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Why Kawasaki and Yamaha's 'hands are tied' in Ducati battle

Ducati's current dominance in World Superbike is not just down to the brilliance of Alvaro Bautista and its Panigale V4 R - Kawasaki and Yamaha feel the current rules are preventing them from mounting any kind of real fightback.

Jonathan Rea, Kawasaki Racing Team WSBK, Toprak Razgatlioglu, Pata Yamaha WorldSBK

Ducati and Bautista have won all of the 12 races held so far this year bar one, and the Spaniard has a comfortable lead of 69 points in the riders' standings over Yamaha's Toprak Razgatlioglu.

Lead Kawasaki rider Jonathan Rea, meanwhile, is already a massive 136 points down on Bautista ahead of this weekend's Misano round, behind not only Bautista and Razgatlioglu but also Andrea Locatelli in the standings.

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After six consecutive titles for Rea in 2015-20, Kawasaki has slumped to the point it is now only the third-most competitive manufacturer on the grid.

Factory team manager Guim Roda believes that WSBK's current rules, which disallow all but the most minor modifications to bikes once they are homologated, are preventing the squad from extracting any more performance from its current ZX10-RR package.

Meanwhile, more modern machines like the Ducati V4 R Panigale, which have been developed purely for racing, have a clear advantage.

Roda told Motorsport.com's sister title Motorsport-Total.com: "From a technical point of view, I am not a fan of pegging back those who have done a good job. I would prefer everyone to have more freedom.

"But this championship has strict limits. Our hands are tied. We can’t improve our bike any further. We know what needs to be done, but unfortunately it’s not possible.

"If production-based engines with only minor changes are to be used in the championship, everyone is dependent on the philosophy of their manufacturer.

"Ducati builds race bikes for the street, and the Japanese manufacturers build street bikes that they race on track. They are different concepts."

 

Yamaha is in a similar position to Kawasaki with its aging R1 platform, which like the ZX-10RR uses an inline-four engine as opposed to the MotoGP-derived V4 unit favoured by Ducati.

In addition, the price cap for homologation models was raised from 40,000 to 45,000 euros over the winter to accommodate the new version of the V4 R, which replaces the version first introduced in 2019.

Paul Denning, who owns the Crescent Racing outfit that runs Yamaha's factory team, says it's no surprise to see Ducati ahead in such circumstances.

"It’s not about Ducati being smarter than the other manufacturers," Denning told Motorsport-Total.com. "You can’t really compare them. They are building bikes for 50,000 euros and we are building them for 20,000. When you look at it that way, it’s amazing how small the difference is.

"Ducati has improved more than expected [with the new homologation]. Already Alvaro was riding at a high level last year, but this year you can tell his bike has even more power and is accelerating even better.

"I almost feel sorry for Alvaro because he doesn’t get the respect he deserve, as it seems he has very different tools at his disposal."

 

Roda feels that even a modest liberalisation of the current rules would allow the likes of Kawasaki and Yamaha to stay competitive with their older designs.

"In the past, more modifications were allowed," he said. "But if you limit these modifications, you limit the competitiveness of certain bikes.

"From around 2013-14, the regulations went more in the direction of limiting development, but this forces manufacturers to build [street] bikes for competition. There are no easy answers.

"Some components would be easy to change. It wouldn’t require super-expensive things to improve performance. With more flexible rules, we could use the current bike for another five years."

Both Roda and Denning are in agreement that Kawasaki or Yamaha going down the same road as Ducati and developing a thoroughbred race bike is out of the question.

"The market isn’t demanding new superbikes," said Roda. "The development costs are too high. You can’t develop a new motorcycle to sell 500 units [a year] - you need to sell 10,000 or 20,000."

Denning added: "Fans will say Yamaha should build a homologation special. But the business model for Honda, Yamaha or Kawasaki is different. They have totally different requirements for the number of units to be sold to release the funds for research and development."

 

Should Bautista's crushing dominance continue, questions will be raised over how long Ducati's rivals will be inclined to stick around if they feel they have no chance to win races except when the Spaniard make a mistake.

While he doesn't foresee a manufacturer quitting just yet, Roda admits that it's "difficult knowing in advance you can't win" and emphasises how much effort Kawasaki is investing in its WSBK project for little reward at the moment.

"We have to make sure that there is good competition," he said. "We have to fight at the top and try to win. I don't think there's any risk of a manufacturer leaving right now, but we're talking about finding a good balance to have a chance of winning at the weekends.

"Kawasaki goes racing to increase the value of the brand. You want to be competitive with your own products and put on a great show. Kawasaki invests a lot in this championship. Of course, the sponsors also put a lot of money into the project."

Denning however warns: "In the short-term I don't think there's a risk [of a withdrawal], but there are intensive discussions within the MSMA [manufacturers' association] and together with the FIM to ensure the growth of the championship.

"We could come to a point where Kawasaki and Yamaha question their participation because they can no longer compete."

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