Motorcycle racing championships are like a pendulum, flowing back and forth between one rider and another, between one manufacturer and another. One year, Yamaha is on top, the next, it’s Honda. One year, Yamaha manages to exploit the rules best, the next year it’s Honda.

On the evidence of the first two days of testing – scant evidence indeed, but all we have to go on at the moment – conditions appear to favor Honda. With a liter less fuel to play with, and the new tires being introduced by Bridgestone, it looks like the tide is flowing Honda’s way, while Yamaha is set to suffer.

For the Factory Option entries at least; in the Open category, the tide is flowing very firmly in the other direction, with Aleix Espargaro and the NGM Forward Yamaha blowing Honda’s production racer out of the water.

That the fuel reduction would favor the Honda was expected, but the advantage might be bigger than Yamaha would like to admit. After a tough first day of testing, Jorge Lorenzo spent all of Wednesday trying to recover his confidence in the bike, as his crew searched for a setup that would smooth power delivery and give him the precise throttle control his high-lean-angle – and high risk – strategy demands. They were successful, at least in renewing Lorenzo’s confidence in the bike, he told the press.

A change to the electronics gave him the feeling he had with last year’s machine, and he was able to ride more freely. With that change made, he went in search of a fast lap, setting it at around 3:30pm, in the hottest part of the day.

Given the disastrous effects on grip with the heat has at Sepang, setting a fast time at that point in the day means there is more to come. Fuel, however, remains a problem which Yamaha’s engineers will likely face all year.

A more pressing problem could turn out to be the new spec of rear tire Bridgestone has brought to the test. The Honda riders were impressed, praising the way the tire worked in the conditions, and commenting that it was definitely an option they could use in a racing situation.

It was a better replacement for the hard tire which had hardly been used in 2012 and 2013, Dani Pedrosa and Marc Marquez said. At Yamaha, the feedback was diametrically opposite. Jorge Lorenzo dismissed the tire completely, saying that all it did was spin, providing neither grip nor drive. Valentino Rossi said it produced vibration, concurring with his teammate that it provided little grip.

The biggest downside to a spec tire is that changes to the tire require a redesign of the bike (usually minor, but a significant investment nonetheless). Honda suffered with the new front Bridgestone introduced early in 2012, taking most of that season to get the bike sorted.

If the new rear Bridgestone is accepted, Yamaha face a similar situation this year. The combination of less fuel and a tire which doesn’t suit them could mean the Japanese factory is in for a tough year.

Honda, meanwhile, have no problem at all with fuel. Neither Marc Marquez nor Dani Pedrosa were working on fuel consumption, something which every Yamaha rider was doing, telling reporters that the hot weather at Sepang meant that the bikes used less fuel anyway. An ominous portent for the Yamaha team.

What Honda had been working on was a new chassis. Both Pedrosa and Marquez had tested it, Pedrosa generally positive, while Marquez was ambivalent. It was better in braking, but it made the bike more nervous in the fast corners – “the place where you can take advantage,” Marquez explained.

They were due to make another evaluation tomorrow, along with a long run to test tire life and race set up, something all the teams were looking at.

Fuel isn’t a problem for the NGM Forward machines of Aleix Espargaro and Colin Edwards either. With 24 liters instead of 20, the Open class bikes are incredibly quick, at least in the hands of Aleix. The elder of the Espargaro brothers has been impressive on both days of testing, and posted a time of 2:00.547 early in the session.

He was elated, but also realistic, saying that fast laps were possible in the early part of the race, while he expected to suffer in the last seven laps of the race, as tire wear took its toll. He had impressed his veteran teammate Colin Edwards with his pace, prompting the Texan to quip, “It would be to be 25 again. Fresh balls and full of piss and vinegar.”

So on the face of it, it’s advantage Honda, with three Hondas on top and four Yamahas behind. But a closer look makes it clear it isn’t that simple. Marc Marquez was fastest, with a lap of 1:59.926, just three tenths off the outright fastest lap around Sepang set by Casey Stoner.

But behind him, Marquez had a gap of four tenths of a second to Dani Pedrosa, while the difference between Pedrosa in second and Bradley Smith in seventh was just just over a quarter of a second.

While Marquez is in a world of his own, the gap between the rest of the Hondas and Yamahas is negligible. Yamaha may be struggling with fuel and the new tires, but they are not as far behind as you might expect.

Ducati, also, were not as far behind as they might have feared. Andrea Iannone is having a very impressive test, free as a satellite rider is to concentrate on bike set up and setting a fast lap. His 2:00.855 was impressive indeed, the fastest Ducati round Sepang since 2012, when Valentino Rossi was just a few hundredths quicker. He posted another sub-2:01 lap, and a whole host of other 2:01s.

