PEOPLE | Jul 26, 2018

MotoGP amid sensors, Data Analysis and poetry

Interview with Fabiano Sterlacchini, Technical Coordinator of Ducati Motor Holding, and RAI journalist Massimo Angeletti

“Technology has not made our bikes remote-controlled objects nor has it diminished the value of the rider, who remains the central figure of this sport, still made of talent and poetry”. This is how Fabiano Sterlacchini, Technical Coordinator of Ducati Motor Holding and member of the team of Andrea Dovizioso presents the relationship between MotoGP and technology. “If we were to make a comparison with motor racing, ” continues the Ducati engineer, ” we could say that there we have 70% of technology against 30% of pilot, while in MotoGP it is exactly the opposite.

But if poetry and talent are combined with Data Analysis, it is only thanks to the presence of sensors that innumerable parameters referring both to the “state” of the bike and to the way the rider behaves with the bike are detected. “Compared with a few years ago, “ says RAI journalist Massimo Angeletti, who has followed MotoGP for years, “the data available to technicians and riders have multiplied and many of these are public and useful for providing indications on the races as well as, in the case of those of the trials of the previous days, journalistically venture some predictions. Until the early 1990s, trial and race statistics arrived a few hours later; now they are practically available in real time”.

Machine Learning and rider talent

Although live telemetry is not allowed in MotoGP unlike in F1, Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning have not only turned up but are gradually entering this world with the aim of improving (and making safer) the performance of riders. “The use of new technologies, ” comments Angeletti, “does not make track trial sessions useless, but perhaps it can optimize the work of the rider together with that of the technician in choosing the optimal configuration for a certain race circuit. But what makes the difference is talent and, with the arrival of sensors, the ability of the pilot to understand and analyze data for improving”.

The current work of technicians still largely comprises the study of physical phenomena, of equations that lead to calculating sizes and measuring variables which, together with the rider, make the race. “Someone, more or less polemically, claims that technology has taken away the spectacle, ” says Sterlacchini, “but I don’t agree. I believe the spectacle has increased because technology protects those who get on the bike, it doesn’t lead them to tempt fate. It’s impossible to eliminate the risk for the rider, but having the possibility of limiting it, giving the rider the tools to do so, means having a better MotoGP”.

The introduction of Artificial Intelligence would help above all in understanding some of the indices useful for controlling the bike better. “There is some information” explains Sterlacchini, “whose trend is not easily decipherable and predictable. Having instead mechanisms for analyzing statistical trends over time would facilitate the task, and we will certainly reach this point in the not too distant future”.

Il pilota sarà sempre più simile a un giocatore di PlayStation?

“The rider will always make the difference” – concludes Massimo Angeletti – because analysis of data and sensors do little, but associated with the sensitivity of the rider produce spectacle. Take Valentino Rossi: he’s the example of a champion who has been able to face the technological transformation of MotoGP, managing change and remaining competitive. This too is human talent, which cannot yet be replicated by machines”.

Sonia Montegiove