The news that Honda would be building a production racer to compete in MotoGP aroused much excitement among fans. There was much speculation over just how quick it would be, and whether it would be possible for a talented rider to beat the satellite bikes on some tracks.

Expectations received a boost when former world champion Casey Stoner tested the RCV1000R, praising its performance. Speculation reached fever pitch when HRC vice president Shuhei Nakamoto told the press at the launch of the bike that the RCV1000R was just 0.3 seconds a lap slower than the factory RC213V in the hands of a test rider.

Was that in the hands of Casey Stoner, the press asked? Nakamoto was deliberately vague. “Casey Stoner is a Honda test rider,” he said cryptically.

Once the bike hit the track in the hands of active MotoGP riders Nicky Hayden, Hiroshi Aoyama, and Scott Redding at the Valencia test, it became apparent that the bike was a long way off the pace. At Sepang in February, the situation was the same.

Nakamoto clarified his earlier statements: no, the times originally quoted were not set by Casey Stoner, who had only done a handful of laps in tricky conditions on the bike.

They had been set by one of Honda’s test riders. And yes, the biggest problem was the straights, as times at Sepang demonstrated. Test riders were losing around half a second along the two long straights at Sepang, Nakamoto said.

In the hands of active MotoGP riders, the gap was around 2 seconds at the Sepang tests. Nicky Hayden – of whom much had been expected, not least by himself – had made significant improvements, especially on corner entry.

Turning in and braking was much improved, something which did not come as a surprise after the American’s time on the Ducati. Once the bikes arrived at Qatar, the Honda made another step forward, Hayden cutting the deficit to 1.4 seconds from the fastest man Aleix Espargaro.

By the time the race rolled around, the Hondas had cut the deficit again. Comparing fastest laps of the race, Scott Redding set the quickest lap for production Honda rider, lapping just 0.841 slower than his teammate Alvaro Bautista, who set the quickest lap of the race.

But consistency proved to be the undoing of the Hondas, Scott Redding and Nicky Hayden crossing the line just 0.035 seconds apart, but over 32 seconds down on the winner, Marc Marquez. Where the difference between the fastest and slowest flying laps of Redding and Hayden was nearly 2.4 seconds, for the front runners, that difference was just over a second.

The difference in performance and the big gap to the front has been cause for much speculation. Where are the Honda production racers losing out to the Factory Option bikes? Is it purely top speed, or is it a combination of speed and acceleration? And where does that lack of speed and acceleration come from?

Both Scott Redding and Nicky Hayden have blamed their lack of top speed on a lack of fuel. Though the Open class bikes are allowed to use up to 24 liters a race, the fuel tank on the RCV1000R will hold only 22.2 liters, Scott Redding told Bikesportnews at Silverstone, during the presentation of the Bennett’s Insurance Search for a Star competition.

“We could have used more fuel as it’s more speed when you are underpowered, to an extent. We couldn’t use the full power we used in qualifying as we had to save fuel. Maybe if we had more fuel we could have latched on the group in front for ten laps,” Redding told Bikesportnews. Nicky Hayden had also complained that he had been unable to use full power, as the bike had been short on fuel.

Livio Suppo was unconvinced that the problem was fuel, however. The Honda boss told Motorcycle News that he felt the issue was one of electronics. “We have been struggling a little bit to match our machine with the new Magneti Marelli software,” Suppo told MCN.

Is the issue straight horsepower – an issue which may be helped by having more fuel – or is the problem the electronics? Judging the issue precisely is hard to do, without access to full data from all of the bikes, but we can make an educated guess based on sector lap times. Like all tracks, the Losail circuit is split into four sectors, with the bikes times as they pass through each sector separately.

The nature of the Losail circuit is such that the first three sectors consist largely of braking zones and corners, whereas the final sector contains a couple of short straights, then the final corner and the run onto the main straight, of over a kilometer in length.

Sector 1 tests braking set up and fast changes of direction, though top speed plays an important part in the first part of the sector; Sector 2 tests corner speed, braking and acceleration; Sector 3 tests agility and the ability to get power down while the bike is still leaned over; and Sector 4 is all about acceleration off the final corner and speed along the front straight.

