners [to turn better],” says Quartararo. “It doesn’t really help in fast corners, but I think we can see an improvement with this engine at tracks likes Austria and Misano.”

Honda MotoGP rider Takaaki Nakagami on track at Barcelona

Nakagami leads Marini, Mir and Zarco at Barcelona – the fact that they often race together suggests they all face the same machinery limitations


Rins, who missed Sachsenring after a nasty highside at Assen, agrees.

“Here [at Assen] we don’t feel much improvement from the new engine, because Assen is mostly high-speed corners. At Valencia it was a bit better in the way you brake, release the brake and open the throttle.”

Quartararo knows there’s still a long way to go before Yamaha is back to competing at the front.

“We’ve gained a lot in power this year but we’ve lost a lot in other areas,” he says. “The aero is the biggest improvement we’ve made and we are still super-super-far [behind] on electronics.”

“Even if you can’t see we are making big steps, that is what we are doing”

Despite that, the 2021 MotoGP king is confident, because Yamaha has fully changed its way of working, prioritising speed of development over everything else.

“The way we work now is completely different,” he adds. “In the past, if we tested a new engine, we would never have it at the next race [Assen]. Maybe we would’ve had it at Silverstone [August’s British GP].

“So we are moving much faster and we have much clearer ideas – we have a direction and we know where we have to improve. I’m super-happy. Even if you can’t see we are making big steps, that is what we are doing. We are getting closer and we are working better.”

Quartararo has another reason to smile, despite missing the top ten at the last three races. Next year Pramac will run factory-spec M1s, doubling Yamaha’s number of riders. In the age of data this is a huge deal, because to benefit from new technologies like machine learning and artificial intelligence you need more data than you can get from two bikes.

Joan Mir leaves pit garage on Honda MotoGP bike

Mir is having another torrid season on the RC213V, with seven DNFs in sprints and GPs so far


The mood is less optimistic at Honda, where Repsol’s Joan Mir and Luca Marini and LCR’s Johann Zarco and Nakagami often qualify together and race together at the back of the pack suggesting that they’re all restricted by the current RC213V’s limitations.

But the fact that they aren’t currently receiving lots of upgrades suggests something is happening.

New parts and upgraded parts flowed from Japan to the first few races, but they had little effect on performance. Pretty soon Honda engineers seemed to realise that the 2024 bike didn’t need tweaking, it needed consigning to the darkest recesses of the company’s Motegi museum. What’s needed is another total redesign.

And the fact that Mir and his fellow RC213V riders don’t expect anything new until September – probably the Misano tests – suggests that HRC’s next creation will be another all-new bike.

Mir was asked if he expects something different in September. “I expect it,” says the Repsol rider. “But I haven’t had any messages from Japanese staff that we will get this or that for the Misano tests. I expect but I don’t know.

“We know the area where we are losing – all the lap time! Now we are just waiting.”

Honda videographer records MotoGP track session

HRC videographer filming bikes in the COTA pit lane to compare machine behaviour

“The bike is still the same,” adds LCR rider Zarco. “The evolution will come later because we need time to build this evolution.

“There’s clearly a limit – we cannot go faster. We are one second away, which is a lot, but I accept it and I give information. It’s hard not be able to follow the others and really struggle with the bike.

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“I hope the evolution will go in the right direction because when you try to analyse everything there’s a moment when you say, it’s strange but there’s something that’s not logical in the bike that makes all the Honda riders struggle. The engineers try to understand this but something is not matching.”

Where is Honda losing so much time? Everywhere, but lack of load on the rear tyre – which affects braking, turning and accelerating – is a constant theme among Honda’s four riders.

“It’s complicated,” says Marini, who scored his first point of the year in Germany. “It’s not easy to understand but we are trying to do it. When we compare all the videos it’s really interesting to see the behaviour of our bike compared to the others. We have a lot of margin to improve, but we need to wait until the new updates come.”

All five manufacturers have videographers circulating the service road during MotoGP weekends. They video all the bikes in all situations and then use software to overlay their machines over rival machines to analyse differences in dynamic behaviour.

Yamaha MotoGP bike in pit garage

Rin’s YZR-M1, with downforce wing inspired by Aprilia and ground-effect fairing inspired by KTM. Copying the fast factories is the way to go


Yamaha has the only inline-four in MotoGP, so the bike will never behave like its V4 rivals, but there are elements that engineers can take from the other bikes. Already this year Yamaha has copied KTM’s ground-effect fairing, created by KTM in conjunction with Red Bull Advanced Technologies, who engineer Red Bull’s F1 car.

Honda uses a 90-degree V4, like Aprilia, Ducati and KTM (the RC15’s vee angle is actually 86 degrees, but it’s the same thing from a motorcycle configuration point of view), so its easier for Honda to imitate the leaders.

What Honda needs to do is copy the Ducati – copy its geometry, its engine position, its centre of mass, its aerodynamics – because that’s the only way to bridge such a gap. Flatter Ducati with imitation and then work to find a way to go faster, which is what Aprilia has done, up to a point.

In 2020 the Noale factory parked its 75-degree V4 engine (which made the bike too tall) and replaced it with a 90-degree V4, like Ducati’s Desmosedici, which changed the bike’s architecture and made it longer, because MotoGP bikes don’t need to pitch back and forth like they used to, due to downforce aero and so on. Since then the RS-GP has gone from top-ten hopeful to occasional winner, even though it doesn’t have super-super-fast riders.

Honda and Yamaha also need to establish engineering bases in Europe, ideally Italy, which currently produces MotoGP’s best engineers. Yamaha has limited engineering capabilities at its Milan HQ, but Honda has nothing like that in Europe. That needs to change.

Despite everything, Honda and Yamaha are still by far the most successful manufacturers in the premier class: Honda has 313 wins, Yamaha 245, MV Agusta 139, Suzuki 97 and Ducati 94, so it won’t be long before the Bologna brand celebrates its centenary.