“Here [at Sachsenring] we get a lot of wheelie, especially exiting the last corner,” said Mir. “With more downforce on the front it’s better. Also in fast corners the extra downforce gives you more support on front and better turning. That’s why the bikes keep turning sharper, because more downforce keeps the front tyre on the ground to improve turning.”
Rins was unable to test at Barcelona, due to injuries sustained in the Turn 1 pile-up, so at Assen last weekend he gambled on using a different Suzuki aero upgrade. Each aero design is per rider, not per team or factory.
“I tried the centre wings [sidepods] during pre-season testing at Sepang and I didn’t like how the bike was working,” explained Rins at Assen. “This is why I chose this different option. In the wind tunnel it gives more downforce, so on the track it reduces wheelies but it doesn’t make the bike less agile, which is what I felt with the centre wings. We have compared data here and I don’t know if it’s because of the difference in aero designs but my bike has less wheelie than Joan’s.”
A smaller top fairing can make a big difference to turning
MotoGP’s last few racetracks feature a lot of fast corners and many high-speed changes of direction, which is why we’ve heard Pecco Bagnaia and other Ducati GP22 riders talk so much about this year’s narrower upper fairing, which creates less wind resistance, therefore allowing riders to turn into corners faster, hold their line better and change direction quicker.
“The smaller fairing gives us better handling,” said Assen winner Bagnaia. “Last year we worked a lot to improve this area of our bike for this year, because the bike wasn’t turning, so we’ve gone from a bike that didn’t turn to a bike that turns a lot. It really helps in the faster corners at Sachsenring and Assen and Mugello, so overall it’s a big improvement.
What’s gone wrong at Honda?
Honda is having its toughest time in MotoGP since it returned full-time to Grand Prix racing in 1982 with the NS500 two-stroke triple. At Sachsenring the factory failed to score a single point in a premier-class GP since the 1981 British GP, where Freddie Spencer DNF’d with the oval-piston NR500. At Assen on Sunday Honda’s best finisher was Takaaki Nakagami in 12th.
Various factors have contributed to this slump. Most importantly the loss of Marc Márquez, who won six of seven MotoGP world titles from 2023 to 2019, the introduction of Michelin’s grippier, softer-casing rear slick at the start of the 2020 season, when Márquez crashed and broke and arm, and the global pandemic, which has made MotoGP particularly difficult for the Japanese factories.
Most factories had to redesign their bikes to get the best out of the new rear slick, which moved the traction balance even further to the back of MotoGP bikes. And Honda had to do this development mostly without its fastest rider.
MotoGP bikes need to be very balanced to get the best out of the Michelins, but obviously this isn’t easy when the rear tyre has so much more grip than the front, which can cause problems especially during the entry and turning phases of cornering.
“The balance between the front and the rear is what we are missing,” said HRC MotoGP test rider Stefan Bradl at Assen. “We have strong points, just in straight-line braking, but the bike is not in balance, so the front turns but the rear doesn’t want to turn. The whole bike doesn’t want to work together.
“Sometimes we have too much rear grip, sometimes not enough, so something is missing between the front and the rear to bring us smooth riding. Always we have to fight to get the bike to do what we want it to do when we are braking and turning. It makes riding very hard, so we are inconsistent and it’s easy to make a mistake because everything isn’t working smoothly together.
“We have to question everything to understand everything about the situation. The problem isn’t only the bike, it’s also that we are losing a lot of time in communication between Europe and Japan.”
Bradl and HRC will test various updates at a private test at Jerez during MotoGP’s five-week mid-season break.