Differences in Sector 3, especially should reveal differences in electronics, while Sector 4 is about horsepower and acceleration off the corners. If electronics is an issue, the differences should be large in Sector 3; if it’s about horsepower and fuel, then Sector 4 is where the gap is opened.

We averaged the sector times over the entire race, minus the first lap, for five riders. We took the times of Scott Redding and Nicky Hayden as the measure of the Honda RCV1000R; the times of Dani Pedrosa as the benchmark for the RC213V, Pedrosa not having spent too much time engaged in battle with other riders.

Additionally we included the times of Aleix Espargaro as a more powerful Yamaha, but using the same electronics as the Open Honda; and the times of Valentino Rossi as a benchmark to see the difference between Yamaha’s custom electronics and the Dorna-supplied championship electronics used by Espargaro.

First, the raw data for the average sector times for all five riders. Valentino Rossi is fastest in the first three sectors, with Pedrosa quickest on the final section, much as you would expect for the relative strengths and weaknesses of the Honda and the Yamaha. The times of Espargaro are close everywhere, while the gap to Hayden and Redding is large.

Average sector times, laps 2-22

T1 T2 T3 T4
Dani Pedrosa 25.383 30.369 28.672 31.826
Valentino Rossi 25.311 30.303 28.665 31.829
Aleix Espargaro 25.412 30.391 28.786 32.011
Nicky Hayden 25.680 30.586 28.938 32.331
Scott Redding 25.597 30.587 28.849 32.474

Looking at the average gap per sector gives a much clearer picture of the relative strengths of the bikes. The factory Honda and Yamaha are well-matched, the Open class Yamaha is closest in sector 2, and the production Hondas lose out most in the final sector.

Average Gap per Sector

T1 T2 T3 T4
Dani Pedrosa 0.072 0.066 0.007 fastest
Valentino Rossi fastest fastest fastest 0.003
Aleix Espargaro 0.101 0.088 0.121 0.185
Nicky Hayden 0.369 0.283 0.273 0.505
Scott Redding 0.286 0.284 0.184 0.648

To make the differences even more clear, we can compare the differences by percentage. The table below shows the gap between the rider’s sector time and the fastest sector time as a percentage of the fastest sector time. It shows where bikes are losing and gaining more clearly.

From the percentage times, it is clear that Rossi’s Yamaha gains most in the first two sectors of the track, compared to Pedrosa’s Honda. A more interesting comparison is with Aleix Espargaro’s Forward Yamaha, which loses similar amounts to Rossi in the first and third sectors, but is closest to Rossi’s time in the second sector.

The final sector, with the final corner onto the straight, is a test of top speed and acceleration, and here, the seamless gearbox comes into its own, Espargaro losing most to Rossi and Pedrosa, both of whom have a seamless gearbox, while Aleix does not.

But the clearest picture emerges from the sector times of the Honda RCV1000R. In the first and last sectors, both Hayden and Redding lost most to Rossi and Pedrosa, staying closest in the middle two sections. Both men were within 1% of Rossi’s sector times in sectors 2 and 3, but nearer 1.5% slower in sector 1, and around 2% in sector 4, the sections where top speed and acceleration matter most..

The comparison between Hayden and Redding is itself illuminating. Sector 2 is the only section of the track where the two men post similar times, just a thousandth of a second between them on average. Redding’s better corner speed – a skill he acquired in Moto2 – pays off in Sector 3, Redding 0.089 faster than Hayden through the difficult and twisty section.

Hayden wins out in the final sector – 1.59% slower than Pedrosa, compared to Redding’s 2.04% deficit – but at the end of the straight, and in the first couple of turns, Redding wins out again, with 1.13% to 1.46%. The fact that Redding is giving away 10kg to Nicky Hayden means the Englishman loses most out of the relatively slow final corner and onto the straight.

