Season after season, the MotoGP factory racing department engineers strive to develop and advance their machines despite increasingly restrictive technical regulations. We sat down with the head technicians of each brand—those talented engineers in charge of their respective MotoGP projects—and asked each of them five questions about the direction MotoGP will take. Kouichi Tsuji (Yamaha), Tetsuhiro Kuwata (Honda), Gigi Dall’Igna (Ducati), Ken Kawauchi (Suzuki), Romano Albesiano (Aprilia) and Sebastian Risse (KTM) responded to our questionnaire.
Question 1: Which direction will aerodynamic research take following the ban on winglets?
Kouichi Tsuji: Engineers are still trying to find the benefit of aerodynamics. And when they get one, they will work to increase it. That’s what happened last year with the wings. Today, research continues with a simple goal: to have less drag and more maneuverability.
Tetsuhiro Kuwata: With less “down force”, our performance is affected. Everyone is now thinking about solutions to regain that lost aerodynamic support. It is difficult without adding winglets, but as engineers we are here to find solutions. We need challenges, and this a big one.
Gigi Dall’Igna: Without wings, it’s not easy. It will be impossible for us to regain the same aerodynamic advantage. We are now looking to get back the balance we had, but actually our bike is clearly more unstable. We’re trying to find the right compromise. We will most certainly begin the season with our 2016 fairing without winglets and the model we have been testing since Sepang.
“As engineers we are here to find solutions; we need challenges, and aerodynamics is a big one,” Tetsuhiro Kuwata, HRC
Ken Kawauchi: We all know what the winglets brought to the level of aerodynamic support and we are all now looking for ways to create the lost “down force” in a different way. Obviously, it will be very difficult to recreate what the wings provided, but we must work to get the most out of what the regulation allows us to do. As for the agility and the maneuverability of the bike, the disappearance of the winglets hasn’t changed the behavior of our Suzuki.
Romano Albesiano: Much has been said about these winglets. Obviously, no one can deny the gain they brought in terms of stability. We were in favor of maintaining them. However, I think their effectiveness has been exaggerated. The proof, when Aleix tried our bike in Valencia without fins, he immediately made very good times. Today, some manufacturers are trying to find “down force” with new designs of fairings, others do not make this area a priority…
“No one can deny the gain the wings brought in terms of stability. Nevertheless, I think their effectiveness has been exaggerated,” Romano Albesiano, Aprilia
Sebastian Risse: On our side, we have never used these wings. We started to study them, but having quickly learned that they would be banned, we did not go any further. I am curious to see what our opponents will develop to compensate for the loss of “down force”. Everyone seems to have ideas, but who will take the risk of attacking the championship with a revolutionary fairing without knowing how it will work on this or that circuit? No one can work “step by step”, and with only one evolution permitted during the season, one does not want to risk an error.
Question 2: What are your priorities in terms of engine power?
KT: Power remains a perpetual quest. However, we must be able to use it and we are working to maintain the best possible character as it helps run the bike. For us, the engine is a component of the chassis.
TK: Even if it does not make it easier, engine development is the easiest to quantify. Obviously, we want to get as much power as possible. A powerful engine is the pledge to accelerate faster and go faster in straight lines. This is one of the best ways to go faster on a circuit lap. Obviously, this power must be usable, and that is why we manage it properly with electronics. The power must also not defeat the chassis. That is the balance we are looking for today.
“For us, the engine is a component of the chassis,” Kouichi Tsuji, Yamaha
GD: We never stop working to develop our engine. Our goal today is to improve its ease of use while retaining the power that makes it a strength.
KK: Since last year, we have had a good recovery at low revs. Our engine is usable, easy to use, and this is a characteristic that we obviously want to keep. At the same time, we are looking to improve power at mid and high speeds. All this is balanced, because increasing the power at lower rpm would cause too much sliding and would be too demanding for the traction control, which we don’t want. The connection between power at low and medium rpm is very important.
“We want to get as much power as possible,” Tetsuhiro Kuwata, HRC
RA: We are trying to improve the torque curve to get a fuller engine. In any case, we know very well that power is essential when we find ourselves fighting with another rider. The faster you go in a straight line, the better.
SR: Power is there. In terms of its use, we had good feedback from the various riders who tried the bike last year. Today we have two riders who have known only the Yamaha since they have been racing in MotoGP. The M1 has the reputation of having a very good power curve, being easy to use. They now have to get used to a V4 whose characteristics are different. And on our side, we must continue to make progress. Much work has been done since November and Pol and Bradley’s first return on the connection with the gas handle and the torque curve. We’re not too bad…
Question 3: Since last year, you are all forced to use the same electronic management software. Where are you in relation to its use and development?
