Could Yamaha gains make 2022 a now-or-never year for Ducati? - The Race

Could Yamaha gains make 2022 a now-or-never year for Ducati?

Sep 9 2022
By Simon Patterson

With the final days of mid-season MotoGP testing now completed, it finally seems like reigning world champion Fabio Quartararo has been handed exactly what he desired by Yamaha: a faster bike for next year, without it compromising the M1’s strengths.

That should present a very real worry to his rivals for next year; but does it also put added pressure on Pecco Bagnaia to make his 2022 title campaign a now-or-never opportunity?

Misano MotoGP Francesco Bagnaia Ducati

It’s worth noting that, despite extensive and vocal complaints from Quartararo, he’s still very much in control of the championship standings – a legacy of his strong start to the season and testament to the points gap that he was able to build up, considering he still leads by 30 after four victories in a row for Bagnaia.

But it has also come amidst plenty of complaints from him, too, with a constant refrain from him being that he’s got one hand tied behind his back as long as the Yamaha remains at a considerable speed disadvantage in a straight line to the eight rocketship Ducatis that attempt to swarm him every race.

Speaking after topping two days at testing in Misano by a tenth over Bagnaia, though, he was quick to praise the work that has been done in Japan to deliver a 2023 prototype that has seemingly improved significantly, if the speed charts are to be believed.

“I’m happy that we got it confirmed that the engine is a big improvement,” Quartararo said after the test. “We worked with electronics this morning because the character of the engine is slightly different, and it’s hard to know too much because the track is so good. But for the first test of the prototype, I’ve made a really good pace.

“They want to improve more, and of course I won’t say no if they have margin to. It’s quite nice, because we’re only in September and there are still a few months before pre-season tests and the first race, and hopefully there will be more tests to do and more top speed.

“The character of the engine has changed a little bit, but I’m not lost. Of course, we still need to work a little bit more in the first part of acceleration, where the bike is a little bit lazy.”

Fabio Quartararo Yamaha MotoGP

Should that issue truly be fixed for 2023, it means that life is about to get considerably harder for pretty much everyone else on the grid. Ultra-fast when given clear track, Quartararo has suffered more than ever this year from the traditional Yamaha issue of not being able to overtake.

That’s something which has led to Yamaha ripping up its entire gameplan back at headquarters in Japan and bringing in former Ferrari and Toyota F1 engine boss Luca Marmorini to add some fresh blood to the development team – a plan that so far seems to have been a success in delivering Quartararo more power.

However, while that’s everything that the Frenchman has been asking for, it’s not enough to as of yet worry his main rival, with Bagnaia acknowledging Yamaha’s gains but quick to counter with his own claims that Ducati was taking on Yamaha elsewhere to make up the difference.

With the Desmosedici traditionally fast in a straight line but conceding much in corners as a result, specially in the middle of longer turns, the 2021 championship runner-up explained that right now Ducati’s focus is very much not on engine development but rather on building new frames that try to close that specific cornering gap – even at the expense of some of its own speed advantage.

That comes despite Bagnaia and team-mate Jack Miller already being a step behind on engine development, with the factory bikes this year fitted with not Ducati’s new 2022 engine but rather a middle-ground adapted 2021 spec, after Bagnaia rejected the latest version just ahead of the first race of the year in Qatar.

Francesco Bagnaia Ducati MotoGP

“I think that top speed is for sure something important,” he said, “but not the main thing. We are doing all the work to find more agility, more stability, because on that Yamaha are so much better than us.

“They are working in the opposite way to find some speed, but for sure you will have less stability, less agility. I think now we have two different kinds of thinking. In this moment, we’re just focusing on having more chassis, a better feeling from the bike because from the outside it looks like our bike is perfect but we are losing a lot of speed in corners.

“We’re working on it and we’re finding something great. If we have to lose some speed in the straights, we prefer to have more agility instead.”

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