There is a wide array of characters in MotoGP. I’m not just talking about the character of the riders here – there is obviously much to be said about that – but the motorcycles themselves can be said to have personalities that vary a lot across the paddock. We’ve heard riders talking about their motorcycles and the mounts of their opponents often, so let’s look into this.
The most convivial machine prize has to go to the Yamaha YZR-M1. Valentino Rossi and Maverick Vinales on the factory Yamaha motorcycles and Johann Zarco and Jonas Folger on the Yamaha satellite team Tech3 machines enjoy what is considered the best-balanced machine out there. The crossplane in-line four is easy to use and delivers smooth and predictable acceleration that makes good use of the grip available most of the time, at the price of maybe not being the most powerful.
The Yamaha chassis is stable yet nimble and the all-important front-end feel is among the best there is. The Yamaha YZR-M1 is a superb-handling machine that shines in fast sweepers and in high-speed direction changes. Just like the YZR500 of a bygone era, when Wayne Rainey and Eddie Lawson were the heroes of our racing weekend, the DNA shows through in the current Yamaha YZR-M1.
On the other side of the spectrum the Honda behaves in a very different manner. Factory team riders Marc Marquez and Dani Pedrosa, semi-factory LCR’s Cal Crutchlow and satellite team Marc VDS’s Jack Miller and Tito Rabat have to be more forceful with their mounts. The Honda RC213V is the best tool to shed speed, the braking zone being it forte. Point and shoot technique works best with it and you need to guide it with a strong hand. It rewards it pilot with good performance as long as he knows how to push and force it to his will.
Anyone who saw Marc Marquez wrestle his way to a fast lap knows what I’m talking about here. The Honda requires a peculiar mindset to go fast. Tito Rabat is slowly getting there but it’s been an intimidating experience for the former Moto2 champion for his first year and half aboard the Honda RC213V. The Honda NSR500 of Mick Doohan had the same behavior way back then. It rewarded its rider with outstanding performance when it was handled properly or would throw him off when not.
The Ducati might well be bipolar. On its day, on a favorable track with appropriate conditions, it can be fighting for the win and it sure did win, twice already. On a different weekend, it can be so moody that its rider goes sitting in a corner after the race, trying to avoid eye contact with anyone. Andrea Dovizioso and Jorge Lorenzo each made it to the podium and also suffered deep in the field with their Ducati factory Desmosedici GP17 in the season so far. Front end feel on entry and mid-corner is precarious in some situations, to say the least, and robs the confidence to push as well as wearing down the rider physically. The Ducati satellite team riders, Petrucci, Redding, Bautista, Abraham, Baz, and Barbera, on different versions of the Desmosedici (there is GP17, GP16 and GP15 models on the grid) suffer from the same ups and downs as the factory team.
The character of the motorcycle influences the outcome when the chequered flag is waved, almost as much as the talent of the rider. Some enjoy a fruitful relationship, others just try to get along and make the best out of their situation. But when comes the time, on a Sunday afternoon, it happens that a bad mood ruins a happy, solid pair and rough-and-tumble, feisty duo gets to revel in a rare, magic moment.