Average Gap per Sector by Percentage of Fastest Sector Time

T1 T2 T3 T4
Dani Pedrosa 0.29% 0.22% 0.03% fastest
Valentino Rossi fastest fastest fastest 0.01%
Aleix Espargaro 0.40% 0.29% 0.42% 0.58%
Nicky Hayden 1.46% 0.93% 0.95% 1.59%
Scott Redding 1.13% 0.94% 0.64% 2.04%

Though their styles may mean they are losing different amounts in different parts of the track, the place where they are losing big is very clear from the sector data. The RCV1000R loses most of its time coming off the final corner, and along the fast front straight.

Top speed differences between the Repsol Honda and Movistar Yamaha are negligible, but there is a much bigger gap (8.4 km/h) to Aleix Espargaro’s Forward Yamaha. It is possible that the gap for the Forward Yamaha is down partly to the lack of seamless gearbox, with no power lost as the riders shift up from 2nd to 6th along the straight.

Electronics may be another part of the Forward Yamaha’s gap, the anti-wheelie not as successful at maximizing thrust while keeping the front wheel down.

The difference between the RCV1000R and the factory bikes is vast, Hayden losing 15.4 km/h, Redding giving up 16.6 km/h. Furthermore, they both give up over 7 km/h to Aleix Espargaro along the straight. The big difference both in sector times and in top speed point to a lack of horsepower as being the main culprit.

This point is underlined by the Sector 3 times, the tricky section of the track containing 6 of the circuit’s 16 corners. Espargaro is 0.42% slower than Rossi through that section, while Scott Redding is 0.64% off, in broadly comparable times.

The two factory bikes are within 0.007 of each other, pointing to the biggest difference being electronics and seamless gearbox between the Factory Option and Open class bikes, rather than horsepower being much of a factor. The story from Sectors 1 and 4, however, are all about power.

Top Speeds

Top Speeds Diff
Dani Pedrosa 340.2  –
Valentino Rossi 338.0 2.2
Aleix Espargaro 331.8 8.4
Nicky Hayden 324.8 15.4
Scott Redding 323.6 16.6

So is the problem with the Honda RCV1000R production racer one of electronics, or one of horsepower? Judging by the sector times, you have to say horsepower. Through the section where electronics play a large role, Scott Redding can match the time of Aleix Espargaro on the more powerful Yamaha using the same electronics.

Through the sector where horsepower and acceleration play a role, the RCV1000R is being blown away, getting off the corner much slower and never reaching the top speeds of the faster bikes.

Would more fuel help? If both Hayden and Redding were complaining that they had to go careful on fuel, then not having fuel to burn along the straight will impact their performance.

Having 1.8 liters more at Qatar would not close a 32-second gap by the end of the race, but it would add a couple of km/h more top speed, and perhaps a little more grunt off the corners.

The added speed the Honda needs will not be found in electronics alone, not with differences this large. A little more fuel at tracks with fast straights and tight corners would definitely help get the production Hondas a little closer to the fray.

Photo: © 2014 Scott Jones / Scott Jones Photography – All Rights Reserved

This article was originally published on MotoMatters, and is republished here on Asphalt & Rubber with permission by the author.

  • David just keeps writing articles that make perfect sense and make me want to read to the last word!

    Great analysis and interesting comparisons against Espargaro and the top factory riders that put Nicky and Scott’s races into perspective. Hopefully that bigger tank will make an appearance soon so Scott can get a better feel of the bike, as he also said that even a carbon cover to make it feel larger will help, as his knees protrude a bit too much for his liking.

  • Dan


  • Dan

    Also, what has karel abrahams (sp) thoughts on the bike been? I get that nicky and scott are the two higher profile riders on the production bike but is it a sentiment also shared by his team?

  • KC

    Am I missing something? Why aren’t the tanks large enough for 24 liters?

  • Goop

    +1 to KC

    Why are they not running at full fuel capacity? Or maybe Honda is not allowing them to. It might put them too close to the front.

  • Phong Vo

    What a good read, thanks

    About the 24 liter fuel tank, i believe that Honda think 22,2 are enough for their bike, and to save to weight too.

