The theory is as follows: The easier a rider/driver finds a vehicle to control, the smaller the variation in back-to-back lap times.
Drive an electric golf cart around an oval and there should be little change in lap times. But try and hang on to a 1000cc superbike, without traction control on a damp surface and lap times are likely to swing wildly up and down.
So how much consistency is there at the sharp end of MotoGP, and has it changed much in recent years?
To get a rough idea, Crash.net
picked a track which has hosted premier-class grands prix in the 500cc, 990cc and 800cc eras, and examined the changes in lap time for each winner during the race.
The track chosen was Catalunya, for which lap times throughout a race are available for every 500cc/MotoGP event since 1998. The main reason for Catalunya was that the Spanish weather has been reliably favourable, with only one wet event (in 2000).
Putting each winner's full set of lap times into Excel allowed the time difference from one lap to the next to be easily calculated. The number of occasions that the eventual winner - the best rider in the world on that day - was able to lap within +/- 0.2sec of his previous lap was then counted.
For example, this year's winner Casey Stoner began the race with lap times of 1'48.599, 1'43.523, 1'43.514, 1'43.255, 1'43.084 etc. That gives a time difference of 5.076s (between laps 1 and 2), 0.009s (laps 2 and 3), 0.259s (laps 3 and 4) and 0.171s (laps 4 and 5). Therefore two of these laps would fall within the +/- 0.2sec limit.
An alternative measure of consistency would be to look at the time spread between some of the best and worst lap times set by the winner, but that would probably show the amount of tyre degradation (over a race distance) as much as how challenging the bike was to ride from one lap to the next.
As well as rider skill, factors such as the amount of overtaking and how hard the winner needed to push all influence lap time consistency, so an average mean value was produced combining all the dry races in the 500cc (three years), 990cc (five) and 800cc (five) eras.
Average number of back-to-back laps within +/-0.2s by the winner of the Catalan GP 1998-2011:
500cc: 12.0 laps
Least: 9 laps ('01) Most: 15 laps ('98)
990cc: 13.2 laps
Least: 10 laps ('03) Most: 16 laps ('02,'05)
800cc: 14.0 laps
Least: 11 laps ('09) Most: 17 laps ('08,'11)
All races were held over 25 laps, except the 2006 race which was 24 laps.
For comparison, here are the figures for back-to-back +/- 0.2sec laps for the two (dry) Catalan Moto2 races. Moto2 has been seen as the most exciting of the grand prix classes in recent years.
Moto2: 11.5 laps
Least: 11 laps ('10) Most: 12 laps ('11)
Both races over 23 laps