The last SBK weekend in Portimao, in addition to bringing Alvaro Bautista to the top of the podium after a long fast, brought back the never-ending story about the superiority (real or alleged) of the Ducati Panigale V4R compared to its competitors. The images of Bautista's "slalom" in passing his opponents, especially on the fast straight at the finish, caused an uproar. Above all, the double pass in the Superpole Race on Haslam's Kawasaki and Sykes' BMW, which were literally devoured by n.19's Ducati. A superiority in acceleration, often disarming for his adversaries that, as stated by Jonathan Rea himself, he'd need an extra 25 hp to stand up against the performance of the V4 from Bologna. But how much can those passes be attributed to the Desmosedici Stradale R and how much to the Spanish rider?
To get a better understanding of this, we asked Ernesto Marinelli - 22 years in the garages of the derivatives, former head of the Ducati SBK project, and current Technical and Product Director in Termignoni - for his opinion.
Ernesto, how strong were the Panigale and Bautista in Portimao?
“They've always been at the top of the speed rankings since the start of the championship, but we must, first of all, underline the fact that the V4 R today is already the state-of-the-art as a standard product, starting with the MotoGP derivative engine. Therefore, we're starting from a more advanced project than others for SBK. However, to explain the great performance seen in Portimao, other elements must be added."
"The conformation of the rider, in this case of Bautista, which surely makes a big difference. Because of his physical characteristics, he's small - he fits well into the hull, he's very aerodynamic. It's not a coincidence that his speed is always high. The aerodynamic aspect, therefore, enhances the already remarkable features of the bike."
Physical characteristics but also riding ones: Alvaro is very fast in corners and this, on a track like the one in the Algarve, gave him the advantage that was clearly visible on the finishing straight, preceded by a fast corner.
"That's certainly how it is. From what we can see, he lets the bike go a lot in corners. Putting together these factors, besides a very valid engine, the overall picture seems complete."
"Rea needs an extra 25 hp? The disadvantage for Ducati was when the V2 raced against the 4 cylinders..."
Rea provocatively said that he'd need an extra 25 hp to stay in Ducati's wake. What do you think?
"I don't know if and how much more horsepower the Panigale has as compared to other bikes, but 25 hp is exaggerating, besides remembering when Ducati raced with the twin cylinder against the 4 cylinders. That makes a difference.
It should be noted, however, that there could be a gap of 10 km/h between one rider and another. It may depend on the rider's physical build, as already mentioned. A small and light rider, in addition to the weight advantage, can also use a bike with a lower set-up. This implies a lower frontal section to the advantage of km/h. This may already be the difference between Alvaro Bautista and - remaining with Ducati - Chaz Davies on the same bike."
The transition from the single monocoque frame - more rigid than the front frame, but more flexible to improve cornering speed - if, on the one hand it seems to help Bautista's clean riding style, on the other, it seems to have created some problems for Davies, who is less precise in the trajectories.
"One of Chaz's characteristics is that of braking really hard, unlike Bautista who brakes first. With regard to the frame, the bike has changed, of course, but regardless of the type of frame construction, what matters are the sizes and rigidity. The frame and suspension are connected, and it's difficult to say from where the riding and set-up problems for a rider could derive."
"The parts of a motorcycle are like the links of a chain: each one must be connected to the other."
Can you define a percentage on how much the frame counts and how much the suspension?
"Stating numbers is complicated in this sense. The rider's sensation in general comes from the less rigid part. For example: a rock-hard frame and maybe a very soft fork, will lead you to have a low front end, risking an unstable motorcycle. The same can be said for the rear axle, with the bike moving in acceleration. The bike needs to work uniformly. It's like a chain with many rings and each one must be connected to the other."
With the change in bike, Davies is having more difficulty interpreting the situation than his teammate, who has a completely different riding style. Also, the Pirelli tires have changed a lot this year, as compared to the past and, evidently, these factors are creating problems for them in adapting. But it's just a matter of time for him, and he usually doesn't give up. Coming from the MotoGP, Bautista probably immediately found the ideal conditions on a motorcycle like the V4 R."
Paradoxically, Bautista complains that the problem with his bike is that it's difficult to handle in corners.
"Difficult to say without having a direct comparison. I think the Panigale behaves well, on a riding level. I don't see any big problems from this point of view. I don't see it, if not those related to development. Certainly, the fact that the bike is only in its first year of racing influences it quite a bit. With time, the set-up will certainly improve."