    They should upgrade pneumatic valves system and a larger fuel tank, can’t believe that a MotoGP bike doesn’t come with such an important part!

  • L2C

    As the season progresses, Honda will feel more pressure to improve the bike. M7, Go & Fun and the other sponsors are probably already complaining with the teams and riders. I think Honda will come through. The question is when.

  • L2C

    But, yeah, good article.

  • H.L.

    Well done analysis and breakdown of sectors. Thanks.

    It’s simple politics and dollars. Honda and Yamaha will never give the Satellite and Open teams bikes as fast as the factory bikes for the less dollars they’re charging. It would also be a bad return on factory rider investment if they began losing out to these bikes and riders considering the huge millions that Rossi, Lorenzo, Marquez and Pedrosa are being paid.

    The upgrades always come slow and after the factory upgrades unfortunately. The Tech 3 riders got the seamless gearbox one full season after factory. I also feel Yamaha believed Crutchlow would have been too competive if they gave him the seamless last year. Sure, break it out for the less experienced Pol and Bradley once Cal is gone.

    You can also see the difference in frustration or lack there of between Hayden and Redding. Redding seems to take it in stride knowing he will have Bautista’s fast ride next year. Meanwhile, Nicky shows more frustration cause he thought he signed up for a faster bike according to Honda and his future is uncertain despite his new team and contract. Unfortunate for him after the Ducati years of struggle.

    Anyway, it is what it is. I’ll be in Austin and Indy again because TV can never in a million years do this live spectacle of fire breathing and spitting beasts any justice. The look on my sons face when they missile down the straight simply fills my soul with joy and life long memories.

  • smiler

    Isn’t this the crucial point in what is a very well written article:

    There was much speculation over just how quick it would be, and whether it would be possible for a talented rider to beat the satellite bikes on some tracks.

    They won’t. In that lies the problem. Hinda are supplying three different levels of performance. if the RCV Prod’n bikes are consistently beating the Satelite Hondas then Hinda will be forced to act to improve the Satelite bikes. if the satelite bikes are beating the factory bikes, then…..

    So it is no in anyway in their interest for the RCV Prodn bike to be faster than absolutely necessary.

  • Neil

    Good article @MM, What I don’t understand about the open class or any class in Motogp is why any rider would sign up and not have everything they need to be competitive. I understand bikes have to be developed but I think Honda flat out lied about how competitive the RCV1000R would be.
    If the manufacturers are purposely holding back upgrades in parts and technology that would help the “open class” riders (Hayden, Redding, Abraham) why race? why not put everybody on one bike with the same chassis, same engine, same tires, same amount of fuel and see who wins? No favoritism, just race.
    Maybe it’s just me???… lol

  • proudAmerican

    @ Neil–You ask why the riders even bother to race, knowing they’re on inferior machinery. Simply, because they need paychecks, and they’re trying to advance their careers. Racers who can show endurance, grit, and determination, even while being saddled with a second-rate bike, are the ones top-rate scouts keep their eye on.

    Until you reach the Factory-level bikes, all those other riders are trying to impress the higher-paying teams with their riding abilities.

    Kinda like any other employee trying to climb his way up through a corporate job, trying to ultimately reach the top-floor CEO position.

  • jzj

    Let’s do a thought experiment: does anyone really think that Redding or Hayden would beat Marquez if they were all given identical bikes? I think virtually everyone in MotoGP is tremendously talented (perhaps Edwards is now just a little old to truly compete), but it is now quite clear that Marquez is not likely to be beaten, except perhaps by Lorenzo if he doesn’t fall down trying. Doesn’t this realization simplify the analysis?

    Aside from the considerable nonsense regarding Factory v. Open (mostly regarding fuel and soft tires), there is no reason not to put everyone on the same equipment. With the exception of price-point issues — I suspect that the pneumatic valve engines are simply fewer and more expensive than the spring valve engines, and maybe there are similar relatively minor differences in the bikes that naturally account for a couple tenths of a second here or there — Honda should feel confident that their highly-paid star can handle its own rider competition.

