A year ago, BMW World Superbike rider Marco Melandri indicated his conviction that motorcycle development cannot be exclusively directed by data, as is Formula 1. Because a good lap time on a motorcycle is so strongly dependent on rider confidence, all development must be rider-centered.
“There are always two sides of the medallion,” said Bernhard Gobmeier, who worked with Melandri at BMW and now manages Ducati’s MotoGP program. “I agree 100 percent with Melandri—or with Andrea Dovizioso, in our case. At the end, certain things we don’t see in the data.”
Gobmeier went on to say that if a rider’s lap time is a second away from the front, if technology can make up half the difference and gives the rider greater confidence at the same time, that confidence can make up the other half second by “unlocking” the rider’s skill. You can ride faster when you no longer feel that your motorcycle is trying to hurt you!
Then, Gobmeier pointed out that there is value in data’s ability to provide statistics, from which trends of improvement can be derived, as he put it, “where you have to go.” We have already seen progress under Gobmeier’s leadership, identifying those trends of improvement and following them to their peaks.
“Last year, all the riders were complaining that they don’t feel what is happening,” said Gobmeier. “We have improved it. I wouldn’t say we are perfect; we are still working on it.”
Ducati Team’s Andrea Dovizioso
A conventional twin-beam aluminum chassis with built-in lateral flexibility has taken the place of Ducati’s revolutionary “black pyramid” of 2009. The carbon-fiber frame joined the steering head to the engine’s cylinder heads in Vincent fashion and doubled as the intake airbox. That concept, created to eliminate the uncertainty of the previous trellis frame, was so rigid that factory rider Casey Stoner could not gauge how close the front tire was to the traction limit.
During the three years after his 2007 MotoGP championship, Stoner won fewer races and lost the front end without warning more times. There were other changes beside the frame; Stoner’s championship was won on Bridgestone tires designed specifically for the Ducati, not the same-for-everybody-spec Japanese rubber of recent years.
“We have to adapt the bike to this specific tire configuration, which is very hard,” said Gobmeier. “Normally, the issues that we have [mid-corner understeer], Bridgestone could solve in two weeks. Easily. With no problem.”
Sadly, the spec-tire rule prohibits the production of Ducati tires for Ducatis, Honda tires for Hondas. One tire for all. “We’re spending,” said Gobmeier, “let’s say, a hundred times the money, a thousand times the money, in order to fix what they could fix at no cost within two weeks.”
Nicky Hayden and Bernhard Gobmeier
Speaking of the twin-beam aluminum chassis, he said, “We are still at the beginning of the learning curve with this [chassis type]. Honda and Yamaha are experimenting and learning with this type of frame and material for more than 20 years. We try to learn as quickly as possible to catch up.”
We have already seen results: The factory Ducatis of Dovizioso and Nicky Hayden are faster in practice and must now become faster also over race distance. Gobmeier successfully tackled very similar problems during his years with the BMW World Superbike program.
“What I must say is the work environment at Ducati is… a good atmosphere among the people,” he said. “Everybody’s motivated and really pushing forward.”
Gobmeier emphasized that Audi is not trying to micromanage the program. “They don’t get involved in the daily business,” he said. “In general, the two-wheel expertise is within Ducati.”
Independent sources say that motorcycle vehicle-dynamics modeling is still far from being predictive science. Gobmeier seems to agree. “This model has limits,” he said. “In a car, much easier. On a motorcycle, the physics are much more complicated. And some things you find not similar. When you come to certain limits, you always have to update the model with the reality. When you don’t do that, you get lost.”
Gobmeier’s continuing task is to organize Ducati’s process of finding its way back to the front in MotoGP.