This is a very exclusive test of Ducati’s 2022 Panigale V4S and the outgoing 2021 model. It’s the end of October 2021, two months before the official press launch of the 2022 bike in Jerez, and Ducati has invited us to the demanding Vallelunga racetrack in Italy to answer one simple question; how much quicker will the new 2022 Ducati Panigale V4S be than the 2021 version?
On track Ducati has their legendary test rider Alessandro Valia, along with Italian Superbike and MotoGP ace, Michele Pirro. We have at our disposal a fresh out-of-the-box 2021 Ducati Panigale V4S and the as yet unseen 2022 model. Both bikes are fitted with data-loggers and are race-ready on Pirelli slicks wrapped in tyre warmers. We will not only be able to measure lap times but also top speeds, lean angle, even rider aid intervention and throttle openings.
I’m going to be let loose on the 2022 Panigale before its official riding launch. I’m not even allowed my phone; such is the secrecy. I’m not given any detailed specs for the bike, I don’t even know if the 2022 V4 has more power, is lighter, or if the chassis is different… This will be a blind, seat-of-the-pants experience.
I’ll get the chance to spin some laps on the older 2021 bike followed by a session on the 2022 model. We’ll then make any changes, increase, or reduce rider aid intervention for example, or try different modes until I’m comfortable with both bikes and the demanding track.
Once I’m happy with both bikes, Ducati will fit fresh Pirelli slicks, switch on the data logger and invite me to set some lap times. I will get five flying laps to set my best time, then repeat the same task on the sister bike. Hopefully my lap times won’t be too embarrassing.
I can’t hide my excitement as the Ducati engineer removes the covers from the Panigale duo. This is October 2021, the manufacturer hasn’t even admitted to the existence of a new for 2022 Panigale yet – I have no idea what to expect. I feel like a kid on Christmas morning waiting to unwrap his presents.
When the covers are off there’s a hesitation, as I’m trying to take it all in. Thankfully Ducati hasn’t messed with a proven recipe; it’s still sexy and as desirable as ever. There are more gills on the bodywork, the aerodynamic wings have changed, and the exhaust is different, although I’m unsure of any internal changes. The bodywork extends underneath the bike, and the red V4 logo near the exhaust exit is a nice touch, too.
With both bikes side by side, you can see the changes in the seat and fuel tank shape. The seat is much flatter and made from different material. The brakes, wheels and suspension appear the same, but without any specs it’s impossible to know if they are or not. Glancing from bike to bike is like a real-life game of spot the difference. I think the new bike looks a little more aggressive: more gills, slightly racier and without question just as desirable as before, if not more.
My instructions are to get flavour of the new bike before putting down a benchmark lap time. I’ve ridden the 2021 Panigale extensively in the past, and know the track reasonably well, but still, I opt to jump on the old model first.
Despite knowing what to expect, the 2021 Panigale still takes my breath away. It’s blisteringly quick and loves to rev. Within a few laps of getting used to the track I’m up to speed and the 2021 Panigale is giving me a hard work out. 210bhp-plus a bit is hard work, especially around Vallelunga. The first half of the track is super-fast requiring bravery and track knowledge, with the second half much slower, tighter, and more technical – an excellent test of both bikes. On the cooldown lap I’m still amazed by the 2021 model, and why wouldn’t I be! I was blown away by its ruthless track ability on its press launch in 2020 in Bahrain and my opinion hasn’t changed. Ducati will have to pull out all the stops to improve on this.
Now for the 2022 model which superficially doesn’t appear massively different. But just by riding down the pit lane I can feel change. The riding position has been rethought, as has the size and feel of the fuel tank – in fact both changes are as blatant as a lockdown party in Downing Street.
I’m now sat more in the bike and more behind the fuel tank rather than over the fuel cap. The fuel tank itself is wider. The riding position feels more old school and more natural – and I like it.
