But while Suzuki won the 2020 MotoGP crown and Aprilia fought for the 2022 title until the penultimate round, KTM is yet to mount a championship challenge.

Pol Espargaro’s fifth overall in 2020 remains KTM’s highest position in the riders’ standings, with Brad Binder sixth for the last two years. Meanwhile, the RC16 hasn’t been higher than fourth (out of six) in the manufacturers’ standings.

Having quickly climbed the ladder from MotoGP newcomer to podiums and race wins, what does the RC16 need to take the next step and fight for the title?

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Acknowledging that changes needed to be made to bounce clear of the post-2020 plateau, KTM made a series of key management signings and embarked on a new philosophy for bike development in 2022.

“I think in the first years of the project we have shown a very quick reaction time and very short development time,” explained KTM MotoGP technical manager, Sebastian Risse. “We are proud of this, but then looking for the last tenths and then losing Concessions [end of 2020] puts it into a different context. If you just keep following the same philosophy you run out of time, run out of chances [to test parts at the track] and it’s easy to lose the way.

“So it was clear something had to change and it’s a continuous process that we have started. It’s for sure not about developing ‘slower’. It’s about building up a structure in the background, being more analytical, knowing how to run things through the test team and being sure that something is good so that it can be implemented in a race weekend without too many question marks.

“We are still developing this process. In the beginning, you go through a phase where there are not so many [new parts] coming, because the next projects take a little bit longer to arrive. But we will soon come to the point where we have a similar amount of new components, but better-proven components and will hopefully make another step.”

‘Soon means next year’

One of the KTM signings brought in to help expediate the changes was Francesco Guidotti, hired as team manager from Pramac Ducati at the end of 2021 (and pictured with another ex-Ducati figure, Fabiano Sterlacchini).

“What has been done until now was great, the growth of KTM in MotoGP from nothing to winning in a few years was something amazing,” Guidotti told Crash.net.

“Because we can’t forget that KTM is a brand new manufacturer in the big bike capacity and there was no Superbike or 500cc or MotoGP experience previously.

“But then we know how difficult it is to reach the consistency, to be there every time in every condition. So then you have to change the way of working. We’ve restructured a little bit and the target was to work more on data, to be more precise on the details.

“We arrived - not only me - from different [teams] and brought something. And we hope that the different experience, mentality and new method of working will bring results soon.

“Let's say soon means next year.”

What does the RC16 need?

The only manufacturers with more MotoGP wins than KTM in recent years are Yamaha and Ducati, which claimed the riders’ championship in 2021 and 2022 respectively.

“We miss something, but we don't miss a lot,” said Guidotti.

Inconsistency, rather than ultimate speed, has appeared to be KTM’s Achilles heel in recent years.

That was certainly the case for Miguel Oliveira, whose self-confessed ‘spiky’ results meant that despite five wins over three seasons he was no higher than ninth in the world championship. The Portuguese has switched to RNF Aprilia for 2023 after being replaced by Jack Miller.

Remaining at the factory team alongside Miller this season will be Binder, who took half-a-dozen top-six finishes last year, including three podiums.

“We have a sort of consistency, because if you look at Brad he had some highlights on the podium and was often between 4th, 5th and 6th,” Guidotti said. “But it's not the consistency we would like.”


One of the RC16’s biggest problems is before the race has even started; qualifying.

In the BMW M Award, which scores each qualifying session using the points system for a race (25 for 1st, 20 for 2nd etc), Binder was ranked just 14th.

The eight-place difference compared to his actual championship position was bigger than any other rider, leaving the South African to make some legendary Sunday fightbacks.

With Binder - who had an average qualifying position of 12th last season - finishing within 0.4s of victory at both Qatar and Valencia (from seventh on the grid) it’s easy to imagine what might have been.

KTM’s poor qualifying trend continued with Oliveira ranked just 17th in the BMW Award (seven places below his championship ranking) while Tech3 riders Raul Fernandez and Remy Gardner didn’t start a single race inside the top 15.

“We have to improve the qualifying. This is what we need,” Guidotti confirmed. “Every time Brad starts from the first three rows, he somehow succeeds for a podium or is very close to the leading group.

“Once you start from the fifth row and have already lost 2.5-3 seconds to the leaders on the first lap, the race is gone. You can still improve 6-7 positions but starting from 15th, you are only 8th. From 16th, you are 9th.

“So our target main target is to improve the qualifying lap. Because we have race pace. At a few races we struggled with drive due to spinning, but for the rest the pace was there.

“We have some ideas. It’s more related to the edge grip, to using 100% of the potential of the softest tyres and carrying the most speed possible in the corners.

“And of course qualifying will be even more important next year, because in a Sprint race you have no chance to recover a lot of positions.”


It seems KTM have been trying to find the right balance between cornering and drive for the RC16 in recent seasons; the 2021 machine struggling for acceleration while the 2022 required too much lean angle.

“The biggest change [for 2022] was on the aerodynamic side, the rest was kind of trying to adapt to this,” Risse said. “Finally I think we fixed on most tracks our weak point from [2021] which was acceleration out of the corners, and we identified other weak points.

“It is very clear that the key point we have to work on is the turning of the bike. Depending on the track layout and the tyre allocation, sometimes you see us suffering more on the entry and sometimes on the exit.

“But the real reason is that we have to spend too much time at too much lean angle and we have to take wider lines on the entry than we want. If we can improve this key point then I think everything around it will follow.”

“It's just we don't turn enough,” agreed Binder, who received a new chassis for the Valencia finale and another, with opposing characteristics, at the post-race test.

“On the race weekend stopping and entry weren't great. This [test] bike stopped well and entry is super good, but I was struggling a bit on the gas. So we need a combo,” Binder said after the test.

“I think from the feeling point of view [the new test bike] is much easier to ride, to put it where you want and it turns better,” he said. “It's just we need to get it to hook up on the exit now.”

That work will continue when testing resumes at Sepang in February, when KTM might also have some F1-inspired aero parts to try from their new partnership with Red Bull Advanced Technologies.

‘We have to go our own way’

Among the unique features of the RC16 is its tubular steel frame (while its rivals all use aluminium) and WP suspension instead of Ohlins.

Although KTM has proven paddock sceptics wrong by taking those parts to multiple race victories, Guidotti admits ‘going it alone’ in terms of the suspension for example means making progress can be more time-consuming.

The potential plus side is that, should KTM find an advantage with the WP suspension, it would not be ‘shared’ with its rivals.

“I would like to highlight that we are the only manufacturer that really builds up everything in-house, suspension included,” Guidotti said.

“This is another step that maybe slows down a little bit the process, because in the case of WP, we are the only ones to use them and we cannot compare with someone else, while the other manufacturers are using the same suspension.

“Okay, Ohlins doesn't go to Honda and say ‘hey, Ducati is doing this’. But they prepare a package [using the data from all the bikes] and say, ‘for us, this is the best you can use’.

“We have to go our own way. But once we reach the target it will be really our own project that has succeeded.

“This is something that not everyone realises, and it's something important for us."