There is no doubt that Honda was the manufacturer to beat in 2003, winning all but one of the sixteen rounds while its riders took the top three positions in the championship, but exactly how far ahead was the awesome RC211V? decided to examine all the race data from 2003 and calculate the average race advantage Honda held over the seven other manufacturers. This was done by comparing the time difference between the top Honda finisher and the leading Yamaha, Ducati, Aprilia, Suzuki, Kawasaki, Proton KR and Harris WCM rider.

Clearly manufacturers with more riders benefit from this system (of only counting the top placed finisher), while factors such as tyres and number of DNFs also effect the results. However, since the 'top rider home' system is used to calculate manufacturers' world championship points, it seemed logical to replicate it.

Pace was compared between the manufacturers for the entire year, then just the dry races, just the wet and finally split between the first and second half of the season (to show the pace of development).

In cases where the top rider from a manufacturer had been lapped, an average was taken of that rider's previous lap times and added to his official race time.

Proton KR's performance is split between the two-stroke KR3 campaigned mainly up to the midpoint of the season, and the four-stroke KR V5 which was later raced. Harris WCM's results were only used after they re-introduced their four-stroke prototype towards the end of the year.

In short, the numbers below decide who wins races and championships - and by how much. Change these enough, as all teams will be trying to do before next April, and you change the destination of the 2004 world championship.

What we found...

Relative overall race and lap pace:Manufacturer: Av. race gap to Honda /Av. lap gap to Honda (Events - 16 max)
1. Honda:0.000secs / 0.000secs (16)
2. Ducati:+12.364secs / +0.489secs (15)
3. Yamaha:+18.341secs / +0.749secs (16)
4. Aprilia:+41.749secs / +1.720secs (15)
5. Proton KR3:+45.570secs / +1.780secs (5)
6. Proton KR V5:+64.946secs / +2.540secs (7)
7. Kawasaki:+73.533secs / +3.001secs (16)
8. Suzuki:+88.834secs / +3.611secs (15)
9. Harris WCM: +142.123secs / +5.414secs (4)

o An overall average in terms of race and lap pace from every event - both wet and dry.
o Take into account that Proton KR and WCM only ran a limited number of GPs with the same machine.

Relative dry race pace:Manufacturer: Av. race gap to Honda / Av. lap gap to Honda (Events - 14 max)
1. Honda:0.000secs / 0.000secs (14)
2. Ducati:+10.219secs / +0.397secs (14)
3. Yamaha:+18.191secs / +0.707secs (14)
4. Aprilia:+41.501secs / +1.625secs (13)
5. Proton KR3:+48.497secs / +1.687secs (4)
6. Suzuki:+53.767secs / +2.074secs (13)
7. Proton KR V5:+64.918secs / +2.539secs (7)
8. Kawasaki: +73.491secs / +2.858secs (14)
9. Harris WCM:+142.095secs / +5.414secs (4)

Relative wet race pace:Manufacturer: Av. race gap to Honda / Av. lap gap to Honda (Events - 2 max)
1. Honda:0.000secs / 0.000secs (2)
2. Yamaha:+19.386secs / +1.212secs (2)
3. Proton KR3:+33.946secs / +2.611secs (1 - Le Mans)
4. Ducati:+42.200secs / +2.221secs (1 - Assen)
5. Aprilia:+43.375secs / +2.711secs (2)
6. Kawasaki:+73.829secs / +4.614secs (2)
7. Suzuki:+316.780secs / +19.799secs (2)

o A truer reflection of pure machine performance since 'random' factors such as reduced vision due to steam inside the riders' helmets and wet weather specialists are separated.
o Compares machine performance at the 14 dry rounds and the 2 wet events (at Le Mans and Assen). Note that Le Mans was run over a reduced 13 lap distance.
o Note also that due to only two circuits being available for the wet comparison - and more specifically the difference in length between them (Le Mans is 4.18km long, Assen 6.027km) - the seconds per lap difference is of little use where a manufacturer didn't finish both events.
o It is for this reason that the Proton KR3 is ahead of Ducati in terms of wet race average, but behind on lap time average since the one wet event the KR3 finished was Le Mans - with the shorter length of lap - while Ducati only finished Assen.