The first lap is taken with a little trepidation as I’m unsure what to expect, but by lap two I feel at home and comfortable with the new model. In fact, after a few laps, I feel more at home on the 2022 model than the more familiar 2021 Panigale.
Maybe I’m riding slower in fear of crashing, so I decide to up the pace and try to feel the difference. Power and torque, like the 2021 model are incredible, but I wouldn’t say Ducati has added more engine performance, but the chassis’ turn-in and response are certainly different. On Vallelunga’s long, technical corners I feel much more confident pushing the front end and holding onto the brakes for longer and deeper in towards the apex. I feel more in tune with the bike and connected with the front Pirelli. I want to lean over further and when carrying corner speed, I feel like there is more in reserve.
The 2022 Brembo brakes appear identical to the old bike but I’m sure I’m braking later, and that it’s less physical. The bodywork and new seat are working with me, supporting my bulk rather than allowing me to slide up the fuel tank.
I’m using first gear far more on the new 2022 machine. This is particularly noticeable towards the end of the lap where it is helping with deceleration and giving me more drive out of corners. Throttle delivery also seems smoother and the quickshifter is faster. It’s all marginal but nonetheless noticeable: the 2021 Panigale has excellent rider aids and throttle delivery, but the 2022 model feels one step above.
The new TFT display on the 2022 Panigale is hugely addictive; I’m chasing lap times and splits and the dash makes it feel like a real-life video game (but with real-life consequences). I also have in the back of my mind the realisation that this a very special and important bike to Ducati, and I don’t want to introduce it to a gravel trap.
After a few more familiarisation sessions, and not just because it’s fun, it’s time to put down some fast laps. I have fresh preheated Pirelli slicks on both bikes and, unfortunately for me, there are no excuses.
To the current, 2021 model first. I want to set a decent lap, but I also don’t want to crash, and if I push too hard, I’ll start to make mistakes. It’s hugely interesting jumping back onto the 2021 model which is still blisteringly quick but it’s harder to ride fast and certainly more physical, and I just don’t have that one-to-one front end feeling that I have on the 2022 model. It’s good, don’t get me wrong, but the 2022 model is near perfect.
I’m pushing for a fast lap but feel like I’m on the edge. After five laps I’m reasonably happy as I was pushing to a decent limit, with a little in reserve.
Again, the new 2022 model is easier, and I think I’m more consistent. But strangely it doesn’t feel as fast as the 2021 Panigale, maybe because it’s easier to ride. While power output is clearly similar, the chassis and front-end feel are obviously different, as are the ergonomics. If I’d been fitted with a heart monitor, I’d bet my heart rate would have been higher on the 2021 model, which feels livelier.
I am, as we Yorkshire folk like to say, battered. Normally on a track launch of a new model I ride reasonably hard but there is always plenty in reserve, as I’m thinking about the bike and how it feels, as well as deadlines and making sure I don’t crash. But this time it’s different as I was encouraged to ride as quickly as possible and have the data to back up (or undermine) what I’m doing. I can’t wait to see the data.
Looking at lap times alone, the 2021 model recorded a best lap time of 1.50.146 compared to 1.49.442 on the 2022 model, a 0.7-seconds difference between the two models. I’m surprised, as I thought it would be much closer, because in places because the livelier older model gives the impression of being faster. But in this case, smoother is clearly faster.
To some, 0.7-seconds may not sound like much, but on track that is huge. In qualifying, that can be the difference between pole position and 15th. Or for normal riders on a 20-mintue track day session the new model would be 7 to 8 seconds in front when the chequered flag came out, which equates to the length of the straight if not more.
Back in the garage I can sit down with Carlo Ricci Maccarini, Ducati’s Development Team Leader and look at the data to see where I’m making up time on the new 2022 Panigale.
