In 2011, Honda introduced the seamless gearbox, allowing gears to be pre-engaged and avoiding jerking, and without knowing it, the brand was giving impetus to a new era in MotoGP. This technology can today be considered as the last major novelty coming from a Japanese manufacturer, even if it had already been used in Formula 1 for several years and the HRC engineers mainly adapted it to their motorcycle.
Honda had worked on this concept in F1 in 2005 and the synergy between its departments allowed it to transfer technology to MotoGP. This innovation has prompted the engineers in the category to look more and more closely at what is happening in the “other” paddock in order to find inspiration there, in particular in the field of aerodynamics, as demonstrated by Ducati. And even if this approach was initiated by Honda, European manufacturers seem to have embraced it more easily, thus taking precedence over the Japanese in the development race.
Some brands have even gone further by directly importing talent and knowledge from F1. The most instructive example is Aprilia, whose team has been led since 2018 by Massimo Rivola, former sporting director of Minardi/Toro Rosso and Ferrari. Since the Italian’s arrival, Noale’s brand has seen an impressive evolution, moving from the back of the grid to fighting for the title with one of the best machines on the board.
The recruitment of Rivola allowed Romano Albesiano to concentrate on his role as technical director and to detach himself from the day-to-day management of the team. Rivola has profoundly changed the structure of the technical department and recruited consultants with rich experience in F1 like Luca Marmorini, former head of Ferrari engines that he had rubbed shoulders with in the Scuderia.
Since leaving Maranello, Marmorini has brought his expertise on car engines but he has also greatly contributed to the progress of the RS-GP, now considered one of the most versatile bikes on the grid. In recent months, Yamaha has even secured its services in the quest for the horses that Fabio Quartararo is crying out for.
For a year, the Frenchman has insisted a lot on the need to develop his Yamaha more regularly but he wonders about the interest of looking at F1. “There is good and bad”said Quartararo, questioned by Motorsport.com. “On the one hand, there are these components that make us faster and faster, but on the other hand, it makes our championship more and more complicated.”
This complexity can be seen both in the management of the machines and in the hierarchy, which is more uncertain than ever. And even if they are under pressure, the Japanese manufacturers remain very powerful: the three brands of the country to be entered (Honda, Suzuki and Yamaha) have won the last 14 drivers’ titles. Ducati has nevertheless won the last two manufacturers’ crowns, a sign that the balance is beginning to tip in favor of Europe.
Quartararo believes that this new way of approaching development has contributed to a certain decline of Japanese firms, often known for their reluctance to change and ideas from outside: “The Italian brands, which are the best at introducing these gadgets, always try to refine them as much as possible and go to the limits of the regulations. They play their card very well and have taken a step further than the Japanese.”
Aprilia is indeed not the only one to have looked at F1. Since taking charge of Ducati in 2014, Gigi Dall’Igna has focused on aerodynamic development but even before his arrival the Borgo Panigale brand had recruited former Ferrari engineer Massimo Bartolini. Innovation is at the heart of Ducati’s work, so Pecco Bagnaia clashes with Quartararo on his vision of what Formula 1 can bring to MotoGP.
“I think it’s good to look at F1, anything that can help us improve our potential and improve performance is positive.”analyzed the Italian, nevertheless considering that the balance of power has not really evolved in favor of the European continent: “Yamaha leads the championship [des pilotes], they won it last year and in 2020 it was Suzuki. So for now, the Japanese brands are winning. It is sure that the Europeans are progressing but we are still missing something.”
Andrea Dovizioso has already noticed a big evolution since his debut in the premier category. Often critical of certain developments that have appeared in recent years, from the holeshot device to electronics that have become essential for controlling wheelspin or wheelie, the veteran of the set is ideally placed to see how motorcycles have evolved at Ducati and Yamaha, brand he has found last year after driving M1s in 2012.
“In recent years, engineers have become more and more important in MotoGP”analyzed Dovizioso. “In this context it is very useful to recruit engineers of the caliber of those who are in F1, it is a direction that we have been taking for several years. The bikes are ridden differently, many elements have been introduced to help the pilots because the engineers have taken full control over the projects. You have to recognize that this change is working. Whether you like it or not, that’s how it is.”
The margin of progress remains immense
Synergies between the two championships may only be in their infancy. A source of inspiration for a decade, Formula 1 could indeed become a real model for MotoGP teams in the future, both technically and in terms of working methods. In any case, this is what a former Ferrari engineer we interviewed believes.
“In F1, there are certain areas that are more advanced than in MotoGP, in aerodynamics, engines, gearboxes, suspensions or simply the management of working groups with engineers in different fields”explained this renowned and very experienced figure, seeing several avenues for progress but also challenges in gaining expertise and specialization: “In MotoGP, the teams are smaller in size.”
“An F1 team is made up of 1200 people and a MotoGP team is much smaller”he added. “In F1 it is important to know how to manage these people, to place them in the departments where they are needed, to ensure that no one is stepping on their toes, and this will be the case in MotoGP. with the growth of the teams. All F1 teams have gone through this learning process growing up.”
This possible strengthening of teams is likely to accelerate the race to develop and adopt concepts used in Formula 1: “MotoGP has been adopting technologies from F1 for a few years: seamless gearshifts had been in F1 since 2005, pneumatic valve reminders have existed for more than 30 years in F1. 20 years ago, when F1 engines were atmospheric, they already produced more than 300 horsepower per liter [de cylindrée]. There are a lot of technologies that can pass from one side to the other.”
And aerodynamics are no exception, the engineer we interviewed still judging this aspect to be limited in MotoGP when he is “crucial” in Formula 1: “Technology transfer can be huge, from how to use CFD [étude de la dynamique des fluides sur ordinateur, ndlr] working methods in the wind tunnel. In an F1 team, there are 120 people who only work on aerodynamics, divided into working groups. In MotoGP, it’s a small group in charge of the whole bike. The experience and mistakes already made in F1 can be decisive to save time in MotoGP.”
It is not a question of copying Formula 1 nor of transforming a MotoGP into F1 on two wheels, but of taking advantage of the experience acquired by the championship, its expertise in organization and technology and extracting the better, to move forward faster without repeating certain errors.
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