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Can Yamaha Build a MotoGP Bike Worthy of Fabio Quartararo?

Quite a few knowledgable observers label Fabio Quartararo a generational talent … with skills that rival the best in MotoGP history. At 23 years of age, he already has one MotoGP championship, and his new, two-year contract to stay on a Yamaha has undoubtedly made him a very, very rich young man.

Of course, Quartararo was on his way to a second MotoGP title last year when, roughly mid-way through the championship he had more than a 90 point lead over second place. What followed was a remarkable turn-around by Ducati and, specifically, rider Pecco Bagnaia.

Arguably, the Yamaha was already significantly inferior to the Ducati during the first half of the 2022 campaign, despite some teething issues with the Ducati earlier in the year. It was Quartararo’s talent (while other Yamaha riders languished far behind) that made the difference. That talent wasn’t enough as Bagnaia found his stride later in the year.

Whatever the Yamaha’s positive attributes, it was woefully down on horsepower and top speed to the Ducatis (and several other manufacturers’ bikes) last year. Yamaha has hired a former Ferrari F1 engineer to address engine power, but there are so many more variables to the success of the Yamaha in 2023.

Not least of those variables is aerodynamics. Here is where Yamaha may stumble … fatally. You need a motorcycle with low drag on the straights to increase top speed, combined with electronics that optimize traction and reduce wheelies. In the corners, you would like significant down-force that increases traction and corner speed. This is tricky stuff to say the least.

The last time Quartararo tested a version of the 2023 engine, he was no faster on the straights than he had been with the existing, slow bike. We won’t know exactly what the problem was, but that new bike featured aerodynamics that likely increased drag on the front straight.

Where do you go for a deep understanding of, and expertise in, aerodynamics in motorsport? The answer is Formula One. This is exactly where KTM has gone, utilizing their connection to Red Bull and its extensive experience in F1.

Quartararo’s phenomenal performance on corner entry braking and mid-corner speed must also be preserved in the process of modifying the 2023 M1 race bike. More variables.

We will have a 2023 MotoGP preview article published soon on MD where we will discuss all of the teams and their riders and offer our opinion on their chances for success in the new year. In the meantime, important tests are occurring at Sepang this week that will offer some clues where Yamaha stands, as well as the other manufacturers.

After two days of the “shakedown test”, that allows only factory test riders and MotoGP rookies to participate, Yamaha’s Cal Crutchlow has been fastest, and set a top speed that slightly exceeds the highest top speed set by any Yamaha rider during the Sepang MotoGP weekend last year.

The real test comes when the factory riders gather at Sepang this Friday for a three-day test, which MD will report on.


  1. Gary says:

    Can they? Of course. They have a long history of world championships. Seems they ought to take a long, hard look at Ducati engine tech. Eventually the pendulum will swing another direction.

    • Dave says:

      It sounds like they’ve rectified the power issue but they’ve been having much bigger problems. They used to out-handle and out-corner speed everyone (except the departed Suzuki) but they’ve lost their way. Even with one of the fastest trap speeds at this test, FQ is barely in the top-10.

  2. Dave says:

    Sepang test is done. Some interesting outcomes.

  3. Mick says:

    I think what a lot of people are focusing on is a little off. It isn’t that the Ducati engines are more powerful. It is that they are durable at a higher state of tune. Part of that is engine design. But another very important part is procurement.

    All these guys test. They dial up the engine until it fails. Then they field the engine at a tune that it can survive on.

    So what fails and why? Does the Yamaha throw rods when the Ducati does not? Maybe Ducati has a source for tougher rods. Maybe Honda is building things in house out of pride or secrecy when another source for this or that would allow them a higher state of tune.

    It may just be that Ducati took a different approach to durability and it is working for them. It could be something as simple as humility. The other guys send a part to a supplier and say this is exactly what we want. Maybe Ducati says this is what we want. But if you spot any weaknesses in our design we are all ears. If a statement like that bares fruit once or twice you have a faster race bike.

    • Dave says:

      I doubt reliability is the issue at this point. Failures of “hard parts” in GP engines is pretty rare. It’s true that when Yamaha was running into their allocation limit a few years back that Lorenzo had to run in a detuned state to preserve his “old” engine in a race or two to make it to the end of the season.

      I also like to point out that Ducati’s power advantage varies at times in a given race. None of the bikes can make full race distance on full-power maps. They all must dial back to more conservative fuel mapping in parts of the race to make distance.

      • TimC says:

        Mick thinks two-strokes are the pinnacle of motorcycle engineering

        • Stuki Moi says:

          Aren’t they? For racing at least? Absent rules restricting/barring them?

          Aside from that: Yamaha certainly _could_ work harder at it than they are doing. Everyone could, given unlimited resources.

          Suzuki calling it quits yet again, despite arguably being on quite a roll, is a pretty solid hint that the return on investment from GP racing is being questioned in Japan.