We zoom in on turns 4 and 5 (Cimini 1 and 2), along with turn 6. The data shows I have more confidence managing wheelies on the exit, which is shown by a smoother ‘Gas’ line. I have a higher acceleration and a higher top speed on the run up to turn 7, again shown by the speed graph and the red line higher than the green showing, meaning the 2022 bike is going faster and for longer. I’m also able to brake later on the new machine, with the apex speed around the same, but I’m holding on to the throttle for longer, giving me a higher top speed. Within this small section of track, I’m going in faster, braking later, and then achieving for a faster exit and again reaching a higher top speed.
Again, we get a similar story when we look at the slower corners of 13 and 14, the relatively tight ‘Esse’ towards 15 (Roma). The data shows I’m braking harder while banked over on the 2022 model. Again, I have a higher speed during all the braking, so essentially going into corners faster. I’m more linear on the power, smoother on the gas and again achieving a higher top speed on acceleration, helped by a longer 1st and 2nd gear.
There is a noticeable difference on the speed line and given that the 2022 model produces similar power figures to the old model (a 1.5hp peak increase) this hasn’t been created by an increase in power, but by instilling more confidence in the rider.
This test was something of a gamble by Ducati but the data backs up the seat of the pants feeling I had when riding both the 2022 and 2021 Panigale back-to-back.
I felt more confident on the new 2022 model, especially when braking deep into turns, which the data shows time and time again. I was able to brake later from a higher top speed and hold the brakes for longer, deeper towards the apex. The brakes haven’t changed between the old and new bike, but the front forks have, and offer more confidence when the physics of such a fast bike change quickly. The new shape of the fuel tank stops me from sliding up the bike, making it less physical and easier to put in quicker laps.
Ducati hasn't significantly increased the power and torque of its new Panigale V4S but I achieved a better exit and was smoother on the throttle which in turn gave me better drive and a higher top speed down each straight. This was clearly felt on track. The throttle connection was perfect, the electronics and rider aids working in harmony to make the ride easier.
In summary, a fast group track day rider like me, admittedly with several years of road racing experience, was 0.7 seconds faster on the V4S, and that will matter to some. That time comes from an inspirational front end feeling, improved electronics, new gearing, and throttle connection and ergonomics – the data proves it. But what the data doesn’t show is the new Panigale’s ease of use. Because the 2022 model is easier to ride, I could happily lap at around 1.50 with a little in reserve and, if required, could have pushed to shave a couple of seconds possible. But on the older 2021 model, 1.50 was about my limit and, because it’s more physical and harder to ride, after 5 or 6 laps that lap time would increase.
Like most 45-year-old track day riders, I’m no athlete, therefore the easier a bike is to ride, the better. I’d imagine after 10 fast laps the difference in lap times between the old and new model would be even greater. On a perfect lap, when I’m fresh and pushing the difference is 0.7, but after 20 laps I would imagine that would double.
Ducati’s not only made the new bike faster at the racetrack, but it’s also more user-friendly and easier to ride as was promised. The improved ergonomics, braking, suspension, electronics, and aerodynamics all work together to make the Panigale more rideable than ever before with even better feedback. The data backs this up; I was 0.7seconds faster, with Pirro 0.5 faster.
Arguably the world’s most desirable production bike is now even better than ever. It’s still thrilling, but you don’t have to be a superbike star to enjoy it.
During this exclusive back-to-back testing with the 2021 and 2022 models, two additional testers joined official Ducati test rider Michele Pirro on track. By the end of the day, one rider improved by 0.9 seconds, the second by 1.2 seconds, and Pirro by 0.5.
Pirro was on fire and set a remarkable lap of 1.39.086, which was not only 0.5 seconds faster than his effort on the 2021 Panigale but just three seconds slower than the lap time set during race one in the highly competitive Italian Superbike Championship (1.36.147). His road legal 2022 Panigale lap time was good enough for top ten finish in race one.
And, yes, those with a keen eye will have spotted I was ten seconds a lap slower than Pirro, a rider who was racing in MotoGP in 2021. Yeah, I’ll take that.