Why Binder got sloppier as KTM got better

by Valentin Khorounzhiy
7 min read

The year 2023 was the year of KTM tying down Brad Binder on yet another contract extension, making the South African - its biggest success in terms of homegrown premier-class talent so far by an enormous margin - the rider contracted furthest into the future on the grid.

The year 2023 was also the year of Binder getting a bit sloppy. Or, at least, that's the conclusion when you hear him speak about it.

"To be honest I expected a lot more this season. I feel like we were capable of a lot more but I made a lot of mistakes. And I threw away a lot of opportunities. But, OK, I think it's life, it can happen."

Brad Binder, KTM, MotoGP

This was Binder's summary after the season-ending Valencian Grand Prix, so as reserved and pragmatic as he usually is when talking to the media, it was likely an answer clouded by the emotion brought on by that race in particular.

At Valencia, Binder looked to have KTM's first premier-class grand prix win of the season in his hands, with team-mate Jack Miller behind him as a rearguard unlikely to make his life too difficult - only for Binder to make his own life difficult by being caught out by a cold front tyre, botching a corner entry and taking to the long-lap loop to trade a likely victory for a day of relative damage limitation.

It would not be correct to paint that moment as season-defining or even representative, not for a rider who was so comfortably best of the non-Ducati contingent and had his KTM stablemates' number more or less all season, often by huge margins.

At the same time, though, 'partly representative' feels fair. This year's Binder was not the ultra-efficient operator of 2022 who barely seemed to leave anything on the table in a KTM RC16 that back then seemed stagnant.

That year, he pulled a sixth-place finish in the riders' standings out of nowhere, scoring 37.6% of the available points. This year, with a KTM widely acknowledged as being much better, he picked up 40.2% of the points available for fourth in the standings.


Brad Binder's KTM, MotoGP

It is important to note that it is harder to score points in the sprints, as the points distribution is not equivalent to the Sundays (top 15 versus top nine). Except, well, Binder was actually more productive on Saturdays.

He scored the third-most points in the sprints - something that perhaps runs contrary to the (accurate, I feel) perception of Binder being a worse qualifier than racer, but something I anticipated, if I can allow myself to do the smallest of victory laps for a bit, in a pre-season analysis.

By and large, it was the Sundays that cost him what could've been a good shot at picking off Marco Bezzecchi and ruining Ducati's championship 1-2-3.

In 2022, Binder crashed out of just one of the 20 races, early in the season at Portimao. This year, there were four Sunday non-scores.

Brad Binder crash, KTM, MotoGP

One was a technical issue, but the other three were unforced crashes. He also had to remount from a fall at Austin. Those moments were probably less memorable than his handful of post-race track limits penalties, but they were more impactful in terms of the points tally.

That higher rate of errors is one Binder himself is clearly aware of - having spoken about it both before and after the Valencia race.

On the one hand, he said coming into that weekend when asked by The Race about it: "Last season I knew where our level was, and I made sure to finish every race and be strong, as strong as I could.

"This year I want to win. I'm tired of finishing where I have been.

"So I've given that little bit of extra effort, and of course very often it resulted in crashes. Which is not cool."

Brad Binder, KTM, MotoGP

But he also pointed out that "we have double the races, I think everybody's crashes or mistakes are quite a lot higher".

Post-race, he rejected the suggestion that a more competitive RC16 was causing him to push more and err more.

"To be honest if you're giving your absolute best, whether it be fighting for first or fighting for 10th, you can make mistakes.

"I pushed sometimes this year instead of accepting some limitations, always tried to push it a bit too far. And yeah, landed on my head. So that wasn't ideal."


Brad Binder, KTM, MotoGP

Of course, to say that Binder was more prone to leaving points on the table this year than last year is not to suggest this is something KTM should worry about - he scored in the exact same number of Sunday races as the champion, Pecco Bagnaia, so clearly there is no absurd inefficiency going on.

The crashes and more minor errors weren't necessarily at a high enough rate to seriously sour Binder's season, and while you could criticise him for a streak without a Sunday win dating back to 2021, even in light of a weekend like Valencia I'd say this would be misplaced. Easily-winnable races for KTM are still a relative rarity - and one of Binder's two sprint wins was from 15th place on the grid, so you can place the creation of that opportunity almost entirely on his shoulders compared to the role of the package.

Brad Binder, KTM, MotoGP

None of his stablemates were really able to land a glove on him for any sustained stretch of the season.

Only one may have dented his reputation somewhat - tester Dani Pedrosa's cameos, even if you have to account for differences in exact machinery specs or whatever, weren't a good look for any of the regular cast, and that includes Binder.

The South African wasn't necessarily slower than Pedrosa, but he was not as far up the road as you would've expected in a comparison between the brand's franchise rider and a race-rusty tester.

Dani Pedrosa and Brad Binder, KTM

Yet for most of the season it was still very much Binder who made things happen for KTM, and it had done great in tying him down for the foreseeable future. This also will have come as a result of the improvements to the RC16, a bike that in the previous off-season had looked like it was no longer holding up its end of the bargain when compared to Binder's own steady improvement.

"I think we made a really good step, to be honest. KTM brought us the updates, they brought the goods. And we we're one hell of a lot closer than we were at the end of last season," said Binder. "This is clear and that's for sure.

"Sure we need that last tiny little bit to be fighting at the really sharp end every single weekend- well, now we are, we're on the podium more often than not- well, not more often than not, but fighting amongst it, I would say.

"Biggest difference is just, we need to be closer to the win. And that's what we're here for and I'm sure we'll get it right."

Brad Binder, KTM, MotoGP

Indeed - the bike is better and it is being worked on all the time, but it's still not a regular Ducati-beater. If it were, Binder would be the one doing the Ducati-beating.

For the RC16's evolution, Binder is hoping for more grip from the rear, specifically on the edge of the tyre in the turning phase. The new carbon chassis introduced mid-season had already provided some rear grip, but "if we can make another one [step], it would be good".

"Of course it's also super clear to me that they've improved every other area, so I feel guilty asking the guys for one specific thing when they've made everything else much better.

"But for me it's clear as day. Until we fix that, it's going to be difficult."

He's earned the right to make demands. And, even if his 2023 was messier than his 2022, KTM should feel good about getting more ultra-efficient seasons from its lead rider in the future once the RC16 is the standard-setting bike both the brand and Binder himself want it to be.

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