The MotoGP calendar has been defined. In total, it’s 21 Grands Prix, including unknown tracks like Kazakhstan, on 9 July. If it ever happens.
It's a crazy calendar, which starts in Portugal, at Portimao on March 26 and the following week the paddock moves to Termas de Rio Hondo, Argentina.
As if that weren't enough there are three crazy fly-aways: the Indian GP on 24 September and the subsequent Japanese GP at Motegi; followed by the Indonesian GP on October 15th with Australia on the 22nd and Thailand on the 29th. The Grand Finale is simply terrifying because it will take place in Sepang on November 12th and in Qatar on the 19th to bring the season to a close on November 26th at Valencia. Michelin will probably be forced to bring snow tyres, even though the weather there can be incredibly cold or temperate.
The bad news, however, is that in 2023 there will be very few tests: the shakedown in Malaysia from 5th to 7th February with only the test riders and rookies (only one, Fernandez), then the official riders will take to the track at Sepang from 10th to 12th. Then from 11th to 12th March they will test at Portimao, then on 1st May at Jerez, on 11th September at Misano.
So just a few days. Why is it so important to mention this crazy and not just challenging calendar?
The answer is that the manufacturers will have very little time to test their new bikes, and while some manufacturers such as Ducati, with eight bikes on the track and a winning GP22, will only have to refine details, the current Honda propping up the rear of the category is faced with a major challenge.
Marco Marquez said it immediately after the 2022 Misano tests: "You can't win the world championship with this bike!".
The problem is that the RC213-V made progress in 2022 over 2021, but lost competitiveness on some, most, of the circuits.
Marquez again: “The Ducati's strong point is that it's fast on any track. It wasn't like that in the past. Today, to win the world championship, you need consistency because the differences are minimal."
But what problems are we talking about? The RC213-V, with the introduction of a new rear Michelin spec tyre, with more grip, has lost confidence with the front. It is still very stable under braking, but the riders lose time on entry, are unable to take advantage of corner speed and the result is poor acceleration on exit.
Marquez manages to make the most of the bike on some circuits, such as Phillip Island, where there aren't too many braking stops and sudden changes of direction, but the way in which he sticks to the bike is no longer able to make a difference.
The problem is that Honda has not reacted quickly to the rapid change in technology imprinted on MotoGP by Ducati. Especially the aerodynamics. Even Aprilia reacted more promptly and Honda's explanation is that its engineers are committed to bringing technologies to the track that can then have an impact on series production.
They might even believe it when they say it, but it is not known what impact carbon brakes and a seamless gearbox may have on series production. Not to mention the fact that MotoGP is a prototype championship.
For this reason, under Marquez's indignant push, Honda made a move and did so in the only possible way: by copying. In the Valencia tests, immediately after the last GP, two fairings were seen: one copied from Aprilia, with a 'chest-like' bulge in the central part and a second with a blow channel, albeit with a different shape from the Ducati 'ears'. Not to mention the Stegosaurus fins on the tail. A lot of stuff, but you know when you put a lot of meat on the fire then it becomes difficult to see what works and what doesn't.
This is also the case with the Kalex aluminium rear swingarm: Marc liked it, but he too couldn't find anything better to describe it than a slightly different behaviour when sliding. Not very much.
The big problem is that Honda has not yet fully understood the behaviour of the 2022 RC213-V, which is profoundly different from the 2021, and this implies not knowing which direction to take to improve it. Also because in the meantime the margin has narrowed and from this year the maximum pressure allowed for tyres will also come into force, previously only tested. And we know that going from 1.9 to the front to 2.0 involves the almost total loss of control of the front end in corner entry.
The problem with current MotoGP is this: it is way too critical and this explains why Ducati has an advantage at the moment with 8 bikes on the track. It has more data to cross-reference, so it’s in a position to try multiple solutions at the same time.
Riding MotoGP bikes has changed a lot, and even Superbikes: it could be defined as point-and-shoot. The aluminium swingarm responded to Marquez's request: to have more mechanical grip. But it's an unequal battle because today grip is obtained by studying aerodynamics which, as is well known, is much more complicated than that of an F1 car due not only to the fact that the bike leans over when cornering, but also because the rider, by shifting his weight, is an active part of the balance.
The only solution, at the moment, is to exploit the huge pool of engineers between HRC and R&D. And if KTM is working with Red Bull's technicians in F1, it's time for Honda to do the same and not just copy.
Think about it: a MotoGP bike is a bullet that travels through the air at speeds exceeding 350 km/h, so it travels compressed by a wall that opens up with difficulty in front of it. It's about controlling the airflow around, above and below the bike. And it’s the rider who influences everything with his movements.
The first tests at Sepang are a month away. The championship will largely be fought out between the Malaysian and Portimao rounds. Afterwards it will only be necessary to adapt, give gas, knowing that today between electronic controls and aerodynamics, the rider can no longer make the difference he did in the past... and be careful because in 2023 with the Sprint Race at each Grand Prix the time for set-up decreases and the problems double!