MotoGP began with great fanfare and high expectations. Because of the magical words “four-stroke,” many believed a flood of Formula One-like money would pour into the series, big teams would materialize from thin air and all would be sweetness and light.
Fortunately, the rapid decrease in lap times distracted people from what would otherwise have been disillusion. Four-strokes, with their ability to deliver modulated power from first throttle movement, allowed riders to begin acceleration much sooner than they had been able with the more brutal two-stroke 500s. Lap records fell and have been falling ever since.
Honda, whose 2002 RC211V prototype had been nearly unrideable in early testing, fought back to dominate the field with smooth, controllable power. Yamaha and Suzuki battled self-imposed demons as they struggled with ambitious clutch/throttle/shift systems. Engine braking was a new problem, causing many crashes as dragging back wheels slid, lost direction and began to oscillate violently side-to-side.
Ducati shocked the hierarchy by arriving in the series with high power and top speed in 2003, putting both of its bikes on the front row at Jerez, getting a second at Mugello and winning at the fourth event in Barcelona.
Valentino Rossi, feeling undervalued at hardware-centered Honda (our bikes win races, not our riders), went to Yamaha for 2004. Honda replied to Ducati’s power with more of its own, making the RC-Vs harder on tires and harder to ride, thereby helping Rossi to a third MotoGP title.