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Rival Manufacturers Concerned Honda Has Unfair Advantage With Stefan Bradl

MotoGP factories without concessions, which certainly includes Honda, are very limited in the testing that can be done by factory riders. Typically, factories use test riders who are not full-time racers, such as Ducati’s use of Michele Pirro.

Last year, Honda lost factory racer Marc Marquez to injury early in the season, and used Stefan Bradl, normally a test rider eligible for just a few wild card appearances, as a fill-in for Marquez — Bradl raced in a total of 12 rounds in 2020. Bradl was allowed to race at Portimao, for example, despite the fact he tested there earlier in the year, while no other racer had ever been on the track with a MotoGP bike. Bradl recorded his best result (7th place) at Portimao.

Now, with the 2021 season rapidly approaching (the first race at Qatar is March 28), rival manufacturers are concerned that Honda might again have an unfair advantage using Bradl as a substitute for Marquez. Bradl continues to take part in test sessions only allowed for test riders, such as KTM’s Dani Pedrosa, but not racers. Yet Bradl’s expected to start the year as a substitute for Marquez, whose exact date of return to racing is unknown. As a result, MotoGP, at the urging of some manufacturers (including KTM), is looking at limiting the use as a test rider in a race to just 3 or 4 races in a given year.

It is noteworthy that the Honda MotoGP bike appeared to improve dramatically toward the end of last year as Bradl’s input as both test rider and racer contributed to its development. The younger brother of the World champion, Alex Marquez, became much more competitive on the Honda as the year progressed, as did Takaaki Nakagami.

37 Comments

  1. Reginald Van Blunt says:

    Seems to me there is a huge difference between being a technician or a racer. Balances out any ‘unfair advantage’ when one is elbow to nipple all crossed up with a dastardly competitor, who does not want to share the road.

  2. mike says:

    So, making the Honda Motogp bike somewhat less unrideable is an unfair advantage ?

    At most, it might make the bike less a disaster than it had been last year.

    Which would make for better competition. I like better competition.

  3. joe b says:

    I dont see it. Yes, Bradl does both testing and then races at the track, and this could as some say, give him an “unfair” advantage. but lets go back when MotoGP decided they would use a “spec” black box, knowing Honda had a big advantage over others in this area, basically taking away from them the most, and others the least? Then when the new “Spec black box” was distributed, it had come from Ducati, who made the parameters and who knows, favoring them, and not least they knew that box in and out as they wrote the algorithms? The other teams should be Happy Marquez is just not there, and be quiet about it. It was a great year of racing last year, lets hope 2021 is same. Does anyone really think Bradl will dominate? because he had more practice than others? maybe?

    • motorhead says:

      all things being equal – and in professional golf, car racing and motorcycling just about all things are equal – the difference between winning and losing is a slight technical improvement or slight mistake. Or a good night’s sleep. Honda’s advantages appear to be ever so slight. A tiny advantage boosts a competitor up from 4th place into 1st place in the big leagues.

    • Thad Stelly says:

      “ The other teams should be Happy Marquez is just not there, and be quiet about it. “

      True statement. (Trudat)

  4. motorhead says:

    If I understand this correctly Honda is getting two unfair advantages here. First, Bradl knows all about this Qatar track, having tested extensively on it and therefore better knows the brake points, arcs and Qatar nuances. Second, even during and especially after the upcoming official races he can collaborate directly with Honda Development, which leads to a better MotoGP bike. Correct? Yea, I’d complain too.

  5. Dave#2 says:

    Rules, rules, rules…Perhaps the NFL should limit the number of times players can go to the gym or universities should limit the number of hours students can study. We would not want anyone to have an advantage.

    • Sam says:

      to use your football analogy, this is the MOTOGP equivalent of the NFL allowing one team to have preseason workouts, and telling all the other teams that their players are not allowed to work out until the season starts. so its understandable that the other teams are concerned about the advantage Honda derives from having their ‘test’ rider doing laps while the other riders are not.

      • Dave#2 says:

        I know. Just sort of a joke comment about the NFL, etc. It just seems that no matter what someone does there is a rule for this and a rule for that. Like most of the readers I just want to see some racing!

