Brake, lean, run, accelerate. This is what every rider does time and again as he completes laps at any of the world's racetracks.
Braking as effectively as possible, leaning the bike into the turn at the right time and in the right spot, finding the maximum speed through the turn and opening the throttle as soon as possible to accelerate away.
Easy, right? It's a pity that to do so perfectly you need you a bike that is perfect in each of these four phases. Something that is, frankly, impossible because it's rare for stability to go hand in hand with agility and rapid entry sometimes means the bike is less likely to remain planted to the asphalt in braking.
The engineers are well aware of this: the perfect setting is a utopia and the best possible compromise must be found, as the blanket will never be able to cover every requirement.
And this explains why the values of the bike in the field alter depending on the racetrack in question.
When you hear it said that ‘this is a Honda track’, or ‘the Yamaha has always gone well here', this is a reference to the constant characteristics of the RC213-V or the M1, rather than the respective riders.
This brief introduction helps to explain the situation at Losail, during the last winter tests ahead of the Grand Prix of Qatar, on 27 March.
Let's try to explain why Maverick Vinales and Marc Marquez, the 2017 title fighter and the current champion, found themselves at practically two opposite extremes when it comes to so-called ‘confidence’. What the riders call' feeling’ and what they need in order to be able to ride confidently for the entire 22 laps of a Grand Prix.
You're mistaken if you think our men are 100% flat out all through the race. On the contrary they ride in an (albeit extreme) 'comfort zone’, exactly like marathon runner Kimetto who was able to complete 42.195 km in Berlin in an incredible record time of 2h02”57. A time that equates, give or take, to an average of just under 2’55” per kilometre.
So what does it mean when Marc says that Losail is not one of his favourite tracks?
It's simple: the Honda is fantastic where there are tight S bends. Points where you need to brake and quickly move the bike from right and left before accelerating. And this is what he means when he talks about tracks with tight turns. An example? Austin. It's no coincidence that Marquez seems unbeatable in Texas.
On the other side, the Yamaha prefers the long corners, and there are many at Losail. To ride 100%, the M1 rider needs to take it to the middle of the corner at maximum possible speed, and then maintain the speed, something that it relatively easy thanks to its stability.
Think about Jorge Lorenzo's riding style. Exactly, like that. On a razor's edge but greased with butter. At a Yamaha track, riding a bike very similar to his previous Suzuki (also powered by an inline four engine) Maverick showed sparks…metaphorically speaking, while Marc lit up the night with actual sparks, crashing three times.
What happens to riders when they tru to gain speed mid-turn with a bike that is actually made to dart through the turns?
Simple, they lose the front as soon as they look for the lean angle needed to maintain trajectory and speed.
Just ask Iannone.
So it's not only a question of different riding styles (that riders get used to), but also has to do with the construction philosophy of each bike.
This is also the reason why the various manufacturers reacted in different ways to the banning of spoilers - they don't all need to the same load at the front.
Some of them, in order to complete the turn, need more weight on the front tyre, in both the brutal braking phase and the more delicate transition phase, as they need more grip in the moment in which they get back on the throttle. If it's not sufficient, there's only one outcome: the front closes and you crash. This is a lowside, the opposite of a highside, and you all know what that is.
So you will win in Qatar in two weeks' time?
Now that you know there are two types of bike, and four crucial moments through each turn, at every track, consider that to this we then add dozens (if not hundreds) of other parameters to ‘round out’ the transition from one moment to another: regulation of the engine brake, engine delivery, suspension regulation, bike height.... and we'll stop there.
There are always hundreds of engineers in the garages, but the perfect setting is not an exact science. You always have to decide whether you prefer to have a cold head or cold feet.