    Let’s face it: Marquez and Lorenzo and Rossi and Pedrosa are just a bit faster than most of the guys out there with maybe just a couple of inconsistent exceptions, and over the course of a season they have and will continue to prove this. I don’t like the Open rules, I don’t like the intra-squad handicapping through the intentional limiting pipeline of lesser parts, and frankly I would think that it would make sense for Honda and Yamaha to trust that Marquez and Lorenzo are faster than the others, and therefore allowing the other Honda and Yamaha riders to do their best will only likely slow down the respective Yamaha and Honda competition on the other side.

  • Thefundaddy

    When the production honda was announced I was under the impression it was basically the 2012/13 factory honda rc minus the seamless gearbox, and with marelli electronics.
    Now it’s an underpowered underfueled dog.
    If Gigi dalligna hadn’t left aprilia they’d have pretty much factory machine on the grid this year if everyone hadn’t jumped ship for Honda and assumed their bike was actually good.
    I’m starting to wonder just how self serving Honda can be, to the detriment of the championship.

  • Westward

    I agree with Neil..

    @ Ducati all the pilots are basically on the same bike. Their lack of competitiveness is what created that situation. However, at Honda and Yamaha, because they are the two best bikes they approach it differently. But, Motogp should eliminate classes. If the non factory teams can afford it, they should be allowed to have the same technology available to them as the factory teams, the same gos for Yamaha.

    Then, Motogp would be a true competition.

    It’s a little ironic, that Moto2 and Moto3 are more a reflection of what Moto1 should be. In Moto2 and Moto3, it really does come down talent of pilot, and the skill of the crew, cause the technology is basically all the same and available to everyone. The teams all really only just choosing chassis’s. Actually Moto3 is a little better, in that at least there, there are 3 different engine manufacturers.

  • So what can Honda do? and what will Honda do? Changing the fuel tank may be hard without changing the riding position, exhaust, suspension, frame or possibly other things. perhaps the could allow the teams to modify them but that’s even more unlikely. However, how many engines have Honda already supplied and assuming it’s not the full set, when are the next engines due? If say 2 rolling chassis and 4 engines have been supplied, but only 2 engines have been used, could Honda take back 2 of them, and replace them with engines with a more aggressive camshaft and higher compression?

    Whatever, it wouldn’t surprise me at all if Honda does exactly nothing till next season. Or perhaps only gives them a small upgrade 3/4 of the way through the season.

  • paulus

    Honda could wait until there is a big points margin for the factory bikes… then release upgrades ;)

  • I wouldn’t be surprised if paulus has it right, I’m sure it is in Honda’s best interest to develop the open bike especially as that is the direction the rules are heading in (control ECU etc), surely all the teams would be trying to get a head start on the next evolution of MotoGP?

    I would have thought that changing the fuel tank would be simple and able to be done by the teams themselves? I seem to remember Bradl’s Satellite bike getting front fork and brake changes during the season last year? I imagine a fuel tank would be far easier to change than them!?

    Brilliant article too!

  • KK

    My thought is people wouldnt be so critical of the satellite/prod. bikes performance if there were more than 2 factory teams aka 4 bikes that can and will win a race.

    We just want to see a good race.

  • Mark

    The top classes of motorsport are supposed to as much about vehicle construction as it is about pilot skill. That’s why not everyone is on the same equipment: the team is supposed to build the competitive motorcycle for their rider.

    The reason it looks so bad in MotoGP is that only two teams spend enough to make competitive machinery. To restore competitiveness to the class, you need more factories involved, not more grid filling “open class” teams.

    As to the article: the main place where the RCV1000R is losing out is the pneumatic valve springs. The RCV1000R does not have pneumatic valve springs because it was designed to fit in a CRT framework, where another team could claim the engine for a fixed price.

  • law

    jzj says: “”March 29, 2014 at 12:33 PMLet’s do a thought experiment: does anyone really think that Redding or Hayden would beat Marquez if they were all given identical bikes?””

    The question is more like……would marc do as well if they switched bikes ; )