    • Mick says:

      Rules are rules. That’s why all the bikes are four strokes now. They could easily change the rules and let all the racers test.

      I would rather they lifted the four stroke rules to allow any engine configuration equal displacement, like the good old days.

      • Dave says:

        They were like that briefly. The 4-strokes were so dominant that there was no point in persisting with 2 strokes. Equal displacement isn’t fair if one engine gets to fire twice as often, even though I expect this wouldn’t be an advantage @ 1,000cc..

        • fred says:

          You have your history wrong. Two-strokes have a significant advantage in hp/cc & hp/lb. Four-strokes have a fuel economy advantage at equivalent hp levels, but still give up weight.

        • Jeremy says:

          In the MX world, 250 four strokes are on par powerwise with 250 two strokes (with both engines breathed on for racing purposes.) You can normally get a little more horsepower (8% roughly) out of the two strokes, but the extra HP’s are moot because the 4T’s are so much easier to ride fast. The 2T weight savings (particularly reciprocating parts) can be felt in sketchy, endurocross terrain and features, but not really on a groomed MX track.

          The real advantage of the 2T comes down to cost. I could get a race worthy 2T engine built for less than $2,000, blueprinted and everything. The 4T will cost about $10K to produce the same power. And the 4T will have about 3x the maintenance part costs and about 1.5x – 2x the labor costs as well if you don’t maintain it yourself. That’s why it is sad to see 2T’s disappear from the amateur/privateer levels of racing. A stock 250 2T probably makes 20% more power than a stock 250 4T because it is relatively easy for an OEM to deliver a durable and reliable 2T engine tuned to 9/10ths of race power.

          I don’t think 2T’s can compete effectively anymore at the elite level even with same displacement. But like Mick, I think people should be allowed to try in certain race venues, especially a “prototype” class like MotoGP.

          • mickey says:

            I believe in MotoGP the 4 strokes turned faster lap times than the 2 strokes from the very beginning, even though the 4 strokes were in a relatively mild state of tune.

            They used to have a saying that went something like ” the more you tune a 4 stroke, the more it acts like a 2 stroke”

          • Jeremy says:

            Haha, that is true to some extent. The peakier a 4T gets, the more skill is needed to keep the machine in the optimum part of the powerband. They are still nothing like a comparably raced-tuned two stroke, though, when it comes to difficulty and risk.

          • Mick says:

            You’ll never sell me on that rubbish. The 250 four stroke handle nicely because the are made with a 125 two stroke mindset.

            I’ve made a lot of ice race tracks. One thing I sometimes get criticism for is the lack of long straights on my tracks. The reason I do that is so the 250 four strokes can be competitive until about half way whrough fifth gear. Then they are toast and get dusted by the 250 two strokes. I even bought a 250 four stroke for testing.

            The 250 four strokes are disappointing in the woods also. You always have to be in the right gear at the right time. They don’t have the torque to pull out of a taller gear like a two stokee does. The guys who use them in the woods tend to wear out quicker from having to both keep them on the boil and deal with all the engine braking from doing just that.

            And no. Four stroke GP bikes don’t get better lap times with equal displacement. 500 GP began with four strokes dominateing. Two strokes developed over time and put the four strokes out to pasture where they belong. The four strokes were brought back by rule changes Tha made the 125 a 250 class, the 250 a 768 class and the 500 a 1000 class.

            That garbage about four stokes needing 2X displacement to be “fair” sort of glosses over the fact that two strokes have big holes in the cylinder walls for more than half of their stokes and they only rev to about 12,000 rpm on a good day. They were given twice the displacement prcicely because it was an unfair advantage. Remember they banned two strokes when the went to 800cc for the little guys at Honda.

            Two strokes are simply better racing engines. 500GP proved that a long time ago. Lift the four stroke rules and the four stroke go the way of the dodo again. And good riddence to bad rubbish. They quadrupled the costs for MX race teams.

          • Motoman says:

            Sure would like to see how the 2-strokes would stack up using current rules for electronic assistance.

          • Jeremy says:

            That would be interesting for sure.

