Testing is a difficult business, and Monday tests are the worst, especially if your problems only manifest themselves when the grip is low.
The race on Sunday lays down a nice layer of rubber, and by the afternoon of the test the next day, there is so much rubber on the track that traction is never an issue.
If you have traction problems, you have a brief window in the morning where you can replicate those problems. That window also falls when the track is coolest, which means more grip again. You can’t win.
The grip on Monday morning at Brno gave a brief window for those who were struggling with grip, riders like Danilo Petrucci, manufacturers like Yamaha. Petrucci found a small improvement in that time, falling back on a setup they used last year which helped in braking, but he illustrated the problem he faced with an example.
At the end of the day, when there was plenty of rubber on the track, he was faster than he had been all weekend. “At the end today, I did two or three quite fast runs, in the 1’56s, and I never did a 1’56 all weekend.”
KTM have found a way around this problem, Pol Espargaro’s crew chief Paul Trevathan explained to me. At Jerez and Barcelona, they booked a private test for the Wednesday after the Monday test.
At both tests, there was a Moto2 test in between on the Tuesday. So KTM came to the circuit on Wednesday to find the track covered in Dunlop rubber, and the grip built up on Monday all gone. Perfect testing conditions.
The timesheets at the Monday Brno illustrate this problem rather neatly. On Sunday, after heavy rain on Saturday and a brief rainstorm before the race, the Yamahas struggled.
On Monday, Yamahas finished first, second, and third on the timesheets, the fourth Yamaha ending the day as sixth quickest. Conditions improved enough to solve the Yamaha riders’ problems for them.
Despite that, Yamaha had the busiest day of the test, the only factory to spend significant time focusing on 2020. The Japanese factory had brought an initial prototype for both Valentino Rossi and Maverick Viñales to test.
Visually, the fairing was significantly different, with much enlarged side vents for extracting engine heat. Observers noted that the Japanese engineers around the bike kept putting their hands near the vents, trying to feel the extra heat.
But the new engine was not a huge difference, both Valentino Rossi and Maverick Viñales said. “We don’t feel a lot of difference,” Rossi said. “But we know, so we expect because it’s just a little bit different in the engine but it’s not the 2020. It’s just the first prototype. And we work, we try something else, but we need more for sure.”
Viñales concurred. “It’s just a small step,” the Spaniard added, pointing out that he only did 10 laps on the bike when the grip was good, making it difficult to evaluate.
“I don’t know if it’s in the correct way because we tried when there was a lot of grip on the track. That’s when our bike works pretty well. We have to try when there is no grip. I think Misano will be very good to try where there are hot conditions, very slippery. There we will know more realistic things.”
Rossi had also tried a new fairing, and both Rossi and Viñales had tested a new seat unit. “It’s more tight, more narrow,” Viñales said. “For me it’s better to handle the bike. I mean, it’s smaller. For me it’s easier to move on the bike, so I can move faster.”
“But it’s not a big difference, honestly. We already have much more narrow than from the beginning of last year so it’s pretty similar. Pretty similar.”
One thing to note here is that Yamaha are known for having the widest seat on the grid, a legacy of Jorge Lorenzo’s time at the factory. He took that wider seat with him to Ducati, where he took time to adapt to the Desmosedici.
He also tried the wider seat on the Honda for a while, before abandoning it and switching to the standard seat at Le Mans. Perhaps it is a sign of how the MotoGP bikes are changing, that the seats are getting narrower, allowing the rider to move around more. The bikes themselves are potentially more physical.
In the Petronas Yamaha SRT garage, the one thing that was new was Fabio Quartararo trying the carbon forks. So far, he has used the aluminum Ohlins forks, and been highly competitive.
But the team laid out the cash for a set of the carbon fiber forks, to try to see if they would make a difference. Quartararo said they felt lighter, but he was hesitant about making a switch. He understood the feeling of the aluminum forks, and they would need to analyze the data more deeply before making a decision.
Part of Quartararo’s success is down to the fact that the team has made very few changes to the bike throughout the season so far. He has been given a bike to ride, with only spring rates and suspension adjustments to deal with, and it has given him confidence with the bike.