The factory riders, too, were faster than the Ducatis of the past couple of years. Andrea Dovizioso’s low 2:01 was better than any Ducati lap at Sepang last year, as was Cal Crutchlow’s mid-2:01. Both Ducati riders spent all day on the GP14, working to find the best setting for the new chassis.

The new bike offers a clear improvement on corner entry, but the two men remained both realistic and diplomatic. They can brake later, and enter the corner better, but the understeer and the lack of grip on corner exit remains. Ducati still faces a mountain of work.

As does Honda, ironically. Or at least, should they choose to do it. Nicky Hayden had spent all day watching other riders fire past on the gas, losing out on the underpowered Honda RCV1000R. He had spent the day working on electronics and most importantly, on adapting his riding style once again, learning to brake much deeper than the Ducati he had spent the last five years allowed.

Much faster on corner entry, and still with more to make up, Hayden cut the gap by over a second. That still left him 2.3 seconds behind Marc Marquez, though the gap to Dani Pedrosa in 2nd place was slashed to under 2 seconds.

He had been expecting so much more, however. “If I’m honest, it’s a bit demoralizing seeing the gap so big,” Hayden told reporters. The Aspar team would soon run out of options with the bike set up, leaving them needing more power, something only Honda can provide.

Given how asthmatic the bike sounds down the front straight, there is clearly room for improvement. Whether Honda is prepared to provide it is another question altogether. Perhaps if Aleix Espargaro keeps dominating the Open class, they could be persuaded to supply a few upgrades.

For the moment, Hayden is left riding what feels more like a Honda Cub than a Honda RC213V. A frustrating experience at Sepang, but perhaps he will stand more chance once MotoGP hits Jerez.

Lap Times from Day Two of MotoGP Testing at Sepang:

Pos. Rider Bike Time Diff. Diff. Prev.
1 Marc Marquez Honda RC213V 1:59.926  –  –
2 Dani Pedrosa Honda RC213V 2:00.336 0.410 0.410
3 Stefan Bradl Honda RC213V 2:00.339 0.413 0.003
4 Valentino Rossi Yamaha M1 2:00.464 0.538 0.125
5 Aleix Espargaro Yamaha FTR Open 2:00.547 0.621 0.083
6 Jorge Lorenzo Yamaha M1 2:00.573 0.647 0.026
7 Bradley Smith Yamaha M1 2:00.603 0.677 0.030
8 Andrea Iannone Ducati GP14 2:00.855 0.929 0.252
9 Alvaro Bautista Honda RC213V 2:00.897 0.971 0.042
10 Pol Espargaro Yamaha M1 2:01.061 1.135 0.164
11 Andrea Dovizioso Ducati GP14 2:01.146 1.220 0.085
12 Cal Crutchlow Ducati GP14 2:01.396 1.470 0.250
13 Michele Pirro Ducati GP14 Test 2:02.177 2.251 0.781
14 Nicky Hayden Honda RCV1000R Open 2:02.287 2.361 0.110
15 Colin Edwards Yamaha FTR Open 2:02.545 2.619 0.258
16 Yonny Hernandez Ducati GP13 Open 2:02.675 2.749 0.130
17 Kosuke Akiyoshi Honda RC213V Test 2:02.692 2.766 0.017
18 Hiroshi Aoyama Honda RCV1000R Open 2:02.825 2.899 0.133
19 Katsuyuki Nakasuga Yamaha M1 Test 2:02.970 3.044 0.145
20 Randy De Puniet Suzuki Test 2:03.064 3.138 0.094
21 Scott Redding Honda RCV1000R Open 2:03.117 3.191 0.053
22 Michael Laverty PBM Aprilia 2:03.528 3.602 0.411
23 Hector Barbera Avintia Kawasaki 2:04.551 4.625 1.023
24 Broc Parkes PBM Aprilia 2:04.619 4.693 0.068
25 Karel Abraham Honda RCV1000R Open 2:05.261 5.335 0.642
26 Mike Di Meglio Avintia Kawasaki 2:05.355 5.429 0.094

Photo: HRC

This article was originally published on MotoMatters, and is republished here on Asphalt & Rubber with permission by the author.

  • L2C

    Honda had to know that the RCV1000R was massively underpowered. How could they not? Someone asked if the RCV1000R at the Sepang test is exactly the same as the RCV1000R that Casey Stoner tested at Motegi last year?

    It sucks for Nicky Hayden — but it must really suck for Scott Redding. It’s his first season in MotoGP and now that he’s there he’s not going to have a reasonable chance for snatching the *Rookie of the Year* title? Should Dorna just go ahead and give the award to Pol Espargaro at the conclusion of Qatar?