          • mickey says:

            Doubt that you find a modern day MotoGP rider willing to go back and ride a 500 2 stroke without a bunch of rider aids to make it manageable. Remember how many high sides and broken collarbones there were in the 500 2 stroke era?

          • Jeremy says:

            No one would, for sure. But fix them up with the current electronics, and it would be interesting.

        • yfzse says:

          though i agree with most of what you said, the quantity of power isnt the only important factor… the quality is as well and in motocross racing at least, a 250 4 stroke could easily compete with the 250 2 stroke… the lap times were similar between the two when the 250 4 stroke first came out. the breadth of the power is twice as wide and 4 strokes are always better at finding traction. other types of riding/racing may be a different story and in the woods the newer 4 strokes are mostly hampered by having such a short stroke id think, but im not a engineer.

  6. fred says:

    Huge advantage. 2020 was Honda’s best year ever due to that tremendous advantage. LOL

  7. mickey says:

    That makes sense Dirck

  8. Superhawk69 says:

    All valid above and the most important reason as stated… it breaks the current rules so it’s giving a manufacturer an unfair advantage.

    Let’s go racing!!

  9. Doug Moore says:

    I don’t see an unfair advantage Hannah didn’t win any races last year it got better but not much the other manufacturers need to quit crying

  10. Jeremy says:

    Well, there is no arguing that the objection isn’t legit. There is certainly an advantage to having your racer get track time when and where other racers cannot.

    • mickey says:

      Except some of these guys could spend a month riding around on the track, and the top guys would come in and be beating their time by FP2

      • Jeremy says:

        I don’t disagree with you in that regard. I think the real advantage is in Bradl doing the practices and the race weekends. That’s a tremendous amount of laps at those tracks which helps Pol, Marquez the Younger, and Nakagami, too. I believe KTM’s impressive performances at certain tracks last year were due to this same scenario available to them through concessions.

  11. mickey says:

    I dont think the other mfgs have much to worry about Bradl.

    • Dirck Edge says:

      They are worried about Marquez and Nakagami on a bike that gets an unfair amount of development, IMO.

      • Mick says:

        How does that work? Doesn’t Yamaha, for instance, test about the same amount with test riders?

        I think the issue is the rider, any test rider, racing enough to gain a season standing. KTM’s riders seem to be benefitting from Pedrosa’s help I as a test rider and that’s OK. But if one of their riders should suffer a season long injury, it would be unfair for KTM to race Pedrosa while he does double duty as both a racer and a test rider.

        I think the rub is that Honda should have dropped Bradl as a test rider after three or four races because Marquez didn’t return as expected. You can be a racer or a test rider. But you can’t be both for the majority of a season.

        Bredl may not have had stellar results, but it’s the principle of the matter.

      • fred says:

        Still doesn’t make a bit of sense on a realistic basis. If this were really an advantage, all the teams would have their Number One rider sit out the year, or at least a number of races, and swap in their test riders for the races. The fact that nobody is doing that proves that there is no advantage to Honda.

        • Jeremy says:

          It’s not a test rider vs race rider thing, in my opinion. It’s a same rider thing. The same rider getting twice as much time to identify problems and come up with solutions. Plus I’m sure Bradl’s efforts wouldn’t be considered proprietary data like some of Marc’s efforts might be during a race weekend, so it can help all riders in Camp Honda.

          • fred says:

            They may complain, but none of them will copy the “strategy”. There is no advantage to sidelining your best rider to give your test rider more track time.

          • Jeremy says:

            Nobody would sideline a main rider and replace them with a test rider, but that isn’t the strategy Honda is using. Marc is already sidelined, so Bradl gets to be both tester and main rider. The complaint is that if Yamaha wanted to use Fabio for the testing and racing, the rules prohibit that.

            Granted, I think any advantage gained would be pretty minimal, but then hundredths of a second per lap can win races or rack up constructors and teams points. A racer, engineer, or a mechanic from other teams whose bonuses are tied to such metrics are justified to call foul on this in my opinion.

          • Motoman says:

            Nobody will side-line their top racer as a “strategy”. But they will take advantage when their top racer is injured. And what Jeremy said too.

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