Relative development progress - First half of season:Manufacturer: Av. race gap to Honda / Av. lap gap to Honda (Events - 6 max)
1. Honda:0.000secs / 0.000secs (6)
2. Ducati:+7.370secs / +0.287secs (6)
3. Yamaha:+18.406secs / +0.717secs (6)
4. Aprilia:+34.277secs / +1.360secs (5)
5. Suzuki:+47.879secs / +1.827secs (5)
6. Kawasaki:+78.884secs / +3.073secs (6)

Relative development progress - Second half of season:Manufacturer: Av. race gap to Honda / Av. lap gap to Honda (Events - 8 max)
1. Honda:0.000secs / 0.000secs (8)
2. Ducati:+12.356secs / +0.480secs (8)
3. Yamaha:+18.030secs / +0.700secs (8)
4. Aprilia:+46.053secs / +1.788secs (8)
5. Suzuki:+57.484secs / +2.232secs (8)
6. Kawasaki:+69.446secs / +2.697secs (8)

o The season was split in half (first and last eight races) to show how teams developed their machines throughout the year.
o Only the dry races were included, so results for the first half of the season were from a maximum of six (instead of eight) rounds.
o Proton KR and Harris WCM weren't included since they didn't run the same bike for anything approaching a full season.

Team-by-team summary...

1. On average, the top RCV rider had a 12.4secs lead over the best non-Honda by the end of each GP in 2003.
2. Honda increased their advantage from an average of 0.397secs per lap in the dry to 1.2secs in the two wet events - helped by 'rain master' Sete Gibernau.
3. After early pressure from Ducati, HRC stepped up development in the second half of the season, with its top rider able to pull an average of 5secs per race further away from the opposition.

1. Ducati were Honda's nearest race rivals, the top Desmosedici being an average of 0.4secs per lap slower than the top RCV in race spec over the full season.
2. On average, the leading Ducati finished 6secs clear of the top Yamaha M1 at each GP.
3. Ducati lost ground, relative to the other manufacturers, in the wet.
4. Ducati's development was slower than both Honda and Yamaha in the second half of the season - but they were still an average of 0.3secs ahead of Yamaha per lap.

1. Yamaha was the third fastest manufacturer in the dry, but second best (behind Honda) in the wet.
2. The M1 gained an average of 0.017secs per lap on Honda in the second half of the year, and 0.21secs on Ducati, as it stepped up development.
3. Even if Yamaha match - but not beat - Honda's rate of progress over the winter, Valentino Rossi may need to find around 0.7secs per lap more speed to be in contention for victory.

1. On average, Aprilia were the fourth quickest manufacturer in 2003 - an average of around one second per lap behind third placed Yamaha, but safely ahead of factory rivals Suzuki and Kawasaki.
2. Aprilia lost an average of 0.4secs a lap to Honda in the second half of the season, probably due to the RS Cube's chatter problems.

Proton KR:
1. Of the dry races completed by the KR3 two-stroke, the team were effectively equal on pace with Aprilia.
2. The team sacrificed an average of 0.76secs per lap by switching from the KR3 to the KR V5 four-stroke.
3. The KR V5 was an average of 0.5secs per lap slower than the top Suzuki in the dry events it finished, but 0.319secs quicker than the best Kawasaki.
4. In the one wet event completed by the team in 2003, at Le Mans on the KR3, the team was the third quickest manufacturer - behind only Honda and Yamaha.

1. Suzuki's well documented handling problems with the GSV-R were exaggerated by wet conditions and meant they were left behind even Kawasaki in terms of average race pace over a full season (wet and dry races combined).
2. In terms of dry pace only the situation improved, although Suzuki still finished an average of 2secs a lap behind the quickest Honda.
3. In the wet, the GSV-R was on average an appalling 19secs per lap slower than the fastest RC211V! As a result the top Suzuki rider in both wet races was lapped (twice at Le Mans, once at Assen).
4. Suzuki slipped a further 0.4secs a lap behind Honda in the second part of the season.

1. Quicker than only Harris WCM in the dry.
2. Finished each dry GP an average of 73.4secs behind the top Honda.
3. Caught Honda by almost 0.4secs in the latter half of the season - developing quicker than any other team - but then they were 3secs behind to begin with...

Harris WCM:
1. An average of 5.4secs per lap slower than the top Honda in the four races that its four-stroke prototype reached the chequered flag.
2. The fastest Harris WCM was 2.6secs per lap behind next nearest rivals Kawasaki in the dry.

Can Honda be caught?

In theory, both Ducati and Yamaha are near enough to put Honda under even greater pressure next year, with enough development, and both will benefit from the fact that Valentino Rossi - who won most of Honda's races - will be on a Yamaha, thus taking some of Honda's above advantage with him.

On the other hand, both Ducati and Yamaha must face the fact that while matching the pace of the 2003 spec Honda before next year would be a considerable effort, by then the goalposts will have moved and they will instead be facing an even quicker 2004 spec RCV...

Behind the big three, Aprilia, Suzuki, Proton KR and Kawasaki all have the potential to emerge on top in the fight for the middle ground, providing them with plenty of pre-season motivation, while WCM's best hope will be to keep those teams in sight... unless they can form a new partnership with a manufacturer.

The 16 round 2004 MotoGP season begins at Welkom, South Africa, on April 18.



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