How artificial intelligence and virtual reality are helping Ducati to dominate MotoGP
“I can’t believe how far Ducati are ahead,” one top MotoGP engineer told me shortly before I travelled to yesterday’s 2023 Ducati launch in upmarket Italian ski resort Madonna di Campiglio. “The power they can put down out of corners is insane – if they had a Marc Márquez or a Fabio Quartararo on that bike we wouldn’t see which way they went.”
That’s how it is in MotoGP right now.
We all know Ducati has more horsepower than everyone else – when the company entered MotoGP in 2003 it led the top-speed race at 206mph (332.4km/h), now it leads the way at 225.7mph (363.3km/h).
Having eight bikes is such an advantage, because the more data you get the more accurate the modelling
We also know that Pecco Bagnaia’s 2022 championship came from a chassis that now turns corners as well as the engine goes down straights, thanks to Formula 1-inspired diffusers that create grip out of the air, amongst other upgrades.
Something else we all know is that Ducati has eight bikes on the grid, so it gets huge amounts of data to fine-tune its Desmosedicis. Eight data streams also help any Ducati rider struggling with a particular corner or section, because he can look at seven other ways of doing that corner or section to learn and adapt his technique.
But perhaps Ducati’s biggest advantage of them all – because it underpins all the above – is something very new that most people don’t know or talk about: computer modelling and simulation.
Over the last few years Ducati has invested massively in this technology, which is improving at a dizzyingly fast rate, with AI (artificial intelligence), VR (virtual reality) and augmented reality now an important part of what Ducati does, both at the racetrack and back home in Borgo Panigale.
“This technology has increased a lot, a lot in the last couple of years,” says Ducati race boss Gigi Dall’Igna. “We also did many things like this in the past but the results weren’t good, because you need to build up the data. Now AI is really important for us to achieve our results.”
Of course, other manufacturers are also working in these areas but Ducati is currently way ahead.
The company now has more engineers in the MotoGP paddock than anyone else, with many of its red-shirted hordes not spinning spanners but tapping away at computers – interpreting the data, then modelling and simulating performance in every scenario, because this is the new way to get ahead, as pioneered in Formula 1 cars, aerospace and many other industries.