          Yamaha and Honda are absolutely bigger than Suzuki, hence have absolutely more resources. But that doesn’t per se mean that they look any less critical at their observed and expected return on those resources. Which may well be lower now; with everyone buying adv bikes and commuters to baby fro speed camera to speed camera; than it was back when everyone bought sport bikes to street race on.

  4. joe b says:

    The new motoGP season is about to begin, and I am anxious to watch every minute. Ducati, having been beat for so long, finally have found everything. They seem to be unbeatable, but dont ALWAYS win. If the other teams find the speed down the straights, whatever it is, aero or just plain more HP or both, it will be very interesting year. And now with the new race formats, my head spins when I try to understand the aero. 🙂

  5. Mike says:

    So When is Yamaha going to come out with their V4 ?

    Presumably, they will do so, as that’s where the horsepower is.


    • Dave says:

      Apparently the horsepower is in Borgo Panigale because the KTM, Honda and Aprilia aren’t as fast and they’re all V4’s too.

      I’d be pretty surprised if they developed a V4. Their marketing and production strategy is built on in-lines and cross-plane cranks. They were 2nd in both the rider’s and constructor’s points last year and were #1 the year prior. If this is an emergency for Yamaha, what must it be like over in Honda’s (13th rider, 6th constructor) tent these days? Maybe they should develop an I4..

  6. Doc Sarvis says:

    He took the Yamaha money so there is that. Probably should have considered KTM for a longer term solution.

    • Jeremy says:

      If by long-term solution you mean early retirement, then I agree KTM should have been considered.

  7. Mick says:

    It’s surprising to me that Yamaha should be having so much engine trouble. They have long been an engine tour de force. The automotive industry frequently buys help from Yamaha. Every to Lexus comes out with a nifty new engine, it’s likely a Yamaha. Ford and GM have done the same.

    It seemed to start to unravel a few years ago when people were wondering if Yamaha was going to finish the season before running through their engine allotment. They have been slow ever since. They should take a good look at their management department. Too many companies look there last.

    With all this talk about engine layouts, aero, and top speed. Does anyone know if the inline bikes actually have more frontal area than the V4 bikes. Are the finished motorcycles wider?

    I don’t matter. But I think all the wings should go away. They look silly, they are starting to make street bikes with silly looking wings and they have had a negative impact on rider safety. Enough of that. Ban them and move on.

    • Dave says:

      Yamaha was having strange engine issues that year. I don’t think it was mechanical reliability insofar as things were breaking under stress but more an unforeseen internal issue that was tripping up the ECU. It was very strange.

      The talk has always been that V4’s can be narrower but to my eye they’re all about the same “bulk”. I suspect this has more to do with the amount of radiator area that is necessary to cool a nearly 300hp 1L engine than what configuration its cylinders are built into.

      • Mick says:

        I get the radiator thing. But these companies are spending the money and doing whatever it takes. They seem to be able to avoid additional coolng in the rear or wherever.

        I would just like to know. Looking at a motorcycle at a distance, often at speed, isn’t going to give you a good look at girth or height when a small difference is a pretty big deal.

        I wonder if it just conmes down to careful design and excellent suppliers. Ducati seems to be able to deliver fast dependable bikes one right after another. They are privately owned and don’t have to suffer shareholder scrutiny. I wonder at what cost. Are they spendng significantly more than the next guy?

        Is it just that Porsche has been an overachiever for so long that the MotoGP thing is fairly eazy? They have long had a close attention to detail.

        • Dave says:

          I attribute Ducati’s recent success to a couple of things. They enjoyed the consessions for a lot longer than maybe they should have. Their bikes were clearly competitive long before they achieved their first win under that rule a few years ago.

          They field a lot of bikes. This gives them a lot more data and can only accelerate development. They also don’t “throw away” the old bikes. I recall when in 2018 the “un-rideable” 2016 bikes suddenly also became very good.

          Then there’s what I’ll call the “Ferrari factor”. Racing has become almost as important as selling their products so they have what I would view as an almost irresponsible level of commitment. This is probably true of all of the participating European makes. Honda and Yamaha should be able to easily out-spend them on a reasonable marketing/sales equation but that’s apparently out of the window.

          I read an interesting article about the Britten VR1000 recently that touched on the aerodynamic aspect of the bike. Big focus on frontal area and very little body work on the engine bay and nearly eliminated cooling drag by putting the radiator under the seat. It was far faster in a straight line than anything with similar horsepower.

  8. Buzz says:

    Now do Honda.

    Only 93 can get it anywhere near the front.

