Ducati in MotoGP: looking for the perfect motorbikeby Mat Oxley on 16th July 2019
Like Eldorado, the perfect MotoGP bike doesn’t exist, but that doesn’t mean Ducati’s Gigi Dall’Igna can stop searching. We spoke to him at Assen
Andrea Dovizioso on the Ducati Desmosedici GP19 Photo: Ducati
Ducati likes to build a MotoGP bike around its engine. The factory literally did this for its first nine seasons in the championship, when the Desmosedici was essentially an engine bolted to a steering head and swingarm.
Focusing on horsepower can make a lot of sense, because it’s easier to overtake in a straight line than around a corner. So that’s always been Ducati’s way – build a bike that allows its rider to get through the corner as best he can, then pull the trigger.
Inline-four bikes have an advantage in terms of corner speed. If you have a V4 you have to manage the set-up to reduce this problem as much as possible
I recall 2003 preseason testing at Jerez, just weeks before the Desmosedici made its race debut at Suzuka.
Suzuki team-mates Kenny Roberts Jr and John Hopkins were stood in the pitlane, checking out the brand-new Italian V4. “It’s like they’ve got a Ferrari engine in there,” muttered Hopkins.
Ducati’s pull-the-trigger concept worked well for a while and can still work today, when track layout allows.
It worked best when Casey Stoner rode the Desmosedici, the Aussie genius modulating front brake, rear brake and throttle all the way through corners. But ultimately the engine-as-frame concept failed.
Those early Desmosedicis had two major flaws: poor turning and front-end feel entering corners and too much suspension pump exiting corners.
The first problem was most likely the fault of the tiny front frame [first steel, then carbon fibre] that didn’t allow enough lateral flex, a vital turning/cornering aid that increases in importance as lean angles increase.
The 2007 Desmosedici; note tiny front frame and super-long swingarm Photo: Ducati
The second problem may have had something to do with the bike’s super-long swingarm. Some chassis engineers believe this design gave the rider less control over chain force and anti-squat, which can stop the rear shock compressing too much during acceleration.
Ducati changed direction at the end of 2011, switching to the same kind of aluminium beam frame used by all Japanese factories since the 1980s. In 2016 Ducati won its first MotoGP races since Stoner left, in part due to chassis improvements and in part due to the switch to Michelin tyres and spec Magneti Marelli electronics software.
Not because the GP19 is less competitive, but because Suzuki and Yamaha are more competitive, cancelling out the Desmosedici’s advantages and highlighting its one major disadvantage: mid-corner turning.
This problem is nothing new; indeed one reason Stoner quit his 2016/2017 role as Ducati’s lead MotoGP test rider was because he felt engineers weren’t reacting to his input on this issue.
To find out how Ducati is going to fix the Desmosedici I sat down at Assen with Ducati Corse general manager Gigi Dall’Igna, who is a master at speaking to journalists without revealing much. I did my best…
Ducati Corse general manager Gigi Dall’Igna Photo: Ducati
Since Mugello, Andrea Dovizioso has complained a lot about mid-corner turning. You have a revised frame here, what’s different?
We are looking at frame stiffness, but we are also looking at other things that can help the rider be faster in the middle of the corner. For sure chassis stiffness is one of the items. There are a lot of different stiffnesses in the chassis and you have to touch the most important stiffness for the problem you have. It’s not easy.
Is lateral stiffness the main area?
I cannot tell you exactly in which area we are working. I’m a technician and I no technician wants to say too much!
Would you agree that it’s impossible to have a MotoGP bike that does everything well?
Yes, absolutely I agree.
And would you agree that Ducati has always designed its MotoGP bikes to help the rider use the engine’s horsepower advantage?
Then how can you improve that area you’re working on without losing out somewhere else – it’s like looking for Eldorado…
You have to do your best to try as much as possible to fix the problem the rider has, without losing anything else in other areas. But for sure this is sometimes impossible, so you have to make a compromise between what you need and what you can have.
I don’t think our goal is impossible. For sure it’s not easy, for sure it takes time, for sure over the years we’ve improved not only acceleration but also mid-corner speed.
