The Sepang tests have not only marked the debut of new bikes on the track, but also that of Massimo Rivola, Aprilia Racing’s number 1 man. An important past in Formula 1 (starting from Minardi, then moving onto the Toro Rosso and Ferrari), and, above all, a great passion for two wheels. Cars and motorcycles are two worlds that are very similar in some ways but very different in others.
In Malaysia, Rivola confirmed, “This is certainly a different environment from the one I was used to. It’s less aloof and more engaging. Maybe also because MotoGP bikes make a lot more noise than current F1 cars,” he joked.
All joking aside, there are many differences between the two series, and the Aprilia manager is worried that two wheels may drift towards the same direction as four wheels did, where engineers counted more than the drivers.
“F1 has always been, and I think it must continue to be, a technological beacon,” he explained. “It is true that, in the world of motorcycles, we all miss 2-stroke engines and the first years of the MotoGP where riders performed incredible drifts. I, as an enthusiast, would go back to those times, where the rider makes the difference.”
In short, just a little provocation: more backbone and less computers.
“I think there are too many electronics involved in the MotoGP,” he stressed. “It should be reconsidered from a regulatory perspective, otherwise, we risk reaching a point that was already reached by the F1 in the past, when all the driver had to do was keep his foot on the accelerator. Now riders are worth their weight, and the more you inhibit them, the less they’re worth. With too many electronics, there’s a risk of dulling their talent.”
Car racing, however, also has a lot to teach, with due proportions. It’s good to remember that the budgets of F1 teams are incredibly larger than those of MotoGP teams.
“During tests, the Ferrari team brings along 150 people. There are groups of technicians nicknamed “bats” because they work at night, from 8pm to 8am, to ensure continuity. If we wanted to do the same, we would empty out the company,” he joked.
This doesn't mean that we shouldn’t be inspired by those structures.
“But, without 'copying and pasting,’ " he warned. When it comes to bikes, the rider is much more important, also because of the risks and movements involved. The way he sits on his bike and his build have an influence on aerodynamics and many other aspects. There are also differences in his approach towards how he works with the team. Here, the rider gets off his bike and explains everything that his body, with all his senses, has collected. Instead, in F1, there's real-time telemetry that lets you know what the driver is doing, to which a direct response through radio communication is added. This speeds up all the processes.”
Several experiments on radio communication were carried out in the past, and even Rivola had doubts about it.
“It could be dangerous because it’s a distraction for the brain,” he explained. “In F1, we carried out extensive studies. The driver must train in a specific manner, in order to be able to collect this information without being distracted from driving and losing in performance. The same applies when it’s the driver who communicates. Those who are good are able to return to their usual performance right after a curve. Others need a whole lap.”
However, the working method can be altered, and new technologies will change motorcycling more than has already been done. For example, Aprilia, like its main rivals, is experimenting with a system to overlap video images of the various pilots, including those from other teams, as a comparison technique.
“I think there’s still a world to be discovered, and, when we start understanding that we’re facing a bottomless pit, like in F1, the risk is that it’ll backfire,” warned Rivola. “We’ll have to be careful and keep up the free spirit of motorcycling. The rider does not have to become an engineer, but he must know that there are so many tools at his disposal. Today, I think riders still receive too little information. Let me explain. I don’t mean that the driver in F1 must only execute what the team says, but, in a certain sense, that’s how it is while, with motorcycles, it’s the team that follows the rider. The approach must be more engineering, based further on data and numbers. The risk of always following the driver is that of being led in the wrong direction. As we very well know, in 2018, we took a path that was obviously not the right one.”