  9. dt-175 says:

    it’s not the tool, it’s the tradesman. one of spencer’s old mechanics spoke of winning with a 70% bike and a 100% rider. tommy d is right– honda/ducati think it’s the bike. was mir’s bike superior? St. Nicky’s v-5 was one of many. roberts’ straight four on goodyears was not superior. KRJR’s suzuki was better than the nsr that had won the last six c’ships in a row?

    my take is that fabio, in an attempt to help yamaha, lost 2 kilos of body weight that he couldn’t afford to lose and ran out of steam when he needed body reserves the most.

  10. Tommy D says:

    Ducati has earned their championship and they have more bikes on the grid than any other manufacturer. They have shown that they are able to overcome the issues that the bike had over the developmental years with turning, braking and tire life. Now we have this lopsided Ducati Cup version of the MotoGP. What now? Rule change? Sprint races? Or watch the viewership waste away as the bikes technology wins races and not riders. This is the claim from riders on these teams. The manufacturers always want you to believe it’s their bike winning the races. As fans we want the rider to win the championship. Well I think the time has come that it is the bike. It doesn’t sell tickets. I feel bad for these riders rather than wish I were them.

    • Dave says:

      This isn’t much different to when Honda leased their 500cc bike to teams and held half of the grid. I think Ducati is doing well more because Honda and Yamaha are floundering than they are because of their own success in developing their bike. It wasn’t long ago that All 4 Yamahas were reliably top-10 season finishers. Not much further back Honda were reliably two bikes in the top 3. If they get back to that then the 2nd and 3rd tier Ducati’s will fade back a little bit from where they are now.

      I’d also like to see a better balance and I think it’s coming. I’m encouraged that so many teams want to play and that there’s a supplier making bikes for them to use. While we’re losing Suzuki, KTM is back-filling that with GasGas and Aprilia are fielding another two bikes.

  11. TimC says:

    IMO it’s a damn shame they ever allowed aero to become the thing it has with bikes. Upright single-track vehicle aero is crap to begin with so they should have just left it at “punch the best hole you can”/no wings etc. They shut the door on electronics (which “somehow” benefited a certain maker disproportionately), allegedly due to cost, but somehow didn’t notice the huge cost AND drawbacks opening this aero Pandora’s box would bring into the picture?

    Now, to the point of this article, I have my doubts – it just does not seem Yamaha is producing the excess power needed to really get the aero to work, and with development as hamstrung as it is if they don’t get it right out of the gate, I foresee FQ being fairly irritated esp with 2 years of this probable situation…for his sake I hope they somehow break through with a miracle, but I think something approximating that is going to be what it takes unfortunately….

    • Dave says:

      The aero thing isn’t that big a deal. Nobody is winning or losing on it right now. It’s just another element. The changes made to the rules dramatically cut costs and now there are more teams who want in then there are grid spots to put them on. Had they not made the changes they did, I really think MotoGP would’ve gone extinct.

      The racing is closer and more competitive than it’s ever been. Looking forward to another season.

  12. LIM says:

    I don’t think the cross plane 4 will ever produce equal or more power than the V4 motor.

    • Dave says:

      I’ve heard of a couple of reasons why the V4 can be a stronger engine than an inline but never a reason why it would have a maximum power limitation relative to another format. This is a recent problem. Yamaha and more recently Suzuki have been competitive against V4 engines all along, winning two of the last 3 championships. Suzuki has not been down on power these past two seasons despite sharing the same engine format.

      • Stinkywheels says:

        A Honda engineer explained it very well. I wish I could remember the publication. He explained why because of them using I4 in WSB and V4 in GP. It had to do with flex in crank and cam. Basically long things flex. VE suffers along with power and ultimate RPM capability.

      • VLJ says:

        Compared to the Ducatis, Suzuki was absolutely still down on power the past two seasons. How many times did you ever see a Suzuki vaporize a Ducati on any long straight, even with a tow? How many times did you see a Ducati blitz a Suzuki, with or without a tow?

        Answers: never, and countless times.

        Now, was this all simply a matter of power, or were there other factors at play, such as aerodynamics, and acceleration out of the preceding corner?

        Regardless, Ducati clearly still holds sway when it comes to acceleration and top speed. Yes, the Suzukis were faster than the other blue bikes on the grid, but they couldn’t hang with the red bikes, not in a straight line, anyway.

        • Dave says:

          I think that’s an exaggeration. No bike is going to “vaporize” a ducati. Holding distance with them is a realistic expectation. I saw both Suzuki and Fabio do that countless times last year. Both suzuki riders commented that they were encouraged by their power improvement saying that they could now defend themselves from being passed on the straights by Ducati.

          I agree that the Ducati has the most power. When they’re running unrestricted maps Ducati pass other bikes on the long straights and you almost never see them passed there.

    • Stinkywheels says:

      That’s what I believe. The inline makes for a stable machine but the flex in the components makes for imprecise cam valve action at the RPM these things need to make to be competitive. Aero needs help too unfortunately. If they switch to a V then it would have to be seen if he could ride it. Some very talented riders have shown they can’t ride those things.

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