Ducati tops speed charts... but Yamaha gets biggest power boost

Ducati reasserts its dominance in the speed traps with Jack Miller hitting 355km/h as Yamaha makes a big step forward with its M1

Jack Miller - Pramac Ducati

Ducati has reasserted itself as the manufacturer to beat through the speed traps as figures from Qatar also reveal gains for Yamaha but little change from a struggling Honda.

The Italian firm has long established a reputation for extracting every ounce of power from its Desmosedici engine and subsequently over the years developed an increasingly competitive package around this ethos.

However, the speed margin between it and the likes of Honda shrunk to almost nothing in 2019 after the Japanese manufacturer found a sizeable step forward with its powerplant. Coupled to the RC213V’s sweeter handling in Marc Marquez’s hands, there were few venues where the Ducati’s top end power really had a notable advantage over Honda.

For 2020, Ducati vowed to reclaim its ‘speed demon’ status and based on the statistics from the final day of MotoGP testing in Qatar – one of the high-speed circuits where Ducati has historically had the edge over Honda – it appears to have done just that after Jack Miller hit the 355km/h (220mph) mark on his own.

The Australian is currently testing out Ducati’s active ride height adjustment device – an appropriation of the holeshot device that locks the rear suspension in place to prevent wheelies – but it is unclear whether the system, which should help with corner exit and have a minor positive effect on aerodynamics, contributes to a greater overall top speed.

Either way, Ducati was the dominant force through the speed gun filling six of the top seven positions, including Johann Zarco in fourth place on the year-old Avintia GP19.

The only manufacturer to crack the Ducati stronghold was Aprilia, which showed impressive straight-line speed with its new 90-degree V4 RS-GP. Notably, Aleix Espargaro says the team were holding back revs to ensure reliability, suggesting it could get higher amongst the Ducatis when the season starts.

Another issue for Honda?

To everyone’s surprise Honda topped the speed traps in 2019 with Cal Crutchlow, catching Ducati – and everyone – unawares. It would set the tone for the year where RC213V suddenly had strengths everywhere in Marquez’s hands.

Indeed, while the Ducati wasn’t always the easiest bike to turn, it nonetheless made back that time on the straights. Suddenly Honda had a bike that could match the Ducati in a straight line and though the likes of Crutchlow and Jorge Lorenzo struggled to get the front-end to react to their liking, Marquez had no such issues.

This year though Marquez says the Honda’s tendency to push the front-end through corners has negated that strength. Worse still, the bike is no quicker in a straight line either with Marc Marquez only 2km/h faster than twelve months ago, compared to rivals which are in and around 10km/h quicker.#

While Qatar is perhaps not representative of where the Honda will be strong, it is notable that it is the only team – other than KTM – to not make an obvious step year-on-year.

Is Yamaha still being left behind on the straight?

Answer: It depends which team you’re looking at.

Yamaha has long resisted calls to squeeze more bhp out of the inline M1 in the fear it would completely unbalance its finely poised chassis, which at least won races and pole positions in 2019. Nonetheless, it seems Yamaha has given at least Maverick Vinales and Valentino Rossi more of what they want, with the former setting a 346.1km/h speed and averaging around 345km/h all test.

While it only puts the Yamaha mid-field, the manufacturer will be encouraged to see the M1 climb the speed traps – crucial to fight in races - whilst seemingly retaining the handling traits that often see it star in qualifying.

It is therefore interesting to see both the Petronas SRT Yamahas at the bottom despite both Franco Morbidelli and Fabio Quartararo – each on 339.6km/h – taking the 2020-spec machinery to the top of the timesheets

The pair were regularly rooted to the bottom of the speed traps last year and while their superb front-end and braking feel made up for that loss of time on the straights, especially in Quartararo’s hands, it means they will again be having their work cut out in races this year.

After all, as Rossi says, a fast bike in a straight line is ‘gratis’ time.

Qatar MotoGP Testing – Speed Traps

Qatar MotoGP Testing - Speed Traps
PosRiderNat.TeamSpeed (km/h)
1Jack MillerAUSPramac Ducati355.2
2Danilo PetrucciITADucati Team352.9
3Francesco BagnaiaITAPramac Ducati351.7
4Johann ZarcoFRAAvintia Ducati350.6
5Andrea DoviziosoITADucati Team349.5
6Aleix EspargaroESPAprilia Racing Gresini349.5
7Tito RabatESPAvintia Ducati348.3
8Cal CrutchlowGBRLCR Honda348.3
9Pol EspargaroESPRed Bull KTM Factory346.1
10Maverick VinalesESPYamaha Factory Racing346.1
11Marc MarquezESPRepsol Honda Team346.1
12Alex RinsESPTeam Suzuki Ecstar346.1
13Alex MarquezESPRepsol Honda Team346.1
14Bradley SmithGBRAprilia Racing Gresini345.1
15Valentino RossiITAYamaha Factory Racing343.9
16Miguel OliveiraPORRed Bull KTM Tech 3342.8
17Brad BinderRSARed Bull KTM Factory342.2
18Joan MirESPTeam Suzuki Ecstar341.7
19Iker LecuonaESPRed Bull KTM Tech 3341.7
20Takaaki NakagamiJPNLCR Honda340.8
21Franco MorbidelliITAPetronas SRT Yamaha339.6
22Fabio QuartararoFRAPetronas SRT Yamaha339.6