KT: From a performance point of view, there are no major improvements to be expected. On the other hand, we must be able to do better in terms of safety.
TK: We are not yet 100 per cent. In any case, even though we were ninety-nine per cent, we need keep working to do better.
“It’s an endless story. I would say that for now we use it at 70 or 80%. We easily have a 20% margin of progression,” Ken Kawauchi, Suzuki
GD: We can’t develop further. We are all at the same level today.
KK: It’s an endless story. I would say that for now we use it at 70 or 80%. We easily have a 20% margin of improvement.
RA: For me, there is still room for progress. We are far from knowing all the possibilities of this software: There are thousands of parameters to consider. In my opinion, it will take at least five years to go through it.
“We can’t develop further; we are all at the same level today,” Gigi Dall’Igna, Ducati
SR: This software is a big toolbox. There are not necessarily all the tools we would have chosen, and there are some tools that are useless, others that are missing, but everyone has the same things. So what we have to do is optimize the parameters available and put in place the right procedures to avoid errors. Even if the software is unique, this is quite complex; perhaps even more so than if each one used their own software. Anyway, in the end, it’s the best that do the best.
Question 4: In terms of the chassis, do you think you have reconciled the transition from Bridgestone to Michelin in terms of balance?
KT: Adapting a motorcycle to tires is an endless process since the objective of development is to optimize the operation and performance of those tires on the various circuits.
TK: This is by far the last of our problems. I think that today everyone has assimilated to the change of manufacturer. In any case the riders do not complain anymore about the behavior of the motorcycle in relation to the tires.
“This is by far the last of our problems,” Tetsuhiro Kuwata, HRC
GD: We are always looking for progress in all areas. Today we are in a satisfactory situation even though the ban on the winglets forces us to seek a new equilibrium because of a more unstable machine.
KK: The tire brand change did not really affect us. Since our return to MotoGP, we have always had a high performance motorcycle in terms of the corner speed, but a little less at the end of the turn. We have made progress in the area but it has not really been linked to the change of tires.
“The switch from Bridgestone to Michelin has been ultimately more a matter of rider feeling than of motorcycle settings,” Romano Albesiano, Aprilia
RA: We found a good balance that is not very different from the base of adjustments that we used before. This change of tires is ultimately more a matter of rider feeling than of motorcycle settings.
SR: We have always worked with Michelin. So we did not have to adapt to a new manufacturer, our motorcycle was developed with these tires. Last year, we kept close contact with Michelin to find out where they were going, and in which direction we needed to work. It was not always easy to go into testing with tires that were not necessarily those that were going to be used during the GP. But overall we are happy with the situation in which we find ourselves.
Question 5: With increasingly restrictive technical regulations, is it still possible to make a difference? As engineers, what is your vision?
KT: There is still a lot to do with these technical regulations. Moreover, limitations are sometimes synonymous with inventions. In any case, we are satisfied with the current regulations.
TK: Restrictions are always a challenge for an engineer. It is up to us to find solutions to deal with the limits imposed on us. It is an interesting exercise. Obviously, we would like more freedom to go further, but we must be realistic and think about the costs. This type of regulation also promotes the commitment of new manufacturers, it is also positive.
“Although the regulations are restrictive, imagination and creativity remain important in this sport,” Gigi Dall’Igna, Ducati
GD: We still have room to develop. Although the regulations are restrictive, imagination and creativity remain important in this sport. I hope, however, that there will not be too many new bans in the future, such as today’s aerodynamic appendages. Anyway, it’s good to be able to develop without resorting to excessive operating budgets at the level of race services.
KK: As an engineer, I would like to see the regulations, particularly with respect to the development freeze, relaxed during the season. Even if it must be acknowledged that this makes it possible to control budgets, it does not help the work of engineers who can no longer develop the engine after the first race. However, we must continue to work to be ready at the end of the season, and it is not easy. I’d also like to have more test days to help us get to the bottom of the best, to work on ABS … But I’m talking here as an engineer, not as a team manager
RA: We saw it in the case of aerodynamic appendages. Engineers never appreciate the prohibitions of new technical solutions. Nevertheless, regulations must be a compromise between cost control and freedom to explore new avenues. I think the framework is currently not so bad. Even if there are restrictions, there is room for innovation.
“In the end the job remains the same: we must study the rules and define the limits to see how far one can go,” Sebastian Risse, KTM
SR: We still have quite a lot of freedom. In the end the job remains the same: we must study the rules and define the limits to see how far we can go. I do not think it damages the creativity of engineers. These imposed regulations are constraints, that’s all.