At the test on Monday, the team started making bigger changes to the bike so that Quartararo had an understanding of what the change would do. But that conservative approach is also why he is reluctant to switch to the carbon forks straight away.
That same conservative approach is why Marc Márquez elected to race the standard Honda RC213V chassis at Assen and the Sachsenring, despite testing the new, carbon-fiber covered chassis during practice at those rounds.
At the Brno test, both Márquez and Cal Crutchlow got a chance to test a new chassis. This was a different chassis to the one at Sachsenring and Assen, Márquez said. “It was between these two chassis, and the character was very similar,” he told us.
“But the most important, we were very very precise, we had more or less the same comments, me and Cal, and this was important, because in the end, we follow the same direction.”
Neither Márquez nor Crutchlow were keen to give too much away. Was it meant to help with turning the bike? “We are trying to work on that area,” Márquez answered cautiously.
“Trying to stress less the front tire, trying to understand why we need to lean so much, this 65 degrees that sometimes I lean this season. And it’s there that we are working more to try to understand in the future, because if you can turn more with the same speed and less lean angle, then the grip is better. But we are trying to analyze.”
It did not give more feedback from the front of the bike, Cal Crutchlow said. “A different feeling,” is how he described it. “It was what I expected, but not the sort of less physical feeling that I think that we need to make the bike a little bit easier to ride. I could go and race that chassis tomorrow, no problem, but it’s not like night and day.”
Real or Sleight of Hand?
Perhaps Marc Márquez did let something slip, however. When asked if he would try the new chassis during practice, the Repsol Honda rider said he would not. “This chassis was only a prototype. Maybe back-to-back with the carbon one, which I didn’t try today because we already had information from the weekend, but this chassis was only a first opinion and that’s it.”
We were all convinced that when Márquez spoke of the “new chassis”, it was the frame which is covered in carbon-fiber tape. But perhaps he was referring to another one, and the carbon-fiber chassis is a separate evolution. Perhaps the carbon-fiber tape is actually some kind of decoy. It would not be surprising.
Márquez also tried the new aero package, similar to the one which Jorge Lorenzo has already homologated. He might use the new package in Austria, Márquez said. “It looks like it was a very, very positive thing, now they need to analyze deeply, but the feeling on the bike was good, and I kept going to understand more.”
“But we still have this joker to play, to homologate another aerodynamic package, which Ducati already did. And maybe, if now they analyze these two days, maybe we will homologate in Austria, but it’s not 100% sure.”
“Like a Hand Pushing Down”
Suzuki was focused mainly on 2019, with Alex Rins and Joan Mir both testing the new aero package Rins had used during the race weekend. Rins also tried a new swingarm, as well as continuing the perennial work on the electronics.
“We didn’t improve a lot on the electronics, just some small things. But the two important things we tried were the swingarm and the winglets,” Rins said. “The swingarm, I don’t know if we will try it in Austria. We need to understand more, because it works similar to the standard. But maybe it gives me a little bit more traction. I felt less spin.”
For the fairing, the main improvement was corner exit. “The big step was on acceleration,” Rins said. “Looks like when I am exiting the corner, it feels like someone is pushing down to reduce the wheelie.”
Joan Mir did not speak to the media, because the Suzuki rider was taken to hospital after a huge crash. Fortunately, he came away relatively unscathed, with only some bruising on the lung. But that bruising was enough to earn a trip to the hospital for closer examination. He will remain under observation for a couple of days.
Saving the Season
At Ducati, the main objective was 2019. They had brought a new chassis, which only Andrea Dovizioso got to test, and both factory riders got to work with the updated aero they had debuted over the weekend. Both riders were positive about the aero, but Dovizioso pointed out that it was hard to evaluate the new chassis.
Ideally, Dovizioso explained to us, you want to have the same level of tire wear when you test a new chassis. But with the tires dropping off so quickly at Brno, it was hard to put in a run, come back to the pits, and swap the tires over and still get the same feedback from the tires.
To mitigate that a little, Dovizioso had spent all day on the medium tires, rather than switching to the soft which so many other riders had done.