The first MotoGP tests of 2014 are just around the corner so it's not a bad time to ask what the two things that matter most in racing might be: they are the ability to go fast and the ability to overtake. But what happens when all the motorcycles at the front of the pack go round the racetrack at pretty much the same speed. How then do you overtake?
Ducati thought hard about this before they joined MotoGP a decade or so ago. That's why they focused on building a motorcycle with the most horsepower and the best aerodynamics. From nowhere the Desmosedici took a podium in its first outing and won its sixth race. Five years later the factory won their first MotoGP crown, thanks to their horsepower advantage.
MotoGP is very different today but the same rules still apply. Ducati have been out of the equation for the last few years because they can't get their motorcycle into or out of the corners efficiently. Jorge Lorenzo and Yamaha won the 2012 title thanks to their superior corner speed. Marc Marquez and Honda won the 2013 title largely because they had better corner entry performance, so he could overtake the Yamaha relatively easy. While Jorge Lorenzo needs to take big sweeping lines, Marquez can charge up to the apex, dump the motorcycle on its side and bolt out of the corner. The Honda RCV has had this advantage for a few years, but it took a wild young rookie to fully exploit it.
For an exaggerated example of Yamaha versus Honda chassis engineering, look no further than the final corner of last year's Jerez GP, where Marquez out-brakes Lorenzo and stops in the middle of the corner, while Lorenzo tries to use corner speed to get round the Honda, with inevitable consequences.
Lorenzo knows the problem Yamaha face for 2014. The problem is that we lose most meters in braking against the Honda's, so it's very difficult to fight with them on braking. Last season we couldn't attack the apex with our motorcycle. Things would be much easier for me if we could have.'
Team-mate Valentino Rossi says much the same. 'The Yamaha M1 has the behaviour of a more normal motorcycle. We are fast in longer corners, but Honda have something special for tighter corners. They are able to make a different line, they can cut the inside kerb. They go tighter and then use the acceleration.'
Obvious, Honda won't reveal their corner-entry secret, but it's got something to do with the way their motorcycle gets the best out of the Bridgestone front slick and the way their engine-braking electronics work.
So what are Yamaha and Honda doing for 2014? Honda may have the upper hand on corner entry but now they want more corner speed while Yamaha want more stop-and-go.
It will be interesting to see if either of them manage these goals because, as any rider or engineer will tell you, the most important word in racing is 'compromise'. It's usually quite easy to increase performance in one area, but that almost always reduces performance in another.
Sometimes engineers increase peak horsepower and the lap times get slower because they didn't obey the rule of compromise – more peak power usually means slower corner exits, and thus slower lap times.
It's the same with the chassis – stop-and-go performance and high corner-speed are surely mutually exclusive. At least they have been up till now.
Perhaps 21st century technology can somehow untangle this conundrum. Or as Valentino Rossi's former crew chief Jeremy Burgess says. 'As some racetracks the Yamaha has the advantage, at others the Honda is better. It's not possible to have everything.'