Over the opening 11 rounds of the 2022 World Championship, we've seen plenty of drama and excitement to keep us on the edge of our seats. While riders draw plenty of the on track plaudits, equally important to a well-functioning MotoGP™ team are the mechanics and engineers that are behind the scenes working on the bike to try and get the best out of their machines. From unique rear spoilers to chassis updates and swingarms, here is what Aprilia, KTM and Suzuki have been up to over the first few months of the campaign.
Many eyes were looking towards the Aprilia garages during the early season Tests after the huge step forward made in 2021, with rumours suggesting the Noale factory had developed an even better machine for the current season. To compare the differences between the old and new, above is the 2021 bike pictured earlier this year in Sepang. It’s the bike from which the 2022 bike is based. Below we see the 2022 spec.
So, from a first look, there isn’t actually a whole load of difference in terms of huge changes. Of course, there are some obvious things such as the exhausts, the aero and the tail unit, but largely the bike is quite similar to the 2021 machine. But in reality, it’s not the case. A lot of things were updated for 2022. A new engine, new chassis, updated swingarm, new aero, new air intake, new fairings, new exhausts, new fuel tank cover. Almost everything received minor tweaks. After a few years of developing and understanding this configuration of motorcycle, Aprilia are really starting to get into the finer details and into the evolution stage rather than revolution like they were just a few seasons ago. And from what we’ve seen so far in 2022, they’re doing a mighty job of it.
One thing that Aprilia worked on was refining their aerodynamics. Last season they found that while they had very good downforce, it was compromising their agility a little, making the bike heavy through the corners and hard to haul over from one side to the other. It was perhaps a more physical bike than it needed to be. So for 2022 they found a way to slim down the wings but keep the same amount of downforce.
You can see that result below, with the new wings having a small surface area but all in all remaining a very similar shape. Aleix Espargaro and Maverick Viñales spoke positively about the new wings, so for a bike that was already good through the corners, the new wings only added to one of the strengths of the Aprilia. Also here you can see that Aprilia shrunk the height of the air intake slightly and altered the shape of the front fairing.
But perhaps Aprilia’s two biggest improvements this season have been their chassis and engine upgrades. Towards the end of last season, we heard from Espargaro and Viñales that, on the whole, they felt their chassis was a little too stiff. The Italian constructor worked on this and produced something more to their liking. A little softer, and a little more forgiving, it just added that level of compliance they needed to limit mistakes and help with tyre wear. But the biggest single thing it gave Aprilia was better agility. Thanks to the new chassis, their bike was slimmer overall and it allowed the riders to really take control of the bike in fast, flowing corners where direction changes are difficult and demanding. Aprilia’s 2021 RS-GP was already among the nicest V4s in terms of handling characteristics and now in 2022, that level has been elevated to perhaps the best.
The bike turns in fast corners, slow corners and can get stopped and fired out of tight corners well too. It’s the complete package. And top that off with the fact that Aprilia’s engine has gone from strength to strength, it’s difficult to find a weak point with the Aprilia anymore. Aprilia used their concessions wisely and in the past two years have brought four or five new engine specs to the track. The current one sees them compete with the best in terms of straight-line speed and thanks to both the engine and their new chassis giving better rear grip traction, they’re one of the best out of the corners too.
One of the more intriguing things this season has been what Aprilia have explored with aerodynamic solutions. Their new side fairing has coincided with a huge step forward in form for Viñales, so is it the reason for his recent success? Well, let’s break it down.
Their new side fairing is believed to explore the idea of ground effect. You can see from the picture that the side fairing bulges out to the side and below that ridge, it has a very flat and smooth surface. When leant over at high lean angles, that surface sits parallel to the ground and doesn’t leave much of a gap. It’s believed that doing this squeezes the air to create an area of low pressure which pulls the bike to the ground. The effect it has is that it pulls the tyres into the ground to help them search for grip, allowing the rider more confidence to carry more speed through the corner.
