The Yamaha YZR-M1 and the Suzuki GSX-RR have a lot in common. Both are inline four cylinder machines, and both rely more on corner speed and maneuverability than outright speed. And the riders of both machines have complained about a lack of speed at great length.
So great was Joan Mir’s frustration with the Suzuki’s lack of power in 2021 that he made a veiled threat to seek solace elsewhere. “A lot of people finish their contracts in 2022 and we are hoping to renew, or to take a different decision,” the 2020 world champion said before the test at Sepang.
“Honestly, the test will be important for me. It will be important to understand everything. As a Suzuki rider now, I feel great here, I feel like I am at home, but it’s true that a change is something that in some moments can be good, also. But at the moment, I cannot speak more about it, because there is nothing decided. But let’s see.”
The biggest difference between Suzuki and Yamaha is that where for Fabio Quartararo those complaints continued after the tests at Sepang and Mandalika, Joan Mir and Alex Rins pronounced themselves happy.
In 2021, the Yamaha M1 was the fastest motorcycle around a grand prix race track.
The evidence for that is clear: 2021 MotoGP world champion Fabio Quartararo. Quartararo had five race victories, more than anyone else, and five race fastest laps. He also had five pole positions, one less than Pecco Bagnaia.
So the bike was good, despite the chaos elsewhere making it look otherwise. Quartararo was the only constant in 2021.
Leaving the Sepang MotoGP test, all eyes were on Ducati. In part, perhaps, because they had brought yet another technical innovation that is set to upset rival manufacturers, and captured the imagination of fans and media. We were all talking about Ducati’s front ride-height device.
That enthusiasm was supported by the fact that there were two Ducatis in the top three after Sepang, and three Ducatis in the top six.
Take away the Aprilias (who had had the benefit of extra days riding and testing during the shakedown test), and there were three Ducatis in the top four. Things were looking ominous.
Suzuki’s quest for a team manager is at an end. After a year of searching for a replacement for Davide Brivio, who left MotoGP to join the Alpine F1 team at the end of 2020, Suzuki has finally announced the hiring of Livio Suppo to run the MotoGP team.
Suppo is a very experienced team manager, having set up Ducati’s MotoGP team when they first entered the class back in 2003, and having run the Repsol Honda squad after leaving Ducati at the end of 2009.
The first big contract to be signed in MotoGP’s so far torpid silly season is one of the least surprising.
On Monday, Ducati announced that they had signed up Pecco Bagnaia for two more years, meaning the Italian will stay with the Bologna factory for the 2023 and 2024 MotoGP seasons.
It had been the intention of both parties to continue for the foreseeable future, especially after Bagnaia’s exception 2021 season, in which he came close to preventing Fabio Quartararo from taking the MotoGP title.
What did we learn from the Mandalika test? First of all, we learned that building a circuit is hard, and every aspect of it needs to be carefully monitored. Because using the wrong stones in the aggregate for the asphalt can mean you have to resurface the track just a few weeks before the race is due to be held.
Despite the state of the asphalt, once the track cleaned up – something the riders had to be bullied into to doing, even though it was for their own good – the riders put in a lot of laps, the reward for effort going to Takaaki Nakagami, who racked up a grand total of 91 laps on the final day, or over 390km.
The people of the MotoGP paddock were extremely enthusiastic about their return to Indonesia. The series had long-wanted to return to a country that is at the heart of the MotoGP fanbase in Southeast Asia.
Once at Mandalika, the teams and riders loved the setting and the scenery, and were very positive about the layout of the track. It was fast, and it was fun. They were less happy about the surface of the track.
It was filthy on arrival, with mud and dust all over the track, and the riders were forced to make laps on the first day of the test to clean it up, creating a single racing line. Once clean, the track had plenty of grip.
You could tell testing was underway in earnest at Mandalika on Saturday by the fact that for most of the day, Brad Binder’s name was stuck at the top of the timesheets. The time Binder set was already well under Pol Espargaro’s best time from Friday, hitting a 1’31.814 on his third exit from the pits.
But, nobody followed suit until the final hour or so of the test, with Luca Marini eventually ending up fastest with a lap of 1’31.289. The teams and riders were too busy with the hard graft of testing, optimizing parts and refining setup, figuring out the best base with which to launch their assault on the 2022 MotoGP championship at Qatar in three weeks’ time.
A day of riding had made a huge difference to the track surface, with a clean line with high grip appearing.
It was a good day for attention-grabbing headlines at Mandalika. Pol Espargaro ended the day with a scorching lap which took him under the WorldSBK Superpole by four tenths of a second.
There were six different manufacturers in the top six. The lead on the first day changed hands time after time in the last couple of hours.
But the headlines don’t really mean very much. Times were dropping because the track started off filthy and only really started to clean up in the last hour or so of the day.
With the bikes all crated up and shipped to Indonesia, and the entire paddock flown to Mandalika on the island of Lombok (bar those stuck in quarantine in Malaysia after testing positive for COVID-19), there is time to look back at the Sepang MotoGP test.
Because this year is so different to previous years in a number of ways, I am breaking it down into two parts.
First, some general points that apply to the test itself and across several or all manufacturers, and later in the week, a breakdown manufacturer by manufacturer.
Shall we declare Aprilia 2022 MotoGP champions, now that Aleix Espargaro and Maverick Viñales ended the first day of the Sepang MotoGP test in the top two positions? Obviously not.
The Aprilias have already had extra time around Sepang, Maverick Viñales spending two days on track during the shakedown test, Aleix Espargaro one day extra. So they were already up to speed and used to riding a MotoGP bike again.
That doesn’t mean that Aprilia’s speed isn’t real. The 2022 bike is a step forward, in part a result of Aprilia changing course after a disappointing Jerez test back in November.