“Tires are what keep the rider upright”: in MotoGP, even more than in other motor sports, tires are an essential element of rider safety and performance.

At the end of 2023, during the penultimate round of the season in Qatar, the Spaniard Jorge Martin (Ducati-Pramac), in the fight for the world title with the Italian Francesco Bagnaia (Ducati), had cruelly lacked rhythm in the Gulf and attacked Michelin, sole supplier of the MotoGP championship since 2016.

“I have the impression that they (Michelin, editor’s note) stole it from me (the world title, editor’s note). I believe that they (Michelin) must improve and analyze so that this does not happen again in the future,” declared the Madrilenian, deeming it “unacceptable that a MotoGP championship is decided by a tire.”

The French firm then closely analyzed the tire in question, without detecting any anomaly. “We took his criticisms seriously, we checked the tire, we saw that everything was in order, that there were no quality or manufacturing problems. We looked at the data and the conclusions were that the not-so-great performance was linked to the conditions of the track and the use of the tire,” Piero Taramasso, Michelin manager for MotoGP, detailed to AFP.

This episode perfectly illustrates the delicate position of the tire supplier, often on the front line facing drivers who attribute their poor performance to a tire problem. However, great progress has been made in this area in recent years.

“The tires are what keep the driver upright. You have to have a good feeling. You have to have tires where you are safe from the first turn, which they (Michelin) manage to do well. The tire no longer drops in performance at all,” Randy De Puniet, former MotoGP rider (2006-2013) and now a consultant on Canal, explains to AFP.

“When I was in MotoGP, sometimes at the first right turn or first left turn, even at the start, you had to be very careful. As soon as it was cold, you could lose the rear on corner entry, the tire deteriorated from the tenth lap. Michelin brought very high-performance tires, and above all very consistent. There has been a lot of progress,” continues De Puniet.

The production of MotoGP tires indeed meets cutting-edge technology. For the first time, Michelin opened the doors of its Gravanches factory, in Clermont-Ferrand (central France), to the press before the start of the season scheduled for this weekend in Qatar.

More than 8,000 rear tires intended for MotoGP are produced there each year by a revolutionary machine which resembles a 3D printer.

No fewer than 54 components are used to make a tire, including different types of rubber, as well as textile thread and metal wire. And the quality controls, for some automatics, for others manuals, are drastic to guarantee tires in perfect condition. And during the Grands Prix, the tires allocated to the teams are drawn randomly to ensure fairness between the competitors.

“Tires are very important in MotoGP: for me they account for a third of the performance, and the other two thirds are the bike and the rider. A third is a lot and that’s why these tires have very advanced technology, so it’s important to use them correctly, with the right stresses, at the right pressure, at the right temperature if you want to extract the maximum performance,” explains Piero Taramasso to AFP.

“We have made great progress thanks to new technologies but also thanks to feedback from drivers and teams with whom we share data,” underlines the Italian. “Today the tire model we have is really good, we haven’t reached the limit yet because we always manage to drive faster and break track records so there is still a small margin of improvement. progress”.