The reality is that to improve the bike you need ideas and I would like to develop the bike in the area where the rider complains the most. But if I have an idea for another area I also have to implement that idea, because maybe it’s also an advantage in terms of lap times.
So it’s a compromise between what the rider is asking for and the ideas you have at that time. Sometimes your ideas are what you need to make the rider happy. Other times you have a different solution, a different improvement
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The fact that lap times are so close now must further complicate matters, because you’re really only looking for a tenth of second a lap.
Absolutely. Sometimes it’s even difficult to understand if you have made an improvement or not, because the difference is so small.
Are you getting to a point where you need two different frame set-ups – one to use at stop-and-go circuits and one to use at fast, flowing circuits?
The compromise is different at different racetracks, so you have to find the best possible balance, depending on circuit layout, depending on whether the asphalt has good grip or poor grip and so on. Each circuit needs something different.
We know that if we make a particular change to the bike we can improve grip and if we make another change to the bike we can improve braking stability, so you have a set-up and then you go in different directions to fix different problems.
Normally we have our reference set-up and normally we start with that set-up. Then when you move in the same direction two or three times and you end up making exactly the same modifications then you change your base set-up.
For example, at the last two races [Mugello and Barcelona] we made almost exactly the same changes from the starting point of FP1 to the race, so probably now it’s time to change our reference set-up.
Do you make more changes with the Michelins than you made with the Bridgestones?
Not really – it’s more or less the same.
I would like to develop the bike in the area where the rider complains the most. But if I have an idea for another area I also have to implement that idea
When Andrea talks about the mid-corner turning issue, is he talking about when he’s still using the front tyre or once he has transferred load to the rear tyre?
The main problem is when the rider completely releases the brake and when he’s waiting to open the gas.
Both you and Honda use 90-degree V4 engines, so in theory you should have the same advantages and disadvantages…
More or less, the bikes are similar, for sure.
Then why don’t they have the same problem as you? Is it because they’ve done something different with the bike or because they’ve got Marc Márquez?
Honestly, I think you must speak with Jorge [Lorenzo] about that, because he rode our bike last year. [Laughs]
Inline-four and V4 MotoGP bikes both have their advantages and disadvantages – is possible to make a V4 go around corners as fast as an inline-four?
[Long pause] Honestly, I think inline-four bikes have an advantage in terms of corner speed. If you have a V4 you must understand that you can have this problem, so you have to manage the set-up to reduce this problem as much as possible.
Andrea talks a lot about front-tyre pop-up [when the rider releases the brake he reduces load on the tyre, so the tyre returns to its normal profile, which shrinks the contact patch] – can you help him with this or is down to him?
We can do something with set-up, but it’s much more in the rider’s hand, because it depends a lot on how quickly he releases the brake and therefore how quickly he unloads the tyre.
Are you now computer modelling the front-tyre contact patch?
Yes, we are working on that with MegaRide [an Italian company that specialises in computer modelling tyre performance], but the software we have at the moment isn’t good enough to have a really good simulation of the contact patch.
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The other big equation in MotoGP is linking degrees of lean to degrees of throttle opening – finding that sweet spot where the rider has the best rear contact patch so he can really open the throttle. How closely do you go into that with the riders?
Can you have a lean-angle gauge on the dash?
Yes. I think everyone does. This is an estimation of the lean angle, it’s not the real lean angle. Over the years we have developed different algorithms to make better estimations of the lean angle. This has evolved a lot and it’s very useful for the rider.
So they check the lean angle while they’re riding?
Absolutely. We have some sort of an estimation, which is an average of the lean angle of the bike and the position of the rider.
For example, the lean angle that Danilo [Petrucci] uses is different to the lean angle that Andrea uses, because they use different body positions and different amounts of lean to achieve the same corner speed.
Until 2016 everyone had factory-made electronics with predictive software and so on; do you prefer the current spec software?
For sure it’s more fun. And rider and motorcycle performance are closer than they were in 2015 and before when everyone used some strange algorithms.
The real controller of the bike has to be the rider – this is the only way can you be very fast.
The traction control and other controls can only do so much. If you give control of the bike to the software then for sure the lap times will be slower. So it’s important that the rider has the feeling…