Maverick’s biggest problem at Aprilia has been his inability to go fast straight away on new tyres and with a full fuel tank at the start of the race. The problem is that it takes him until the tyres get up to temperature before he feels comfortable enough to push. So, with this new side fairing pulling the tyre into the ground more, giving more confidence and generating temperature quicker, is this the key ingredient that Viñales has been missing? Well, in the two races since the side fairing was introduced, the number 12 was running fourth in Germany before his ride-height device failed and he recorded a DNF and then at Assen he of course went on to get his first podium with Aprilia. All just a coincidence? It does make you think it might not be.
Finally, Aprilia also tried a rear wing. It’s one of the most radical aero solutions we’ve seen in MotoGP™ and so far it hasn’t been used in a race so it will be interesting to see if they use it more throughout the second half of the season. Aleix said that it made a noticeable difference when he tried it but was tight-lipped on what it felt like. If we were to have an educated guess, having a rear wing will obviously create a small amount of downforce on the back of the bike. With it being so small it will only have a significant effect at high speeds, so perhaps through fast corners, it might help the rear tyre to find a little more grip and give the rider some more natural turning. But also you can ask whether it would help while braking. Imagine heading into a braking zone at 200+ mph, the downforce it will be creating will be at its peak and we know how critical it is to use Michelin’s rear tyre for braking and cornering in modern MotoGP™. Perhaps it also helps here.
Regardless of all the gadgets Aprilia have, one thing remains. They’re enjoying their best season ever in MotoGP™ and all of the credit goes to them. In 2022 they’ve had their first modern MotoGP™ win, first back-to-back podiums and it’s the first time they can truly fight for a World Championship.
KTM's first big update was their aero. The Austrians also added more wings for 2022 and this was the package they went with. The top wings were larger than before and they added the sidepod wings further down. By all accounts, it completely changed the way they set up their RC16 and Red Bull KTM riders Brad Binder and Miguel Oliveira commented that after a little time to figure them out, it gave them a little more margin for error on the front end, something they had been chasing all last year.
The one big upgrade for 2022 was the new swingarm. It was a swingarm that we had actually seen in development for quite some time, with us spotting it near the start of 2021 on Dani Pedrosa’s test bike, but the factory duo of Miguel and Brad didn’t use it full time until this year. It’s easy to see the differences compared to the old spec, the bottom edge has a nice curve too. If you look below to the older spec, you’ll see the difference in that bottom line.
See the change? The Tech3 duo do both now have this swingarm but they didn’t receive it until about six or seven races into the year. It seems as though they liked it though as both rookies Remy Gardner and Raul Fernandez have stuck with it ever since changing over.
One thing we do know that KTM changed is their aero package. They’re one of the few factories to already bring an aero upgrade to the track and what KTM decided to do was to keep the top wings but ditch the sidepod wings further down. Since making the change we’ve seen the riders switch between the update and the original aero from track to track, something they’re allowed to do.
Suzuki’s machine came into 2022 with a new engine and an updated chassis. The new engine was the horsepower bump they needed and suddenly it saw them able to keep up with some of the V4s on the straights. Suzuki also changed their chassis, but the updates weren’t visible from the outside. As we’ve seen throughout 2022, it seems as though the changes have helped Alex Rins and not quite worked as well for Joan Mir. Mir has complained frequently that he’s been struggling to get the bike stopped and while he has made progress in this area over the past few races, it’s still his biggest problem.
With Suzuki announcing that they are leaving MotoGP™ at the end of 2022, updates have been few and far between this season but there have been a few. One small update that the 2020 World Champion had was his knee supports. For 2022 they became a little more pronounced and angular but also were cut away more at the front to allow Mir to get his elbows tucked in better. You can compare the image below with the one above to see the differences.
Teammate Rins doesn’t use the knee supports. He prefers the bike without them.
Even though Suzuki are saying goodbye at the end of the season, they are still developing some small new parts. Both Mir and Rins have an aero update and they’re using different ones to each other. Rins has this update, but Mir has one that retains the normal top wings and just adds sidepod wings further down. It was a request that the Suzuki riders had for a long time. They wanted more downforce to limit wheelie out of the corners.
It's been a difficult year for Suzuki for various reasons, but with nine races still to go, the factory that took on the big boys and won, will be out to ensure they leave MotoGP™ on a high.
Make sure you head over to the MotoGP™ Tech group on Facebook for detailed and in-depth insight into the latest innovations on show in the paddock.