    Have say, I am pissed about this. And I rooted for Pol for the past three seasons, but Redding deserves MUCH better than what he’s been given. Honda certainly hasn’t lived up to any of its promises made to any of the RCV1KR riders. I mean think about it: If Redding hadn’t injured his wrist at the tail end of last season, he very well could have become the 2013 Moto2 champion. Already signed with HRC that point, he would have been stuck riding that RCV1KR sh*tbox this season???

    I had full faith that Honda was going to deliver a competitive machine to Redding. Why on *EARTH* would they not? What HRC is doing to Redding’s confidence is outstandingly bad. Rotten. Egregious. Take your pick, it’s terrible what they’ve done to Redding so far.

    If Nicky Hayden is feeling demoralized, can you imagine how bad and letdown Scott Redding is feeling right now? Jesus!

    At the start of the 2014 MotoGP season, the 2013 Moto2 championship runner-up begins his career stuck in 21st place — on a crap Honda. A Honda!! This is sh*t that you would not want to make up.

    I have never had a bad word to say about Honda or how they play the race game. Racing is what it is, but the situation that the factory has created for Hayden, Redding, Hiroshi Aoyama, and Karel Abraham is unconscionable.

    This is not how you start off the season with your number 2 draft pick and former Repsol Honda MotoGP World Champion. They deserve better. All four men do — but Scott Redding deserves the best treatment possible. And that RCV1000R -tuned as it is- is not it. We know it isn’t, HRC knows it isn’t.

    “Given how asthmatic the bike sounds down the front straight, there is clearly room for improvement. Whether Honda is prepared to provide it is another question altogether.

    Honda doesn’t have a choice but to provide a better package to its RCV1000R customers, because right now Honda isn’t looking good to anybody that’s paying attention.

    Soon enough, Scott Redding is going to get a chance to speak his mind. And we know he will do just exactly that.

  • Chaz

    I dont know how fun it will be to watch Nicky push it to the limit to get…13th. Just when I thought it couldn’t get worse.

    …check out Bradl! talk about flying under the radar. That kid has talent.

  • L2C

    Scott Redding is riding for Go & Fun Honda Gresini, not HRC. (duh) Sorry about that!

  • TexusTim

    Honda has to give the RCV 1000 more power it obviuosly isnt the elcetronics and it seemed stoner went faster I guess he did his “sales job” for them…funny it may be that collin and nicky will be at it once again but I expected more.

  • Conrice

    REMAIN CALM – ALL IS WELL!!!! (in my best Kevin Bacon impression)

    Have no fear – it’s embarrassing for Honda, remember they’re competing against Yamaha in open class, too. My thought process is that they didn’t expect Yamaha to give the chassis, and thus essentially an entire M1 to customers when they designed the RCV1000R. Back then, Yamaha was *maybe* talking about leasing an engine for customers to put in their chassis.. So I wouldn’t expect Honda to simply do nothing – they can’t afford it. They didn’t want to lease the RCV1000R for JUST this season. They’ll get some more power to those boys – and I bet soon.

    And, remember, Hayden has pulled that gap down considerably today. Keep expecting improvement.

  • Brian

    Love the reset button on Nicky’s helmet!

  • Calisdad

    Bradl and Smith don’t get 1 word? Bradl .003 behind 2nd place Pedrosa and Smith .030 behind Lorenzo in 7th. I thought they did quite well.

  • G

    Poor Nicky The guy just cant catch a break. From one shit hole to another

  • Oliver Seibert

    The standings show we have a lot of phenomenal racers out there this year. I mean Bradl is moving up fast the hondas the yamahas, crutchlow but still Im sure it will stay a 3 maybe 4 horse race (If Rossis management change made any difference) for the whole season and it gets pretty effing old. With more competitive teams and more factories involved, and if Ducati could get there peace of sh*t to be competitive again MotoGP could become amazing again. Like in the 2000’s when suzuki honda ducati and yamaha were always fighting for the lead, even Gresini Honda and some of those guys like Alex Barros gave a great fight. When was the last race we ever saw 5 bikes battling for the whole race at the front.


  • Norm G.

    re: “I had full faith that Honda was going to deliver a competitive machine to Redding. Why on *EARTH* would they not?”

    A: for the same reason yamaha didn’t give competitive kit to crutchlow. guys, we’ve already seen this movie.

  • L2C

    @ Norm G.

    Crutchlow got a way better deal than Redding did. Crutchlow had a bike that at least guaranteed midfield. Redding? Multi-21.

  • “Crutchlow got a way better deal than Redding did.”

    Absolutely. There really is no comparison, is there? Redding seriously deserves better. Hayden, too. Jeeze, the guy suffered long enough already.