KTM factory riders Brad Binder and Miguel Oliveira reckon it’s not a problem that the Austrian brand’s development seems to have slowed so far in 2022, as it works to establish better consistency after after a 2021 season marked by highs and lows.
With KTM seemingly bringing new parts every weekend last year as it struggled to rapidly adapt the bike to a changing tyre specification and to make amends for a slow start to the year, its riders ended up somewhat overwhelmed by the constant pace of development.
In part thanks to its steel trellis frame, the only one of its kind on the MotoGP grid, and the fact that new parts can be quickly prototyped and manufactured using 3D printing technology, KTM has a significant amount of development flexibility – but this also left riders fighting to find a base setting as the bike evolved underneath them.
With KTM losing its concession status in mid-2020, though, and therefore unable to test away from races with its riders, it was perhaps the only way for the firm to close in on its much more established factory rivals.
But the focus since pre-season testing this year has been to target consistency from its existing package as opposed to taking big swings at upgrades week-to-week.
“I haven’t tested anything this year, to be honest,” KTM’s Brad Binder admitted after the Catalan Grand Prix.
“I haven’t tested during race weekends. We’ve stuck to our gameplan, except obviously for the wings which we had to test and homologate to try and solve some other issues, and it helped a little bit – but we had to change our set-up completely.
“I think it’s clear that when you’re coming from far back, or when you’re not quite where you want to be, or let’s say the level of your package isn’t where you want it to be – you can kind of explore a little bit and say that worked or that didn’t.
“But when you’ve already got something that’s quite good it’s not easy to make it better.
“You need to be more precise and more specific in what you bring, and I think that’s one thing that KTM has really done well. I expect that the things they bring from now on will work well for us.”
Binder is sixth in the championship and has regularly been in the top 10 this year, but has struggled to crack the top five since his second place at Qatar to open the season.
His team-mate Oliveira did win at Mandalika in the wet, but is 11th in the points and leaving the team for next season, being replaced by Ducati’s Jack Miller.
“For sure now it’s very easy to say that maybe this was not a good strategy,” Oliveira said of KTM’s 2022 development plan. “But for sure it was important, the project leader has to understand what are the real struggles of the bike and has to really analyse more deeply what could be the next step. So instead of just bringing material over and over they really wanted to really pinpoint what could be affected on the bike.
“I think it’s also a learning process for them. This sport is not easy. It is in constant evolution, we have competitors which also move forward each season, and it looks like a lot [this year], and sometimes it’s just hard to follow up to that pace.
“You know, if we have been too conservative perhaps at this stage – it’s the most accurate thing to say, but it was a strategy that we believed was best to move forward.
Arguably the marque has the fifth- if not sixth-best bike in MotoGP and has struggled to make Q2 in four consecutive qualifying sessions. Its rookies have really struggled with its bike, too – with Remy Gardner in particular having been desperate for upgrades, albeit placated somewhat in the Barcelona test.
Like Oliveira, Binder is adamant that KTM’s development approach is not a cause for concern even as its bad form so far in 2022 continues, insisting instead that it’s more a case of doing things correctly instead of doing too much at once.
“We clearly know what we’re missing and where we need to improve,” Binder added, “but it’s not always that you bring something and it’s great or it’s worse. You also need to sometimes, when things come, to go in directions so that they guide you.
“In one way we need to have a look at the bigger picture and understand exactly where we are, exactly what we need to achieve, and be precise with everything we need to bring. That’s the only way we can get to the front.
“There are certain things we need to work on now, but small things at the minute are going to make a big difference.
“There’s a huge amount of work going on at the factory, and it’s only a matter of time until we get it right.”
Oliveira finished second and Binder was fourth at the Sachsenring last year, but this weekend’s race at the same venue has started slowly with the duo placed 18th and 15th respectively in the first practice session.